food

"How I became Donna Hay in the kitchen."

Harper Collins
Thanks to our brand partner, Harper Collins

When it comes to TV, a person’s viewing preferences seems to say a lot about them. Personally, I always find myself browsing the food channels. My favourite cook to watch? Donna Hay.

With her awesome kitchen wizardry she transforms simple dishes and makes them into meals that would be internet famous on Instagram. And yes, her food photography is drool-worthy.

I can watch her shows for hours, but I’ve never actually had the guts to make any of the recipes. I decided that needed to change. I did what any amateur foodie would do and took a leaf from Julie & Julia.

To celebrate the release of her new cookbook Basics to Brilliance, I put Donna’s wisdom to work in the kitchen and test drove some of the recipes from her cookbook.

Natalia can watch cooking shows for hours on end. Images: iStock.

The premise of the book is simple: take one basic dish - whether that be schnitzel, steak or tempura batter - and vary the recipe to enjoy it three different ways.

Pulled pork suddenly becomes not only an additive to a delicious Mexican taco or an empanada filling, but also a Texan-style pulled pork roll or slider.

The idea is that you can be more adventurous with your dinner staples without any added difficulty, taking your everyday cooking from boring to extraordinary.

Now, my idea of cooking at home is usually some variation of eggs and chicken for two of my three meals every day. So Donna couldn’t have come to my aid at a better time. Oh, and did I mention our oven had stopped working this morning?

But making a feast out of whatever was left in the fridge at the end of a long weekend – using only the stove top, mind you – didn’t prove as difficult as I thought.

The recipes of choice? Donna’s 'cheat’s ricotta gnocchi dough and caramelised fruit'. It became an incredibly delicious fresh herb, ricotta and cherry tomato gnocchi main dish. I paired it with granola fruit cups for dessert.

First up, the gnocchi. I love making fresh pasta, but I’ve always feared cooking potato gnocchi for how time consuming and fiddly it is. When I flicked to the basic recipe for the gnocchi dough, I breathed a sigh of relief; it only consisted of a four ingredients: ricotta, flour, eggs and parmesan. That’s it.

I threw them into a bowl, put in a little salt to taste, and mashed them up with my hands. It was as easy as that.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Ricotta, flour, eggs and parmesan. That’s it." Image: supplied.

I picked a quick and easy variation to spice up the dough. I chopped up some basil, parsley and thyme leaves, threw them in with the rest of the batter, peeled some lemon rind, gave it a little squeeze of lemon juice and mixed it in with the rest.

The formation process was easy too – I pulled the dough apart into three sections and rolled them out into logs, cut up the logs into 2cm squares and squeezed them gently to give them their shape. While they were boiling for a few minutes in a pot of hot water, I threw them olive oil, fresh cherry tomatoes and garlic in a fry pan, and once the gnocchi had floated to the surface, scooped them out and popped them into the pan to absorb all the saucy goodness.

It seriously could not have been easier to make. It took less than half an hour from beginning to end, and the pasta was light, fluffy and flavoursome.

I should have served them with fresh basil and parmesan, but our eyes were way too wide to wait for some extra garnish. The best part? We could wipe our bowls clean with the gnocchi. Winning.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Winning." Image: supplied.

While the rest of the family was happily lying on couches enjoying their food comas, I got started with dessert.

I cut up some pears and pineapple and pressed them into a bowl of brown sugar that I had stirred through the contents of a vanilla bean pod. I poured a little apple juice at the bottom of the pan, placed the fruit inside and covered it with a lid. After about 10-15 minutes on medium heat, the fruit had caramelised.

I popped them into the fridge for 5-10 minutes while I was compiling the rest of the parfait: creamy yoghurt and crunchy cinnamon granola, which I then topped with the fruit.

My mum, not usually the yoghurt fan, declared “I’ll only have one bite” as I handed her the fruit cup, insisting that she’d give the rest to my dad. He was still waiting for it five minutes later as she cleaned the sides of the cup with her spoon. Sweet, creamy and delicious, it was the perfect end to an incredible meal.

The impossible-to-have-just-one-bite yoghurt. Image: supplied.

What did I learn from this experience? That creating delicious, memorable meals can be quick and easy, which begs the question, ‘why don’t we do this everyday?’

Now armed with Donna Hay’s Basics to Brilliance, it’s certainly something I’ll be doing more often!

What's your favourite Donna Hay recipe?