Sunday, 12 November 2006

recipes from my hunter valley weekend

Recently Shelley, Vicky, Shamu (also known as Joanne) and Em organised a girly weekend in the Hunter Valley as a sort of “bridal weekend”. Since only Vicky lives in Sydney, this was a chance for us to talk about the wedding planning and all the fun, girly things that come along with it.

What could be better than 3 days in wine country with your friends!

We had a busy schedule ahead of us, visiting wineries, cheese shops, olive festivals, top restaurants, picnics in the vineyards and even taking a cooking class. It’s a hard life really.

The Hunter Valley is about a two hour drive from Sydney and is famous for it’s semillon. I’m not a big fan of semillon (I find it too mild and almost sour), but I adore botrytis semillon! The Hunter is also known for production of verdelho, chardonnay, chambourcin, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon.

Apart from wines, the Hunter has a vibrant cheese industry with gorgeous products from various cheese shops such as the Smelly Cheese Shop, Binnorie Dairy and the Hunter Valley Cheese Company.

The Smelly Cheese Shop stocked all the local cheese products as well as imported products. They had plenty gourmet treats and a huge cheese room for leisurely perusal.

Binnorie Dairy made their own, mostly goat’s milk based, cheeses such as labna, fetta and even a gorgeous creamy concoction of gorgonzola and marscapone.

The Hunter Valley Cheese Company had a range of everything such as local parmesan, ash brie, edam and haloumi. They even had an amazing blue vein cheese that had been marinated in port and then sealed into a large ceramic pot. It was beautiful, both in taste and appearance, but pricey at AUD$43.05 per pot!After a visit to each of these cheese shops the five of us had bought enough preserves, breads and cheeses for a picnic in the vineyard next to our hotel room. With a few bottles of the Bimbadgen Sparkling Semillion it was all pure bliss!!! Only problem was picking the burrs off the rug later on.

We stayed at the Hunter Resort, right next door to the Blue Tongue Brewery who make a delicious alcoholic ginger beer. The accommodation included breakfast and a delightful discovery each morning was a sheet of fresh honeycomb for guests to break off and suck out the wonderful honey. It was gorgeous!

By the end of the weekend we had eaten at a wonderful restaurant and certainly visited a lot of wineries! I think my favourite winery was Misty Glen Cottage where I bought the 05 semillon (one that finally tasted good!), the 05 chardonnay and the 04 cabernet sauvignon. I was really surprised by these wines and couldn’t say no.

Misty Glen was also the site of our cooking lesson, led by Barry Meiklejohn who is the chef at Club Azzurri in Highfields. He was a strange man: kind-hearted, very absent-minded and yet knowledgeable about food and flavours. He turned out to be very inventive with simple ingredients.

Barry also managed the impossible: he converted me to a gnocchi lover.

For as long as I can remember, I have disliked gnocchi. I thought it was the world’s worst excuse for pasta and that the little balls of gluggy gloop couldn’t be improved regardless of the sauce you drenched them in.

Now I am a changed woman.

Barry cooked two gnocchi dishes and I loved both of them. The first was homemade gnocchi and it was wonderful. The second used baby gnocchi and I was even happier to find a commercial variety that I enjoyed.

As a huge gnocchi lover, Jonas has a lot to thank Barry Meiklejohn for.

On the cooking menu at Misty Glen Cottage was:

Homemade gnocchi with caponata
The fresh vegetables break down slightly providing flavour, texture and zing to this salsa. The gnocchi are pure perfection.

Baby gnocchi & king prawns with curried butter
Pan-fried king prawns can be served on their own or you can easily add cooked baby gnocchi to the pan to soak up the flavoured butter.

Lemon risotto cake
A sweet risotto is mixed with pinenuts and eggs to make a sticky torte.

Recipe by Barry Meiklejohn. Serves 4.

1.5kg potatoes, washed and unpeeled
4 egg yolks
250g plain flour
1. Roast potatoes until tender then peel.
2. When cool enough to handle, grate them on a coarse grater.
3. Knead the potato, flour and egg yolks until well mixed.
4. To make the gnocchi, take about 1 tablespoon of dough and roll into ball, then flatten with fork.
5. Poach in well salted boiling water until they rise to the surface of the water. Leave for 1 minute longer then drain and immediately toss with sauce to prevent sticking.

Caponata Sauce
Recipe by Barry Meiklejohn. Serves 4.
1 small eggplant, semi peeled
1 onion sliced
3 oven roasted tomatoes, skinned
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 fillets anchovies
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons olives, pitted and chopped
Chopped parsley and rosemary
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1. In a large pan, heat olive oil and lightly fry the onion, garlic and eggplant.
2. Add remaining ingredients and fry until tomatoes and anchovies break down to form a sauce.
3. Can be served as pasta sauce, bruschetta topping or as a salsa with fish or meat.

Baby Gnocchi & King Prawns with Curry Butter
Recipe by Barry Meiklejohn. Serves 4.

125g salted butter
2 teaspoons seafood curry powder
6 cloves of garlic, chopped roughly
1 teaspoon ginger, chopped roughly
Chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Chilli to taste
16 king prawns
Store bought baby gnocchi (2 packs)
Baby spinach
1. To make butter, put everything in the food processor and combine well. Wrap in plastic and return to fridge.
2. Boil water for pasta.
3. With scissors, snip down the back of the prawn shell. Remove the intestine and slit the prawn to make a cavity. Fill with flavoured butter and pan fry.
4. Meanwhile, while grilling prawns add gnocchi to boiling water and cook until they are floating. Check for softness and remove when ready.
5. Add cooked gnocchi to prawn pan and stir to absorb butter. Stir in parlsey and serve hot.
Variation: You could omit the curry powder and use your own combination of spices.

Lemon Risotto Cake
Recipe by Barry Meiklejohn. Serves 8.

2½ cups milk
150g Arborio rice
4 tablespoons pinenuts, toasted
4 lemons, zested and juiced
5 eggs, separated
½ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1. Preheat oven to 180’C-200’C. Grease a non-stick cake tin and line with baking paper. 2. Bring milk to the boil, add salt and rice and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally for a further 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool.
3. Stir in the pine nuts, lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar and egg yolks.
4. Beat the egg whites until frothy then fold them into the mixture.
5. Pour into cake tin and bake for 30 minutes. Cool a little and serve warm with cream and stewed fruits.
Variation: I thought this cake could do with a little more flavour. It was big on lemon but the rice makes it a little glutinous. Perhaps adding some cinnamon or fresh vanilla would be a nice touch. Or some honey. I would also toast the pine nuts and so I added that to the recipe above.

So, with a spotlight on potatoes, this gnocchi fest is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging. And why not throw in a cake for good measure.

Weekend Herb Blogging is being hosted by Meeta at What’s For Lunch Honey? Be sure to check out her recap.



  1. polenta is much underused in my opinion. fantastic!!

  2. fabulous. came to your blog from meeta's. nice blog.

  3. What a great collection of recipes. They all sound fabulous. It sounds like you had a great time. Men are fine, but there's nothing like a weekend with the girlfriends if you ask me.

  4. What a wonderful post! Now another reason to travel waaaay down under (at least it's waaaay down under from TOronto Canada).

    Thanks for sharing a great day and a great feast.

  5. Sounds like such a great time and what wonderful recipes!

  6. How wonderful!! Thank you for such a great post. The pictures and the recipes are wonderful. I love the way capanata sauce makes my house smell good for hours. :)

  7. This is a good blog for food addicted people.You introduce so many formula of food and recipes. Also pictures are lovely.Thanks for sharing.

  8. What fruits or vegetables do they put in the truck. I can not see clearly but they looks like water melons , aren't they? Also I like a picture of Risoto cake. Thanks for sharing


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