Vegetarian carbonara

It feels like yesterday, but evidently it was just over two years ago that I wrote a post on carbonara.

Much more recently we went to Maccaroni Trattoria in Melbourne and tried their vegetarian version of carbonara, which replaced the bacon with zucchini. Alice and I enjoyed it so much that we both thought in terms of cooking it at home. I certainly haven’t exactly done that, if for no other reason than the restaurant version had cream, whilst mine stuck to the traditional carbonara only egg attitude.

Ingredients for two

olive oil
3 eggs
parmesan, grated
pepper, freshly ground
2 medium zucchinis grated
shallot, chopped finely
garlic, chopped finely


While the spaghetti is cooking:

Mix one egg per person and an extra yolk per two people.  Add parmesan, perhaps a cup, leaving some for the table. Add lots of freshly ground pepper.

In a large pan, I use a wok, heat olive oil and gently fry the shallot until soft, add the garlic, mix, add the zucchini and gently fry until softened.

Keep a cup of the cooking water before you drain the spaghetti.

Then, as for the normal version, put the pan back on the heat, add the spaghetti. Mix and then add the egg/cheese mixture, turn quickly if not frantically, take it off the heat, you don’t want scrambled eggs. Add some of the cooking water you saved, still stirring in a completely panicked way. It all seems to come together into a nicely silken coating needing nothing more than loads and loads of extra pepper as you eat. This is not to say that the panic was unnecessary, it is probably an essential ingredient. This dish doesn’t want you to think you are in control.

The lack of meat for taste made me add the shallot and garlic. I might also have added parsley. I should have added only some of the cooking water, but I tossed in a whole cup and this was okay – a bit runnier than it should be, but that was a good excuse to overdo the cheese served at the table.

I would happily have this any time, and surely it would be a happy marriage to combine the two versions, using both pancetta and zucchini. I will report on that some time.

A pesto conversion

For years I’ve been using Stephanie Alexander’s pesto recipe. As it’s the other side of the world, I’m relying on the internet to give me an accurate rendition, but it’s something like this:

  • a big bunch of basil (she says a firmly packed cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts toasted
  • 60g parmesan grated
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil

I don’t add salt and pepper at this stage.

You puree these and mix in some hot water from the cooking pot to thin the consistency.

That’s always done me, I like the balance. But the other day at Bottega Rotolo I got talking to Rosalie Rotolo-Hassan who mentioned that in her cooking classes she’s always modified it by adding a little asparagus and making half the nuts unsalted pistachios, also toasted.

I’ve been dying to try this variant, picked up some of the last asparagus around today and some really ordinary hydroponic basil as I couldn’t find any that had been properly raised. Now we have:

  • a big bunch of basil
  • no garlic because I forgot
  • 1/4 cup of pine nuts and raw unsalted pistachios, toasted separately as they need different amounts of time
  • 60g of horribly expensive parmesan because we couldn’t figure out the price until we got home and looked at our receipt and went arrgghhhhhhhhhh
  • 4 asparagus pieces steamed until softish
  • olive oil, but slowly added and not nearly as much as 1/2 a cup

I left out the cheese to be added at the table. I pureed the rest, with maybe a couple of tablespoons of oil to begin with and then added a bit more later. I also added hot cooking water to reach the consistency I wanted.

The asparagus made it creamier and added to the sense that less oil was required compared with usual. Having said that, it’s all to taste of course. I did not in the least miss the garlic – loved the gentle taste of this.

Pepper and parmesan to taste at the table.

Serves two to three – we found that because it didn’t give the usual pesto punch that we added more of it than we usually would.


Avocado on a mortgage

You can do this: go out, avo, juice, coffee $25 x 2 or….

  • Ciabatta from Lucia’s at the Market – perfect ciabatta $6.90 does practically an infinite amount of toast, so I’m saying…$1
  • Avocado, one Hass, lovely taste, right size $2
  • Harissa $1
  • Feta $1
  • Lemon 50c
  • Eggs x 4: $2
  • OJ freshly squeezed $2
  • Coffee/tea $1

Cost in the vicinity of $12, rounding up for butter, power, milk…

I don’t believe we need a recipe for this one. For posterity I note that we used biona organic harissa from the UK and it is really nice, none of the harsh vinegar aspect one generally gets from jarred harissa. Due to the situation which developed last time I made it myself, when Manny kindly offered to deseed 70 bird’s eye chillies, we now buy it premade.

It’s so good we’ve been having it for dinner too. Sliced tomato on top is an excellent addition if the mortgage repayments permit.

Breakfast banana pancakes

My friend Wren introduced me to these which are surprisingly good and easy and healthy.

banana pancakes


  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 4 eggs
  • cinammon


Mash bananas, beat eggs, mix all ingredients together.

Fry as one would a normal pancake. They will go brown on each side.


You can serve these so many ways. If the banana is properly ripe, you certainly don’t need any additional sweetening ingredient. If you ask me, maple syrup would be overkill.

I served them with drained yoghurt to which I’d added some apple juice. Any sort of fruit can be added on top. Today strawberries because they are so cheap right now: Italian, 4CHF/kg and quite nice at that price. But you do get what you pay for. The 9CHF for 500g strawberries from Provence are 4 times as good!

For the future: I wondered about separating the whites and whipping them stiff before folding them in, with the intention of making these lighter. I’m curious to see how that turns out.

Reminder: I made a complete hash out of turning these. Hence the strategically placed yoghurt.


5 minute Japanesy soup noodles

This was so nice at a moment’s notice, from the cupboard.


  • water
  • tamari (or Japanese soy sauce of choice)
  • sesame oil
  • stock cube (I used vegetarian chicken)
  • rice vinegar
  • chili oil
  • noodles, I used udon
  • green vegetables, I used broccoli and asparagus, stems of asparagus cut into about 1.5″ lengths and longwise into about quarters
  • spring onions chopped into fine rounds, though in retrospect these were unnecessary



Bring water to boil, add all ingredients except noodles. Cook for a couple of minutes, don’t overcook the vegetables. Quantities are to taste. As usual with this sort of thing, err on the side of not enough to begin with and adjust.

If using soft udon noodles, put in boiling water to separate, do this gently so you don’t break them. Place in bowls and add the stock and vegetables. Garnish with spring onions if desired. If using other noodles, cook as indicated by the type.

Tailor this to your cupboard, but I really felt like it was the chili oil that added a special touch.

Zucchini fritters

The recipe is from No Recipes, an odd name, if you ask me, for a recipe website. There Marc calls it Fluffy zucchini pancakes. To me fritters feels like a more Australian name for these. They are fabulous.


  • 3 large eggs
  • bit less than 100g or 3/4 cup plain flour
  • half a teasp baking powder
  • salt and pepper
  • grated zucchini, he suggests 350g
  • gruyere cheese 100g
  • spring onion thinly sliced
  • sour cream for serving
  • oil or ghee for frying


Mix the dry ingredients, add the zucchini and cheese. Beat the eggs and mix in. Non-stick pan add oil and when hot add the batter in spoonfuls, flatten. Should make about eight altogether.

Fry until golden brown, turn and remove when cooked.


I used two eggs and a strong cheddar instead of gruyere. Instead of sour cream, I served them with drained yoghurt mixed with a little olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper.

Totally fab. I’m starting to think it’s impossible to go wrong with pancakes. And such an easy quick meal.

I’m wondering about trying this with besan flour instead. Will report on that.




Asparagus gratin

I daresay these days asparagus is perpetually on tap from somewhere or another. In Geneva it’ll come from South America in the offseason.

I’d rather wait. Seasonal produce is special! One of the things you can look forward to hereabouts on about the first day of April is local asparagus. Local in Geneva terms means Swiss, or maybe Italian, and certainly there will be supplies from Provence. Always the most expensive and always irresistible.


Asparagus gratin (3)
Asparagus gratin


asparagus: 500g or so*
300 ml milk
25g butter
25g flour
salt and pepper
grated nutmeg
75g cheese, grated**

*what sort of asparagus? I like green. I imagine that the white can’t be as good for you for a start. As to fat vs thin, I like both. I can’t help thinking it is quality not type that matters. By all means disagree, I’d love to have the finer points of asparagus explained to me.

**what sort of cheese? It depends where I am and what’s available. I’ve sometimes used Epicure for the sauce and parmesan on top in Australia. In Geneva, gruyere is the obvious candidate. Fontina is a great melting cheese.

On mature reflection it could be that a mild cheese lets the asparagus have more of a say. Maybe if it isn’t good asparagus you want to do something to shut it up. Maybe that’s where Epicure comes into it.


While the oven is heating to 220C:

Snap the ends off the asparagus. They will break at just the right place to be able to discard the woody part. You may want to lightly peel the stems with a potato peeler. I do sometimes, but mostly it doesn’t seem necessary to me. Steam them in a bamboo steamer for a couple of minutes. You might want to put cold water over them at that point to prevent them overcooking.

Make the cheese sauce: on medium heat melt the butter, add the flour and stir well mixed, then add milk. I do this a bit at a time, thoroughly mixing to avoid lumps as I go along. I have sometimes done it my mother’s way and put all the milk in at the same time and then mixed vigorously as it comes to the boil. I can’t say this is my forte in the kitchen, basically I get lumps sometimes and I have never figured out why. I always think I’m doing it the same way as the last time.

Let it come to the boil and then lower the heat, all the while whisking. It will have thickened during this process. Take off the heat, add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir in 50g of the cheese.

Grease an oven dish, lie the asparagus down and then top with the cheese sauce. Add the remaining cheese and also some breadcrumbs if you like. About 5-10 minutes, depending on your oven. It’s an easy decision, it’ll look nicely brown on top and that is the cue you need for the denouement.

Take the dish to the table. Ooohs and aaahs. Thoroughly deserved in my view.

Asparagus gratin (1)
Asparagus gratin