Au­thor Ju­lia Busut­til Nishimura’s new cook­book, Ostro, is a dis­til­la­tion of her Mal­tese her­itage, Ital­ian sen­si­bil­i­ties and Aus­tralian up­bring­ing, mak­ing for a tasty blend of com­fort­ing food.


Au­thor Ju­lia Busut­til Nishimura’s new cook­book, Ostro, is a dis­til­la­tion of her Mal­tese her­itage, Ital­ian sen­si­bil­i­ties and Aus­tralian up­bring­ing.

Ostro, the name of my book and web­site, is the Ital­ian name for the southerly Mediter­ranean wind and the word also shares et­y­mo­log­i­cal roots with the name Aus­tralia. To me, it rep­re­sents my Mal­tese her­itage, my other home in Italy, as well as the here and now in Aus­tralia.

For my fam­ily, food was – as is so of­ten the case in mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties – a way of pre­serv­ing mem­o­ries and main­tain­ing a con­nec­tion to Malta, their home be­fore they im­mi­grated to Aus­tralia. The food my mum cooked, and the sto­ries she told me about the way her mother used to cook, still in­flu­ence the way I think about food. The plea­sure that comes from cook­ing with sim­ple in­gre­di­ents, and the re­wards that come when you’re pa­tient with your food are all things I learned from a young age.

My time spent liv­ing and work­ing in Italy when I was in my early 20s only strength­ened my love for un­com­pli­cated food. I learned how to make and cook pasta, and that ev­ery meal is wor­thy of a cel­e­bra­tion. I wit­nessed such thought­ful­ness in se­lect­ing in­gre­di­ents, which sig­nif­i­cantly in­flu­enced my growth as a cook. I was touched by the ques­tions asked be­fore in­gre­di­ents were de­cided upon: What’s good to­day? Where has it come from? How long has it been here? It re­flected the trust placed in the per­son sell­ing the pro­duce. Of­ten we’d go some­where to buy zuc­chini, say, but come home with ripe egg­plant in­stead.

This com­pletely al­tered the way I thought about food.

I cook food that’s un­der­stated, so start­ing with good pro­duce is para­mount. I cook this type of food be­cause it doesn’t have to be spe­cial. It’s not food that needs to be placed on a pedestal; it’s food that weaves its way into the fab­ric of your daily life – food for liv­ing and shar­ing. ju­lia-ostro.com

Or­zotto of mush­rooms with mas­car­pone

“Or­zotto is a port­man­teau of the words orzo (bar­ley in Ital­ian – not to be con­fused here with the pasta of the same name) and risotto,” says Ju­lia Busut­til Nishimura. “It’s es­sen­tially pearl bar­ley cooked in the style of a risotto, where stock is slowly added to the grains, al­low­ing it to be fully ab­sorbed be­fore adding more. This re­sults in a much creamier tex­ture, thanks to the starch re­leased dur­ing the stir­ring and cook­ing, than if the bar­ley was sim­ply boiled. My favourite way to cook or­zotto is with a mix­ture of mush­rooms, which com­ple­ment the nut­ti­ness of the bar­ley very well.” Serves 8-10

200 gm pearl bar­ley

2 tbsp ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil, plus ex­tra

to serve

1 onion, finely chopped

1 cel­ery stalk, finely chopped

1 litre (4 cups) veg­etable stock

10 gm dried porcini

125 ml dry white wine

400 gm mixed mush­rooms, larger mush­rooms

torn or coarsely chopped

60 gm un­salted but­ter, coarsely chopped 3 gar­lic cloves, coarsely chopped

Large hand­ful of flat-leaf pars­ley leaves, finely chopped

Finely grated parme­san and mas­car­pone, to serve

1 Pre­heat the oven to 180C. Cook the pearl bar­ley in 750ml boil­ing wa­ter in a saucepan for 15 min­utes. Drain.

2 Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over low heat and fry the onion and cel­ery with a pinch of sea salt un­til soft and fra­grant (about 10 min­utes).

3 Com­bine the stock and porcini in a sep­a­rate saucepan over medium heat and bring to a gen­tle sim­mer.

4 Add the pearl bar­ley to the onion and cel­ery and cook for 1-2 min­utes, stir­ring to coat and toast the grains. In­crease the heat, add the wine and bring to a sim­mer. Once the bar­ley has ab­sorbed the wine, add a la­dle of hot stock and stir un­til the bar­ley has ab­sorbed the liq­uid be­fore adding more. Keep adding stock, sim­mer­ing and stir­ring, un­til the bar­ley is al­most al dente (about 30 min­utes; most of the stock will be used).

5 Ar­range the mush­rooms on an oven tray, scat­ter with the but­ter and gar­lic, and sea­son to taste. Bake, stir­ring once, un­til the mush­rooms col­lapse and the gar­lic is soft (15 min­utes).

6 Add the mush­rooms and gar­licky but­ter left in the tray to the bar­ley and cook, stir­ring, for about 5 min­utes. You can add the porcini from the stock now, too. Sea­son to taste. Re­move pan from the heat and stir in the pars­ley. Serve in shal­low bowls and top with a scat­ter­ing of parme­san, a gen­er­ous dol­lop of mas­car­pone and a driz­zle of olive oil.

Veal co­to­letta with ca­pers and rose­mary

“Co­to­letta alla Mi­lanese is a veal cut­let, bone in, that’s breaded and fried in clar­i­fied but­ter,” says Busut­til Nishimura. “It is also my mum’s favourite thing to eat, so I love pre­par­ing it for her. It is, as the name sug­gests, typ­i­cal of Mi­lan, a city I love for its aper­i­tivo and breath­tak­ing duomo among many other things. I’ve added some ca­pers and rose­mary which, along with the lemon, brighten up the co­to­letta. If you can’t find veal on the bone, use thin bone­less pieces of veal, which will re­quire a shorter cook­ing time, or you can even use pork chops. I like panko bread­crumbs – while they’re not in keep­ing with tra­di­tion, they make a won­der­fully crunchy coat­ing.”

Serves 4

4 veal cut­lets (250gm each), bone in

50 gm ( 1/ cup) plain flour


2 eggs, lightly beaten

150 gm (2½ cups) panko or other dried


200 ml clar­i­fied but­ter (see note) 2 tbsp salted ca­pers, rinsed and drained 2 tbsp rose­mary leaves, coarsely chopped

Lemon wedges, to serve

1 Lightly flat­ten the veal chops us­ing a mal­let to about 1.5cm thick. Place the flour, beaten egg and bread­crumbs in sep­a­rate bowls. Dip the cut­lets in flour, then egg and then the bread­crumbs, press­ing the crumbs on as firmly as pos­si­ble.

2 Heat the clar­i­fied but­ter in a large fry­ing pan over medium heat and fry the cut­lets un­til golden brown and just cooked through (5-6 min­utes each side). This can be done in 2 batches and, if the cut­lets are thick, you can fin­ish cook­ing them in an oven set at 180C. Sea­son lightly with sea salt and leave to rest. Mean­while, keep the pan over medium heat, add the ca­pers and rose­mary, and stir for 30 sec­onds to coat in the but­ter. Spoon the ca­pers over the veal cut­lets and serve with the lemon wedges.

Note To make 200ml clar­i­fied but­ter, melt 280gm but­ter in a small saucepan over low heat. Leave>

the pan still so you don’t dis­turb the solids.

Once the but­ter has melted, in­crease the heat to medium and sim­mer un­til a foamy layer forms on top (3-4 min­utes). Skim off the milk solids that rise to the top. Stand for 5 min­utes or so, then care­fully pour the skimmed, melted but­ter into a bowl through a fine sieve lined with muslin. Stop pour­ing once you reach the bot­tom, where most of the white solids should have set­tled. The golden liq­uid in your bowl is now clar­i­fied but­ter, which will keep very well in a con­tainer in the fridge for up to 4 months.

Rab­bit pie

“Grow­ing up, we didn’t eat meat that of­ten, but when we did, it was of­ten rab­bit,” says Busut­til Nishimura. “Usu­ally we would eat it braised in a rich tomato stew with many, many peas. The rab­bit would be re­moved and we would eat the sauce with spaghetti, and then the rab­bit sep­a­rately, with veg­eta­bles or just some bread. My dad’s friend would bring us freshly killed and skinned rab­bits. Some­times Mum would fry it in a lit­tle but­ter and olive oil with sage, or turn the rab­bit stew into a pie. All de­li­cious op­tions. My rab­bit pie is much lighter than the tra­di­tional Mal­tese ver­sion. I braise the rab­bit in won­der­ful aro­mat­ics and top it off with a lid of re­ally good home­made rough-puff pas­try. Rab­bit is no­to­ri­ous for be­ing dry and tough, which is why I rec­om­mend us­ing just the mary­lands – the thigh and leg. They’re more ten­der than the lean sad­dle, which is great for quicker cook­ing. Many butch­ers sell them sep­a­rately if you ask, but if they’re un­avail­able, use a whole rab­bit cut into pieces.”

Serves 4-6 (pic­tured p123)

15 gm dried porcini mush­rooms

60 ml (¼ cup) ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil

1 kg rab­bit mary­lands, or a 1kg rab­bit, jointed 1 onion, finely chopped

1 cel­ery stalk, finely chopped

1 car­rot, finely chopped

250 ml (1 cup) dry white wine

3 gar­lic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 tomato, coarsely chopped

1 oregano sprig

1 rose­mary sprig

3 thyme sprigs, plus a small hand­ful of

leaves, finely chopped

500 ml (2 cups) chicken stock

1 tsp plain flour, plus ex­tra for dust­ing

Small hand­ful of sage leaves, finely chopped

Small hand­ful of flat-leaf pars­ley leaves, finely chopped

Small hand­ful of tar­ragon leaves, finely chopped

1 egg, lightly beaten Rough-puff pas­try 175 gm plain flour, plus ex­tra for dust­ing

175 gm chilled un­salted but­ter, cut into cubes

1 For the rough-puff pas­try, tip the flour onto a clean sur­face and sprin­kle with a pinch of sea salt. Add the but­ter and toss through the flour. Us­ing a metal pas­try scraper or a knife, cut the but­ter into the flour un­til the mix­ture re­sem­bles coarse bread­crumbs. There should be larger pieces of but­ter, too, so don’t over­work it at this stage. Sprin­kle with iced wa­ter, a ta­ble­spoon­ful at a time, and use your hands or a pas­try scraper to com­bine, un­til the dough just comes to­gether. I usu­ally need about 40ml wa­ter, but go by how the pas­try feels – dif­fer­ent flours need more or less wa­ter. It still should be a lit­tle shaggy with vis­i­ble pieces of but­ter. Shape the pas­try into a rec­tan­gle, cover with a damp cloth or plas­tic wrap and re­frig­er­ate for at least 30 min­utes. Re­move the pas­try from the fridge and, on a lightly floured work sur­face, roll the dough into a 10cm x 30cm rec­tan­gle that’s about 1cm thick, con­tin­u­ing to dust the sur­face with a lit­tle flour if the dough is too sticky. Bring the short ends of the dough into the mid­dle, then fold in half where the short ends meet, like a book. Wrap pas­try and chill again for 30 min­utes. Re­peat rolling, fold­ing and chill­ing two more times. Re­frig­er­ate un­til needed, re­mov­ing pas­try from the fridge 10 min­utes be­fore us­ing.

2 Place the porcini in a bowl, cover with 500ml boil­ing wa­ter and leave to soak for 15 min­utes.

3 Mean­while, heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium-high heat. Sea­son the rab­bit gen­er­ously and fry, in batches if nec­es­sary, un­til lightly golden (3-5 min­utes each side). Set the rab­bit aside, and re­duce the heat to low. Cook the onion, cel­ery and car­rot with a pinch of salt un­til soft­ened and fra­grant (10-15 min­utes). Add the wine and scrape up any bits stuck to the pan. Bring to a sim­mer and let the wine bub­ble for a minute or two, then add the gar­lic, tomato and the sprigs of oregano, rose­mary and thyme. Stir to coat and nes­tle the rab­bit back in the pan. Sim­mer for a few min­utes, then add the stock along with the porcini and soak­ing liq­uid. Bring to the boil, then re­duce the heat to low. Cover with a round of bak­ing pa­per, press­ing it onto the sur­face of the liq­uid, then cover with a lid. Braise un­til the rab­bit is ten­der and falling from the bone (1½-2 hours).

4 Pre­heat the oven to 200C. Lightly but­ter a 24cm pie dish. Strain the rab­bit cook­ing liq­uid into a saucepan (re­serve meat and veg­eta­bles sep­a­rately). Sim­mer un­til it has re­duced to about 300ml (5-6 min­utes). Al­low to cool briefly and skim any fat that rises to the sur­face. Whisk in the flour un­til smooth.

5 Mean­while, shred the rab­bit meat (dis­card bones and herb stalks) and place in a large bowl. Add the veg­eta­bles, chopped herbs and the re­duced brais­ing liq­uid, sea­son to taste and mix well. Spoon the fill­ing into the pre­pared pie dish.

6 On a lightly floured sur­face, roll pas­try to a 5mm-thick round large enough to cover the pie dish. Whisk 1 tsp of wa­ter into the egg. Brush the edge of the pie dish with the egg­wash, then cover the dish with the pas­try, gen­tly press­ing onto the pie dish to seal, and trim over­hang­ing pas­try. Score the pas­try with a sharp knife from the cen­tre 2cm apart and poke a hole in the mid­dle for steam to es­cape. Brush with the egg­wash and bake un­til puffed and golden (40-45 min­utes).

A de­pend­able cab­bage salad

“This re­fresh­ing salad is well loved in our fam­ily,” says Busut­til Nishimura. “It’s barely a recipe, and there’s lots of room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Blanched peas could be added, dif­fer­ent herbs, fresh chilli – adapt it to suit your style and pref­er­ence.”

Serves 4-6

40 gm (½ cup) flaked al­monds

300 gm white cab­bage, finely sliced

Large hand­ful of flat-leaf pars­ley leaves, torn

Large hand­ful of basil leaves, torn

Large hand­ful of mint leaves, torn

50 gm parme­san, shaved

60 ml (¼ cup) ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp may­on­naise

2 tbsp plain yo­ghurt

1 Dry-roast the al­monds in a small fry­ing pan over low heat un­til just coloured (5-6 min­utes), then cool.

2 Com­bine the cab­bage, herbs, parme­san and two-thirds of the al­monds in a large bowl.

3 Whisk to­gether olive oil, lemon juice, may­on­naise and yo­ghurt in a small bowl. Driz­zle dress­ing over the salad and use your hands to mix it well. Sea­son to taste with sea salt, scat­ter with the re­main­ing al­monds and serve.

Soft po­lenta with bit­ter greens and wal­nuts

“While po­lenta is now viewed al­most as a na­tional trea­sure by many Ital­ians – es­pe­cially those in the north – it came from very hum­ble beginnings,” says Busut­til Nishimura. “Ini­tially brought to Italy from the Americas in the 16th cen­tury, it was con­sid­ered peas­ant food; food that served a pur­pose – fill­ing the bel­lies of hard-work­ing Ital­ians. Al­though po­lenta is de­li­cious just boiled in lightly salted wa­ter, I love cook­ing it in milk and en­rich­ing it with parme­san, but­ter and cream. Po­lenta needs con­stant stir­ring and hard­ens rather fast when it cools, so I rec­om­mend cook­ing the onion first, then at­tend­ing to the po­lenta. You can then gen­tly re­heat the onion and add the re­main­ing in­gre­di­ents, which only take a few min­utes – this way the po­lenta will stay nice and creamy. If you come across po­lenta taragna – po­lenta com­bined with buck­wheat – it has an amaz­ing earth­i­ness, which would be per­fect here. Buy the best bal­samic vine­gar you can af­ford for this dish; it should be sweet but still sharp.”

Serves 4-6 (pic­tured p122)

40 gm wal­nuts

40 gm un­salted but­ter, coarsely chopped 1 tbsp ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil

1 onion, coarsely chopped

70 gm flat pancetta, cut into lar­dons

300 gm bit­ter leaves, such as radic­chio or

chicory, coarsely chopped

150 gm (about 1 bunch) cavolo nero, tough

stems re­moved, leaves coarsely chopped 1½ tbsp aged bal­samic vine­gar

Grated parme­san, to serve>


750 ml (3 cups) milk

250 gm (1½ cups) po­lenta

80 gm parme­san, finely grated

50 gm un­salted but­ter, coarsely chopped 150 ml pour­ing cream

1 Lightly toast the wal­nuts in a dry fry­ing pan over low-medium heat un­til just coloured

(1-2 min­utes).

2 Heat the but­ter and olive oil in a large fry­ing pan over a low heat. When the but­ter is foam­ing, add the onion and cook gen­tly un­til soft and fra­grant (10-15 min­utes). Re­move from the heat and set aside un­til the po­lenta is cooked.

3 For the po­lenta, com­bine the milk and 750ml wa­ter in a large heavy-based saucepan and bring to the boil. Re­duce to a sim­mer and add 1 tsp sea salt. Pour in the po­lenta in a thin, steady stream, whisk­ing to pre­vent lumps, and cook, stir­ring con­stantly with a wooden spoon, un­til smooth and silky (30-40 min­utes). You may need to add ex­tra wa­ter if the po­lenta be­comes too thick.

Stir in the parme­san, but­ter and cream. Sea­son to taste and keep warm. 4 Place the fry­ing pan with the onion back over medium heat, add the pancetta and fry un­til browned (3-4 min­utes). Add the bit­ter leaves and the cavolo nero and cook un­til just start­ing to col­lapse (about 3 min­utes). Stir in the wal­nuts and re­move from the heat. Sea­son to taste.

5 Serve the creamy po­lenta on a wooden board or on in­di­vid­ual plates, top with the veg­eta­bles,


“Ric­cia­relli are gor­geous Ital­ian bis­cuits that date back to the 15th cen­tury,” says Busut­til Nishimura. “Hail­ing from Siena, these sweet, chewy al­mond bis­cuits cov­ered in ic­ing su­gar fill the windows of Tus­can cake shops all year round – most promi­nently over the Christ­mas pe­riod, when they’re bought by the kilo. I have fond mem­o­ries of mak­ing these when I lived in Italy. The aroma of bit­ter al­monds would linger for hours, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult not to eat them all at once.” Makes about 20

125 gm caster su­gar

Finely grated rind of 1 lemon or or­ange

100 gm pure ic­ing su­gar, plus ex­tra, for coat­ing 300 gm (3 cups) al­mond meal 2 egg­whites

½ tsp vanilla ex­tract

½ tsp al­mond ex­tract or aroma of bit­ter al­monds (op­tional)

1 Pre­heat the oven to 160C and line a bak­ing tray with bak­ing pa­per.

2 Place the caster su­gar and rind in a large bowl and rub to­gether un­til fra­grant and the cit­rus oils have re­leased into the su­gar. Sift in the ic­ing su­gar and add the al­mond meal. Mix to com­bine. 3 Place the egg­whites and a pinch of sea salt in a mix­ing bowl and whisk to stiff peaks. Add the egg­whites to the al­mond mix­ture along with the vanilla and al­mond ex­tracts and gen­tly fold in un­til the mix­ture forms a firm but moist paste.

Sift some ex­tra ic­ing su­gar onto a plate or your work sur­face, then roll the dough into wal­nut­sized balls and coat in the ic­ing su­gar. Flat­ten the balls ever so slightly to form oval-shaped bis­cuits, and pinch the ends slightly into points, cre­at­ing a leaf shape. Place on the pre­pared tray. Leave the ric­cia­relli to sit at room tem­per­a­ture to form a slightly dry ex­te­rior (at least 30 min­utes).

4 Bake ric­cia­relli un­til only just coloured

(12-15 min­utes). The bis­cuits will still be soft, but they firm up as they cool. It’s im­por­tant not to over­cook them – the chewi­ness is what makes ric­cia­relli so spe­cial, so be sure to keep on check­ing the bis­cuits as they cook. Once cool, dust gen­er­ously with ex­tra ic­ing su­gar. Store in an air­tight con­tainer for up to a week, al­though they are usu­ally eaten the same day.

Pasta and chick­pea soup

“This is my take on the clas­sic pasta e ceci, which I am cer­tain I al­most en­tirely lived off when I was a rather poor stu­dent in Italy,” says Nishimura. “While you can use canned chick­peas in this dish, I re­ally think dried ones are the way to go here – they are, af­ter all, the co-head­lin­ing act. Nor­mally, some of the chick­peas are blended af­ter cook­ing and added to the soup for creami­ness, but on one oc­ca­sion I de­cided to add some pump­kin and the ad­di­tion has stuck – the pump­kin cooks down and be­comes the thick, creamy el­e­ment that the blended chick­peas would usu­ally pro­vide. If you like, you can scoop out a cup or two of the chick­peas, blend un­til smooth and re­turn it to the pot. The crème fraîche is a deca­dent but very de­li­cious ex­tra.”

Serves 4-6

250 gm dried chick­peas

1½ tbsp ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil, plus ex­tra

for driz­zling

1 onion, finely chopped

1 cel­ery stalk, coarsely chopped

2 gar­lic cloves, peeled

Pinch of dried chilli flakes

2 rose­mary sprigs

400 gm canned whole peeled toma­toes 1 litre chicken or veg­etable stock or wa­ter 350 gm pump­kin, peeled and cut into

2cm pieces

150 gm short pasta, such as gnoc­chetti or di­tal­ini

Crème fraîche and grated parme­san, to serve

1 Place the chick­peas in a large bowl and cover with cold wa­ter to soak for at least 4 hours or overnight.

2 Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan over low heat, add the onion, cel­ery, gar­lic and a pinch of sea salt, and cook, stir­ring ev­ery minute or so, un­til soft and fra­grant (10-15 min­utes). Sprin­kle in the chilli flakes and add the rose­mary. Give ev­ery­thing a stir and cook for a fur­ther minute. Add the toma­toes and turn the heat up to medium. Stir and sim­mer for 1-2 min­utes. 3 Drain and rinse the chick­peas, and add to the soup along with the stock or wa­ter and the pump­kin. Bring to the boil, then re­duce the heat, cover and sim­mer un­til the chick­peas are ten­der (1-1½ hours). Check the soup reg­u­larly, break­ing up the pump­kin and toma­toes with the back of a wooden spoon and top­ping up with wa­ter if nec­es­sary. The soup should be very thick, so don’t add too much wa­ter cook­ing – just enough to keep it from dry­ing out. It shouldn’t be at all broth-like.

4 When the chick­peas are ten­der, add the pasta and con­tinue to sim­mer the soup over medium heat un­til the pasta is al dente (10-12 min­utes). Sea­son to taste.

5 Dis­card the rose­mary sprigs, serve the soup in bowls and top with a dol­lop of crème fraîche, a scat­ter­ing of parme­san and a good driz­zle of ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil.

Rab­bit pie


JU­LIA BUSUT­TIL NISHIMURA Or­zotto of mush­rooms with mas­car­pone

Veal co­to­letta with ca­pers and rose­mary


This ex­tract from Ostro by Ju­lia Busut­til Nishimura (Plum, an im­print of

Pan Macmil­lan Aus­tralia, pbk, $44.99) has been re­pro­duced with mi­nor

GT style changes.

Pasta and chick­pea soup

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