Making sun while Hay shines
PART 1 For bright ideas with a light touch, look to Australian guru Donna Hay
Australian cookery writer Donna Hay bucks the celebrity-chef trend. Unlike Nigella, Gordon and Jamie, she doesn’t do television. She doesn’t have a restaurant and her photograph is hardly ever seen, even in her Donna Hay magazine. Her writing style is minimalist in the extreme, entirely devoid of reminiscence or description.
Yet Hay is the bestselling non-fiction writer in Australia and has a growing following worldwide. She has published more than a dozen books and her magazine is exported around the world, with a circulation of almost 100,000. What’s remarkable is that it’s her cooking rather than her personality that has made her an international phenomenon.
Hay’s style is visual and instantly recognisable. Light floods over white plates on a white background. There’s nothing to distract from the food, which is always exquisitely and apparently artlessly arranged.
So distinctive is the brand, it’s easy to forget that there is a real woman behind it, so on a bright Monday afternoon I drive through Sydney to meet the real Donna. She lives in a leafy Victorian terrace and her house is small, modest even. There are children’s bicycles piled up by the front door.
The interior is pure Donna Hay, all bleached wood and white walls. There’s no clutter, bar a few children’s toys. Here’s a woman who practises what she preaches.
Hay is a youthful-looking 36. Her face is mobile and expressive, her manner direct and easy-going. While she makes us a cup of Earl Grey tea, she relates how she started out: “My mother didn’t like cooking, so she would encourage me to do it instead. I’ve been cooking since I was six, maybe younger. I remember making my father’s birthday dinner when I was eight. It was steak Diane. I was so conventional.”
Hay planned to be a physiotherapist, but narrowly failed to make it to university. Instead she studied home economics. A period freelancing as a food stylist for the likes of The Australian Women’s Weekly followed. The big break came in 1995 when a chance encounter with the fashion director of the about-to-be-launched Australian Marie Claire landed her the job of food editor. She stayed for seven years: “I had this amazing clean slate. My boss wasn’t really interested in food, she was a fashion girl, and that’s when I started the white-onwhite thing.”
Those trademark photographs are key to her philosophy of fresh, simple food that’s quick and easy to make. “I want people to look at the pictures, fall in love with them, then go to the recipes and say: ‘Wow, I’ve got all that or I can get that in my regular shop.’”
She also provides instant tips on presentation. These are simple tricks with a big impact such as baking long stems of pink rhubarb on puff pastry for an elegant tarte fine, layering yogurt, pistachios and honey in a glass tumbler, or just swirling strands of spaghetti into a sleek nest rather than a messy tangle.
The fact that the recipes are achievable and approachable is at the heart of Hay’s success. Instructions are short and sweet — “If you keep them succinct, people seem to be more able to follow them,” she says — and ingredients are kept to a minimum. “It’s easy to write a recipe with 25 ingredients in it. The skill is writing fantastic, really tasty recipes with few ingredients, because the ones that you choose really have to work.”
Few of the big names in the food world would deny owning at least one of Hay’s cookbooks, yet she also has her critics. They say that her food is all style, nothing more than assemblages, that it’s not really cooking and that she isn’t really a cook. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Even after a long, hard day at work, you are seduced back into the kitchen by her recipes. They seem scarcely more trouble than heating a ready meal and are many times more satisfying and delicious. That’s real cooking for real people.
Xanthe Clay travelled to Sydney with Australia specialists Travelbag (0800 082 5000; www.travelbag.co.uk)
The recipes here are extracts from Donna Hay’s latest book, Instant Entertaining, which is available for £18 plus £1.25 p & p from Telegraph Books on 0870 428 4112. PEACHES IN PROSCIUTTO Serves 4 as a starter 2 peaches 6 slices of prosciutto, halved 3oz/80g rocket or mixed salad leaves 4floz/110ml balsamic vinegar 4 tbsp brown sugar Cracked black peppercorns
Cut each peach into six wedges and wrap in the prosciutto. Place on serving dishes with the rocket. Put the vinegar and sugar in a nonstick frying pan over a high heat and boil until thickened. Cool slightly, spoon over the peaches and sprinkle with the pepper. SALMON CARPACCIO WITH CAMPARI DRESSING Serves 4-6 as a starter 2 tbsp olive oil A handful of salted capers, rinsed and dried 12oz/340g very fresh salmon 2oz/60g rocket leaves
Heat the frying pan over a mediumhigh heat. Add the oil and capers and cook for 2 minutes or until crisp. Set aside.
With a sharp knife, slice the salmon very thinly and arrange it on plates.
Top with the capers and rocket, and drizzle the dressing over it all. For the dressing: 2 tbsp Campari 2 tbsp lemon juice 2 tbsp olive oil ¾ tsp sugar
Mix the ingredients and add sea salt. LEMON, RICOTTA AND PEAPASTA Serves 4 as a main course 14oz/400g pappardelle or other wide ribbon pasta 2floz/60ml lemon juice 3 tbsp olive oil 1 cupful of cooked green peas (fresh or frozen) ½ cupful of sliced mint leaves 1lb/450g ricotta Grated Parmesan to serve
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water for 10 minutes or until just done. Drain and return to the pan.
Toss the pasta with the lemon juice, oil, peas and mint. Season. Add the ricotta and mix gently. Spoon on to serving plates and top with Parmesan. VANILLA POD PANNA COTTA CUPS Makes 4 to 6 1¾ tsp powdered gelatine 13floz/375ml single cream 6 level tbsp icing sugar Half a vanilla pod, split A scrap of lemon rind 3oz/80g raspberries
Put 2 tbsp water in a cup and sprinkle the gelatine in it. Set aside for 5 minutes.
Place the cream, sugar, vanilla pod and lemon rind in a saucepan over a mediumlow heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the gelatine mixture and stir for 2 minutes. Remove the vanilla and lemon rind.
Pour into 4-6 small glasses or cups and refrigerate for 4 hours or until set.
To serve, toss the raspberries in a teaspoon of icing sugar and arrange them on top of the panna cotta.
Next week: afternoon tea with Donna Hay
email@example.com DONNA HAY’STOP 5 QUICK SUPPER IDEAS
Pasta tossed with roasted cherry tomatoes, olive oil, rocket and prosciutto.
Pea, pancetta, leek and onion frittata, with a green salad.
Creamy pumpkin and mascarpone risotto with Parmesan and black pepper.
Chilli cashew chicken with thick rice noodles and fresh coriander.
Salmon and baby beans with lime and pepper butter.
Simple style, family
fare: Donna Hay with husband Bill and sons Angus
The Hay diet (clockwise from main picture): salmon carpaccio; vanilla pod panna cotta; lemon, ricotta and pea pasta; and peaches wrapped in prosciutto