The quick and the fed

Hot smoked salmon, peas and a poached egg.

Hot smoked salmon, peas and a poached egg. Photo: Marina Oliphant

There's a lot to be said for slow-cooked food - but not when you're in a hurry. In the middle of the working week, impatience is a virtue. Cooking fast means you don't dither, you decide what to do while you're already doing it. You chop things roughly, you don't stop to measure, you cook over high heat - and your food is all the better for it. It sizzles, it has energy.

Impatient cooking doesn't have to be frenetic, as these recipes show, but it doesn't waste any time making things pretty, either. It's more about smart improvising. Instead of making meatballs, you buy beautiful sausages, skin them and pan fry into instant meatballs. Instead of making traditional polenta, you use fast-cook polenta. If you can't get to the market to buy fish, you pick up hot-smoked trout from the deli and warm it through in minutes to serve with a fast-poached egg. You serve pan-fried chicken with lovely, nutty fregola, which takes half as long as spuds to cook. And all the time you save can be spent at the table with a glass of wine instead.

Sausages with soft polenta and mozzarella

Use good sausages to make quick meatballs.

Use good sausages to make quick meatballs. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Good sausages are the fastest way to have meatballs for dinner. Let the mozzarella warm and soften in the heat on the way to the table. For vegetarians, top the polenta with glossy, green silverbeet tossed in chilli oil instead.


1 tbsp olive oil
500g thick Italian pork sausages, skinned
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
200ml light red wine
400g canned, chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 rosemary sprigs, chopped
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 ball buffalo mozzarella, drained
300ml milk
400ml vegetable stock
150g instant polenta
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp grated parmesan, plus extra for serving
Sea salt and pepper
2 tbsp sage leaves

Heat oil in a frying pan. Pinch sausage meat into bite-sized chunks and drop into the pan. Add garlic and cook over low heat, turning meat until browned. Add wine and bring to the boil. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, rosemary and oregano and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Tear mozzarella into small pieces.

To make polenta, bring milk and stock to the boil. Gradually whisk in polenta, swapping to a wooden spoon when it thickens. Stir over gentle heat for five minutes. Beat in butter, parmesan, sea salt and pepper and pour onto four warm dinner plates. Spoon sausage stew on top, and scatter with mozzarella, sage and extra parmesan.

Sardinian fregola, similar to couscous, cooks in under 10 minutes.

Sardinian fregola, similar to couscous, cooks in under 10 minutes. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Serves 4

Pan-fried chicken with fregola

Fregola is the time-poor cook's best friend; the couscous-like Sardinian semolina pearls cook in no more than 10 minutes. You'll find it in good delis and gourmet food stores.

1 tsp salt
2 tbsp flour
8-10 chicken pieces (thighs, legs or breast)
3 tbsp olive oil
100g fregola
2 tbsp olive tapenade
4 tomatoes, diced, or 400g canned chopped tomatoes
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
100ml white wine
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 tbsp tiny salted capers, rinsed
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp fresh oregano

Heat oven to 200C. Mix salt and flour and use to coat chicken pieces. Heat one tablespoon oil in a large heavy pan and fry chicken pieces, a few at a time, skin-side down, until golden, turning once. Place skin-side up on a roasting tray and bake for 15 minutes or until cooked. Cook fregola in a pot of simmering salted water for 10 minutes until al dente and drain well. Whisk the tapenade with one tablespoon olive oil and set aside.

Combine tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, white wine, one tablespoon olive oil, garlic, anchovy, capers and dried oregano in a pan and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Add the cooked fregola and heat through. Divide between four warmed plates, arrange chicken on top and serve with olive tapenade and fresh oregano.

Serves 4

Hot-smoked salmon with peas and a poached egg

Any greens will do, but peas, beans and brussels sprouts are a great combo. The stunning wasabi-and-lime dressing is just a whisk away.

500g hot-smoked ocean trout or salmon fillets
4 slices pancetta
300g small brussels sprouts
300g green beans, topped, not tailed
200g peas
4 poached eggs (see guide)
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper


1 tbsp wasabi paste
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp sour cream or yoghurt

Heat oven to 200C. Place fish on an oven tray lined with baking paper and cover lightly with foil. Arrange pancetta alongside and bake for 15 minutes, or until fish is just hot and pancetta is crisp. Whisk dressing ingredients together, season and set aside.

Cook brussels sprouts and beans in simmering salted water for three minutes. Add peas and simmer for two minutes, then drain well and strew over four warm dinner plates. Roughly flake fish into bite-size chunks and arrange on top. Add poached egg and pancetta, season well and serve with dressing.

To poach an egg

Master the poaching of an egg and you'll win friends and amaze people. Fill a frying pan with water to 10 centimetres deep and bring to a simmer. Add one teaspoon of white vinegar. Break an egg into a small cup and slip it into the water, then repeat with remaining eggs. Simmer for 3½ to four minutes, spooning hot water over the eggs once or twice to set the tops. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on a folded cloth, trim whites if necessary and serve.

Serves 4

From: Good Living