The cook v the chef

Suitable for amateurs? ... an Adriano Zumbo dessert.

Suitable for amateurs? ... an Adriano Zumbo dessert.

Can three amateur cooks handle the heat as they each tackle a recipe from a top chef? Kate Gibbs puts them to the test.

Nicole Gaillard, hairdresser

I'm not sure whether all chefs understand that the whole "reading between the lines" concept in recipes doesn't work for the amateur cook. But it is fun trying to get there. 

 The challenge: Beetroot ravioli

From: The Art of Pasta by Lucio Galletto & David Dale ($60, Penguin)


I decided to attempt the beetroot ravioli for two reasons; it looked really pretty, and I'd never made anything like it before. Well, I'd made pasta from scratch before, but never ravioli, which is more complicated, so this was a good challenge. It's basically plain pasta stuffed with a beetroot and ricotta filling.

The first obstacle was making the dough thin and delicate enough; nobody wants a big chunk of doughy pasta in their mouth. Using a machine meant the pasta was pretty easy to make, and the result was definitely the best pasta I've ever made. Usually, there is a massive mess all over the kitchen bench. Maybe it was the machine or because I was making it for this story and not for guests who were arriving in an hour, but I was fairly relaxed and the pasta making went surprisingly smoothly.

After the pasta was made, things got more complicated. I started by cutting my pasta sheets in half but, frustratingly, they were not wide enough, so it was back to square one. Then it was time to work on the beetroot filling.

The recipe called for baked ricotta, which I couldn't find, so I baked my own.

I just guessed how to do it. I put a lot of nutmeg in there because I love lots of it. The recipe said I should use a fork to mash the beetroot, but that took an awfully long time, so I just put it in the food processor and pulsed it, which worked perfectly. It was a massive corner cut.

You have to make sure the filling isn't too liquidy, which is tricky. There were some holes in the pasta before cooking, so I just filled them with more pasta.

Thankfully, the butter sauce was easy. There's a bit of technique involved, but it's possible. My biggest concern was that the pasta might split while cooking but, to my relief, it didn't.

To be honest, I think making this for four people is about the maximum, otherwise you'd be making ravioli all afternoon. I made a double quantity because I got married on the weekend and I have lots of French family here at the moment, so we're having this ravioli as a starter.

Beetroot Ravioli

  • 1 quantity pasta dough
  • 80g butter
  • 1 tbsp poppy seeds, lightly crushed in a mortar
  • 60g grated aged pecorino filling
  • 600g beetroot
  • 40g butter
  • 1-2 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • 100g baked ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • A few gratings nutmeg
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Prepare pasta dough as per your preferred recipe. While the dough is resting, prepare filling. For filling, peel and dice beetroot. Boil in salted water for 10-15 minutes until very soft, then drain and mash with a fork. Melt 40g butter in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp breadcrumbs and let them colour a little. Add beetroot and cook for about 5 minutes to reduce excess moisture, stirring with a wooden spoon. Place beetroot in a bowl with ricotta, egg and nutmeg; season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly; if filling seems soft, add more breadcrumbs. Let filling rest and firm up while you roll out pasta dough into very thin sheets. Lay out pasta sheets on a lightly floured work surface. Cut out circles about 5cm in diameter using a fluted ravioli cutter.
Place 2 tsp filling in centre of half the circles, brush edges of pasta with a little water and place a pasta circle on top. Expel any air, then press edges together to seal. Leave ravioli to rest on floured tea towels for 30 minutes, ensuring they don't touch each other. Cook ravioli
in boiling salted water for 3-5 minutes - they're ready when they rise to the surface.
Meanwhile, melt 80g butter with poppy seeds in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat until butter is hot and foaming (do not let it burn). Lift out ravioli with a slotted spoon and place on warm serving plates. Sprinkle with pecorino and dress with butter and poppy seeds. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Helen Ross, health and injury management adviser

The challenge: Salt cod soup with parsley air

From: Cumulus Inc. by Andrew McConnell ($60, Penguin)

I've never cooked with salt cod and I've never made "air" before, which is a light foam made using liquid and gelatine sprayed through what they call a "cream gun" so it bubbles up. But I thought, "Wow,
I love the colours in this." The green air sits on top of the white salt cod soup. Don't be fooled by how simple it looks in the glass, though - making it was much trickier than I thought it would be.

The recipe has you cut the vegetables into cubes, which I like because it's very precise. When you dice everything the same size, everything cooks evenly. Because I'm a little bit particular, I wrote each process on individual Post-it notes. I'm able to sort out the process better if I write it down in my own words. One step per Post-it, then you discard each one when you've done that step. Every Post-it sits along the bench and has the required utensils next to it in the right order. I do this for complicated recipes, which is not that often.

I'd make something like this for a dinner party, but I'd practise the days before. Turning vegetables into a soft paste without browning them took a long time, longer than the stated 20 minutes, so next time I'd turn up the heat a bit to move things along.

The air was much harder than I envisaged. The recipe didn't include the fact that the gelatine needs to set a little before it goes into the cream gun, so working out the consistency took some trial and error. The air is there for the presentation, then it quickly turns into a parsley juice, but as long as your guests don't hang around and talk a lot and then watch it deflate before them, you'll have a real hit.

The soup is quite salty on the palate, but not in a harsh way, and the parsley has a fresh flavour. The presentation of it, while it was still aerated, had the "wow" factor.

Are chefs all they're cracked up to be? Sometimes I think it would be helpful if there were more details about how you get the end result that chefs get.

I'm not sure whether all chefs understand that the whole "reading between the lines" concept in recipes doesn't work for the amateur cook. But it is fun trying to get there.

Salt cod soup with parsley air

  • 300g salt cod
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 dried red chilli
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 sticks celery, cut into 1cm dice
  • 1 leek, white part only, cut into 1cm dice
  • 1 brown onion, cut into 1cm dice
  • ¼ fennel bulb, cut into 1cm dice
  • 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 400g desiree potatoes, cut into 1cm dice
  • 1.2 litres chicken stock
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 250ml pouring cream
  • salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • parsley air
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
  • 1 gold-strength gelatine leaf, soaked in cold water to soften, then squeezed out

Soak salt cod for 24 hours in a generous bucket of water, changing water at least twice. The next day, rinse cod and pat dry with paper towel.
Make a spice bag by placing fennel seeds, dried chilli and coriander seeds in a small piece of muslin and tying with a piece of string to secure.
Pour olive oil into a heavy-based saucepan, add celery, leek, onion, fennel and garlic, and gently cook until all vegetables are soft and paste-like, which should take about 20 minutes. It is important not to let vegetables brown, as this will not only turn the soup an unattractive muddy colour but will also alter the taste.
Add potatoes to pan, along with stock, salt cod, spice bag and thyme. Bring soup to a simmer and cook until potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes. Fish out and discard spice bag. Using a slotted spoon, remove cod from pan, discarding any bones and skin, then return fish to soup. Purée soup in a blender, then strain through a fine sieve into a clean saucepan.

For parsley air, blanch parsley leaves in a large saucepan of boiling salted water for 30 seconds, then refresh in a bowl of iced water. Strain parsley, then roughly chop before puréeing in a blender with 250ml cold water. Strain puréed parsley through a fine sieve lined with muslin - you will need 200ml parsley juice. Pour 50ml parsley juice into a small saucepan and warm gently, then add gelatine, whisking well. When gelatine has completely dissolved, remove pan from heat and whisk in remaining 150ml parsley juice, then strain and set aside to cool. Pour cooled parsley juice into a cream gun and charge with 2 gas bulbs. Shake well and leave in fridge until ready to use.

To serve, return soup to stovetop and bring to a simmer, then add cream. Taste soup and, if necessary, add a little salt and pepper. Pour hot soup into warm heavy-based glass tumblers, only half-filling them, and top with a shot of parsley air.
The parsley air adds a lightness and textural difference not usually found in puréed soups. If parsley air is not for you, the soup is equally delicious served in a bowl with chopped parsley and toasted croutons made from day-old bread.

Serves 4

Helen Salmon, performing arts executive

The challenge: Barbados cake

From: Zumbo by Adriano Zumbo ($50, Murdoch Books)

I'd eaten cakes from Adriano Zumbo's shop before and I knew they were absolutely delicious. I'd already mentally bookmarked a few I wanted to try at home and one of them was the Barbados cake. The recipe makes eight small cakes that have many layers of pineapple cubes, coconut rice mousse, palm sugar mousse and mango jelly. I remember loving the real thing.

I didn't immediately choose the Barbados, though - it was a process of elimination. I wasn't going to buy the 24 perfectly ripe Packham pears required for one recipe. Others needed a lot of setting in the refrigerator, and there were some specialist ingredients I couldn't access, or which needed to be ordered over the internet. Quite a few needed very particular moulds. I ended up spending two hours on the phone trying to find the specific mould I needed for the Barbados.

I wasn't intimidated by the recipe, but I do cook a lot. There are some tricky processes, where you do a number of things at the same time. When I told my friends it wasn't that hard, they laughed and said, "Well, you're not normal." You certainly have to be focused; the recipe is pretty specific.

I battled with the rice-pudding layer. You reduce it down and while the recipe says the rice will be firm, it was quite crunchy and not that nice. It just stopped absorbing the liquid. I tried it again the next day and followed the recipe perfectly and the same thing happened. I was so frustrated I tried it a third time, but this time I par-cooked the rice in water first, reduced the other creamy liquid and then combined the two; it worked okay. I'd be fascinated to know what went wrong. Maybe Zumbo needs to specify what size pan to use; maybe it was evaporating too quickly. I cracked it at the third attempt, but it was my version.

It didn't look exactly the same as Zumbo's creation in the book. In the picture there's a coating on the white marshmallow that isn't in the recipe, which is disappointing if you want to replicate it exactly. But the taste, in the end, was incredible. A few of my friends tried it and said it was one of the best-flavoured Zumbo things they'd ever had. Having gone through the process, I now think $9 for a little individual Zumbo cake is value for money! The whole experience of cooking from Zumbo is burnt into my brain like some marvellous expedition.

Barbados cake 

Pineapple cubes

  • 100g trimmed fresh pineapple, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 1 makrut (kaffir lime) leaf, very finely shredded
  • 40g light palm sugar (jaggery), grated
  • Toss all ingredients together in a glass or ceramic bowl until they are well combined.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  • Coconut rice mousse
  • 1g gold-strength gelatine leaves
  • 6g water
  • 70g jasmine rice
  • 185g pouring/whipping cream
  • (35 per cent fat)
  • 185g milk
  • 75g light palm sugar (jaggery), grated
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 2 1/2 makrut (kaffir lime) leaves
  • 25g coconut milk powder
  • 185g pouring/whipping cream
  • (35 per cent fat), extra, whipped to soft peaks

Cut gelatine leaves into small squares, place in a bowl with the water and set aside to soak.
Line a square 20cm cake tin with non-stick baking paper. Rinse rice under cold running water and drain well. Put rice, 185g cream, milk, sugars, makrut leaves and coconut milk powder in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer.

Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally at the start and then continuously as it nears the end of the cooking time and has absorbed most of the liquid. The rice should still have a tiny bit of bite to it.
Remove from heat and stir in gelatine and any soaking liquid. Cool mixture to 28°C, then fold through 185g lightly whipped cream.
Pour into the lined tin and smooth the surface. Freeze for 3 hours or until frozen.
Palm sugar mousse

  • 6g gold-strength gelatine leaves
  • 36g cold water
  • 220g light palm sugar (jaggery), grated
  • 205g pouring/whipping cream (35 per cent fat)
  • 40g simple sugar syrup
  • 45g egg yolks
  • 210g pouring/whipping cream
  • (35 per cent fat), extra, whipped to soft peaks

Cut gelatine leaves into small squares, place in a bowl with the cold water and refrigerate until ready to use.
To make caramel, place sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook for
1 minute or until edges start to liquefy.

Cook, swirling pan continuously, for 3 minutes or until all sugar has liquefied. Do not stir. Continue to cook for 4 minutes or until caramel reaches 165°C and starts to smell like toffee.

Meanwhile, bring 205g cream to the boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, then remove from heat.
When caramel is at the right temperature, remove from heat and stir in hot cream mixture - watch out, it will spit and release a lot of heat.
Bring simple sugar syrup to the boil in another small saucepan.

Place egg yolks in a bowl and beat with hand-held electric beaters on medium speed. With beaters running, gradually pour hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl, mixing until it is thick and foamy, for about 3 minutes. Continue beating until egg mixture has cooled.
Heat gelatine mixture in a heatproof bowl in the microwave for 5-10 seconds on high (100 per cent) until liquefied (you can also do this in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water).
Add a third of the caramel, stirring until smooth, then stir this mixture into remaining caramel until smooth.

Fold cooled egg mixture into the extra whipped cream. Stir a spoonful of cream and egg mixture through caramel mixture to lighten it slightly. Then, fold caramel mixture into the cream and egg mixture until well combined.

Pour mixture into 8 rectangular Flexipan silicone moulds (9cm x 4.5cm), placed on a baking tray, and freeze for 3 hours or until frozen through.
Coconut jelly

  • 5g gold-strength gelatine leaves
  • 30g cold water
  • 120g good-quality coconut milk
  • 50g caster (superfine) sugar
  • 120g UHT coconut cream

Line a square 20cm cake tin with plastic wrap, extending over each side.
Cut gelatine leaves into small squares, place in a bowl with the cold water and set
aside to soak.
Place half the coconut milk and all the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugar has dissolved.
Remove from heat, add gelatine and any soaking liquid and stir until dissolved.
Place coconut cream and remaining coconut milk in a bowl and add coconut gelatine mixture, stirring to combine.
Pour into the lined tin and place in refrigerator for 1-2 hours, until set.
Mango jelly

  • 5g gold-strength gelatine leaves
  • 30g cold water
  • 250g sieved mango purée
  • 60g caster (superfine) sugar

When coconut jelly has set, make the mango jelly. Cut gelatine leaves into small squares, place in a bowl with the water and set aside to soak.
Heat a third of the mango purée and all the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, add gelatine and any soaking liquid and stir until dissolved. Add rest of the mango purée and stir until well combined.
Chill mixture in the refrigerator, checking it regularly as you don't want it to set.
When chilled, pour over the set coconut jelly. Drain the pineapple cubes, sprinkle over the top and refrigerate for 2 1/2 hours or until set.
Sablé breton

  • 90g pure icing (confectioners') sugar, sifted
  • 80g almond meal
  • 175g unsalted butter, chopped and softened
  • 50g egg yolks
  • 125g plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
  • 2g sea salt flakes

Preheat oven to 170°C. Place icing sugar, almond meal and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer with a beater attachment and beat on medium speed for 2-3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Gradually add egg yolks, beating well between each addition. Beat in flour and salt until just combined.
Gather dough together and place on a sheet of plastic wrap, then flatten to about 2cm thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in fridge for 2 hours or until dough has firmed up. Line a square 35cm flat baking sheet with non-stick baking paper. Roll pastry out on the lined tray to 6mm thick. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until pastry is lightly golden.
Remove from oven and cool for 3-5 minutes, then use a serrated knife to cut out 8 x 9cm squares and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. (The sablé must be cut soon after it is removed from the oven, as it hardens upon cooling and may otherwise break up when cut.)
To assemble
Place sablé squares on the benchtop.
Remove both jelly and rice mousse from rectangles from each of their tins and cut 8 x 4.5cm x 9cm
Place a piece of jelly and a piece of rice mousse next to each other on each sablé square. Pop the palm sugar mousse rectangles out of the moulds and sit them on top of the rice mousse rectangles. Set aside at room temperature for 45-60 minutes or until palm sugar mousse has defrosted, then place on a serving platter or individual plates and serve.

Serves 8

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