Tag Archives: Starters


Sometimes the simplest things can be fabulous especially when revisited. Compliments time after time after time and great for summer! This is what I have presented as a starter – labneh, dukkah and watermelon with a sprinkling of fresh mint and a dressing made mainly with pomegranate molasses.


It has been a while since I have made dukkah or Labneh (labna, lebnah, labne, labni,). Both are simple to make and are very versatile. I like having things on standby and both keep well in the fridge in a sealed glass container.

Dukkah is a dry spicy mix of sesame seeds, nuts (can be hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pine nuts) and spices – mainly cumin and coriander – but variations also include small quantities of black pepper, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Apart from dipping good quality bread into extra virgin olive oil and then into dukkah, I may use it as a topping for cooked vegetables and salads or a crumb coating for meats, fish, cheese or vegetables.

I use a heavy frypan to toast everything. I used a combination of pistachio, walnuts and pine nuts in mine. If you use pine nuts they will need very little toasting – they burn quickly.  I also added pepitas; this seemed appropriate because of the watermelon.

¾ cup sesame seeds
½ cup coriander seeds
1-2 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp salt
1 cup of nuts
some white and black pepper corns
a pinch of or ½ teaspoon cinnamon, cloves and/or nutmeg
Place nuts in a frying pan and over medium-high heat toast them until they begin to colour. Remove from pan and set aside.
Toast coriander seeds and sesame seeds the same way as the nuts and when they are nearly golden add all of the spices, salt and pepper corns.
Let cool. Blend together. On this occasion I blended the nuts separately as I wanted them to be chopped in larger pieces.

Figs, labna & olives 3 _best

Labna is strained yoghurt and can be used in both in savoury and sweet dishes. It is popular in the Middle East and I mostly use Labneh as I do feta, for example to stuff figs or in dips.


500 ml full-fat Greek-style yoghurt

Leave the yoghurt to drain about 8 hours or longer. I usually place mine to drain in the fridge.
Line a colander with one layer of muslin and place the colander on top of a bowl so that the whey of the yoghurt can drain off naturally.
Place the drained yoghurt in a bowl.
Coat hands with extra virgin olive oil and shape Labneh into egg shaped balls. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and store in the fridge until ready to use. If you intend to store the Labneh balls for more than a day cover with extra virgin olive oil.
When it is time to serve it, drain it and top with fresh herbs or dukkah.

Dressing for Watermelon, combine together:

3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 lemon: juiced + zest
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and a few drops of sesame oil and of flower or orange water
1 fresh chilli, cut finely (optional)


To assemble

As you can see from the photo I assembled the balls of Labneh first on a plate coated with extra virgin olive oil.
I surrounded the watermelon pieces around the Labneh and sprinkled everything with some dukkah, mint leaves and the dressing.


Versions of  vegetable fritters are found all over The Middle East, Greece and in Southern Italy and I have made different versions of these zucchini to take to different friends’ places on different occasions – they have come in very handy lately as starters with drinks over the silly, festive season. They are simple to make, transportable and you can alter the taste by using different herbs, accompaniments or dipping sauces.


I usually add cheese and have used crumbled feta or grated pecorino or for a milder taste, ricotta. I fry my fritters in extra virgin olive oil or a mixture of butter and extra virgin olive oil but you can also bake them: place small moulds on a baking tray covered with baking paper and oiled at 200C for 10-15 minutes.

I topped these with slices of ocean trout (gravlax, cured with sugar, salt, vodka, lemon zest).

The sauce I chose to accompany the fritters was made with 1 cup sour cream and 1 teaspoon of each: French mustard, white wine vinegar, fresh chopped dill (or crushed dill seeds) and a ¼ tsp of sugar.

If not using a dipping sauce or topping them with smoked fish, I like to accompany them with anchovies (either white anchovies or packed in oil). I drain the anchovies well and then marinate them in extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, chopped parsley, grated lemon peel, black pepper and chopped spring onion. These can be made days ahead and kept in the fridge; they are good to eat with fresh bread as well.

500 g small- medium zucchini
salt (not too much) and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 eggs, lightly beaten
extra virgin olive oil for frying
1 spring onion finely chopped
2 tbsp of one herb cut finely: mint, oregano, fennel fronds, parsley, dill, marjoram or coriander
100g of feta or grated pecorino or ricotta (drained if using the tub variety)

4 tablespoons of plain flour with a teaspoon of baking powder

Grate the zucchini, add a little salt and leave to drain in a colander for at least 30 minutes. Squeeze out any residual moisture; the quantity will shrink to about half the original.
Combine everything together. The mixture should resemble a smooth batter.
Heat the oil and slide heaped tablespoons of zucchini batter in the hot oil. Flatten them with a spatula but only cook a few per time – turn them only once and drain on paper.
 smoked salmon
A version of this recipe can be found in my second book, Small Fishy Bites.

OLIVE FRITTE (Lighly fried, fresh black olives)

I first made Olive Fritte (fried olives) after I bought The Taste of Italy in 1984. Bugialli became a big hit in Australia and I still have several of his books.


These are ripe, fresh olives (not pickled) that are sautéed in extra virgin olive oil, course- grained salt and freshly ground black pepper. (Bugialli’s recipe: 1 pound of black olives, 2tbs olive oil, ½ tbsp of the salt and a pinch of pepper and sautéed gently for 15 minutes).

South Australia is blessed with wild oIive trees. I was living in Adelaide at that time and you could handpick the olives you wanted according to the degree of maturity, the range of shapes and sizes – and all for free.

Even then I had adventurous friends who were willing to try anything I cooked and those who sampled these were wary at first, but quickly adjusted and enjoyed the fresh slightly bitter taste of the olives. They continued eating them and took more. At the time, I also added fresh bay leaves.

Recently two of my friends brought me a small bag of olives as a gift. They had visited two other friends at Rocky Passes, a boutique winery at the southern end of the Strathbogie Ranges in the Upper Goulburn wine growing region of Victoria. These two friends produce award winning red wines and In their kitchen garden there are some olive trees. This is where these olives (in the photo) came from.

This time when I sautéed them fresh, I added fennel seeds and deglazed the pan with some good quality red wine vinegar. I presented them on two separate occasions to different guests and once again watched them tentatively put the first olive in their mouths, the incredulous expressions on their faces (should I be eating these??) and then the enjoyment of savouring something bitter but at the same time with a hint of sweetness (Campari?). I ensured them that bitter food is good for the liver so we drank some more wine.

Use low heat and sauté 2 cups of unblemished, black, ripe olives in ½ cup cup of extra virgin olive oil. Add ½ teaspoon of salt flakes and ½ tsp of fennel seeds. Cook for about 15 minutes stir frequently. Add 1 tbsp of red wine vinegar and deglaze the pan.
Sprinkle with some fresh fennel fronds (optional)
Serve warm.

There are a number of recipes for pickling olives and that use olives on the blog.


INSALATA DI FRISÉE ( Composite Salad made with frisée)

It is so easy to make a good salad. We ate this one with some snapper that was tossed on the BBQ, and dressed with a simple dressing, but you can see how this combination could be accompanied with some good bread and be a quick easy family lunch. I would probably also add a lump of good cheese (presented separately), especially if I had guests.


Chicory, endives and of course puntarelle are also very suitable ingredients for this salad; like frisée they have sturdy textured leaves and slightly bitter taste.

Mint is very much a Sicilian ingredient and contributes significantly to the taste and fragrance of this salad.

1 frisée (French curly endive)
4 large eggs, hard boiled or boiled to taste
5-6 anchovies in oil, or more (to taste)
½ cup of chopped parsley
2 spring onions, sliced finely
20-25 mint leaves  (to taste)
3-4 tomatoes (to taste) cut into halves or quarters
½ cup breadcrumbs made of fresh bread and lightly fried/ toasted in a little extra virgin olive oil

Dressing: juice of 1-2 lemons, 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash, clean and separate the frisée into bite-size pieces and put in a large bowl. Add chopped parsley, spring onions, tomatoes and mint.
Make the dressing (stir it with a small whisk or a fork).
Dress the salad.
Add the anchovies and place them throughout the salad – in other words, lift some of the ingredients and try to distribute the anchovies evenly.
Peel and cut the eggs in halves and place them on top.
Sprinkle breadcrumbs over everything and there it is.

Green Seasonal Vegetables
Cicoria and Puntarelle
Composite Salad


POTTED CHEESE, like in the olden days

Just recently I made a chicken liver pâté and it tasted great. I made it with the leftover chicken livers that I cooked on the previous night for our dinner (saute’ livers in extra virgin olive oil and some butter, add herbs such as sage, thyme or rosemary, salt and pepper. Remove the livers, add white wine or dry Marsala or brandy to deglaze the pan and evaporate. Blend everything till a fine paste. Place it in a ramekin. Cover with melted butter).
I had not made pâté  for many years and it reminded me of other nibbly things I used to make years ago, like potted cheese – a cheese pâté.
This is definitely not Sicilian or Italian – left over cheese is used in cooking, but not converted into a spread.
Potted cheese was traditionally made with left over bits of cheese (coarsely grated); Cheshire or strong cheddar are usually given as examples in recipes and it usually made with two or more cheeses. Softened butter makes it spreadable, and for extra flavouring recipes suggest a dash of Port, maybe some paprika, Tabasco or Worcestershire sauce or mustard. All this is mixed together and covered with clarified butter, like potted meat or potted fish.
In my potted cheese I used semi firm cheeses: Gruyère, Montagio and Asiago; Raclette or Fontina or Gouda are other semi firm, medium-tasting cheeses). I added dry Marsala rather than port which is too strongly flavoured for these cheeses. I have some new season’s walnuts so I thought that these would be a good addition, a little nutmeg goes well with nuts and black pepper.
Chop up the cheeses in a food processor until it looks as if it has been coarsely grated. Combine with marsala and the softened butter. Add some chopped walnuts,  grated nutmeg and some coarsely ground, black pepper corns and mix thoroughly. Add more butter if necessary – it is a spread. Transfer spread into small bowls, press down to eliminate air bubbles and smooth out the top. Melt a little butter to pour on top to seal the potted cheese. Cover and refrigerate.
Potted cheese can be prepared days ahead and left in the fridge. Bring spread to room temperature before serving.
I topped mine with more walnuts before serving (I made individual ones for my guests).
Spread on bread, toast or crackers.
I particularly like my green walnut cracker (see photo above) – a special gift from a friend.