When Richard Branson started following me on Twitter, I was flattered – he is one of the world’s most successful businessmen after all – but wondered what on earth I could say that he could possibly want to hear. When Rick Stein started following me on Twitter, I had a movie moment and spat my drink – he is one of the world’s most successful, well-known and much-admired chefs after all. That makes him kind of a big deal in my eyes. So what could I have to say that Rick Stein could possibly want to hear?
Well, he answered that question for me.
Rick is currently in Australia for his Food Odyssey tour and put the call out to Aussie food bloggers to write about their Ultimate Australian Dish, for a chance to win tickets to one of his live shows. It could be anything from snack to starter, dinner to dessert. A personal invention, a staple from a favourite cookbook or maybe a family classic. The choice was entirely mine.
*insert freak out here*
How on earth was I supposed to decide on the Ultimate Aussie Dish? Where do I even start?
How does one even define Australian food? The food scene in Australia is a mixing pot (get it?) of different cultures from all over the world. When I think of country-specific dishes, I think of burgers in the US, bangers and mash in the UK, croque monsieur in France (a hangover from my childhood!), dolmades in Greece and pizza & gelato in Italy. But nothing specific springs to mind for Oz. Though that’s simply my opinion.
Ask anyone else these questions and they’ll give you a different answer…
Roast beef & Yorkshire pud, roast lamb (leg, shoulder, rack), snails, prawns & oysters, sticky spare ribs, coffee & breakfast by the beach, foie gras, BBQ & salad, any kind of seafood, spaghetti, fruit salad, pumpkin pie, pavlova, moussaka, meat pies, frogs legs, lamingtons… The list goes on.
After several (not particularly helpful) conversations with friends and family, I decided to go about things another way. What is a dish that reminds me of my childhood? Seeing as I spent my childhood growing up on an Aussie farm, I thought this was a clever way to tackle the problem. And so two more contenders joined the list – lamb chops on the BBQ (a fail-safe family favourite – Sam Kekovich would be proud!) or Mum’s salmon crunch pie (perfect on picnics or family summer holidays). I also thought about the food that I missed when I lived in the UK. Apart from red meat (I swear I lived on chicken in London – all those hormones!), what stuck out was sweet, crunchy, juicy fresh fruit – peaches, pineapples, passionfruit – and tasty red tomatoes. While the Brits beat us hands down in the strawberry stakes, you can’t beat a warm-from-the-sun, freshly picked tomato in Australia.
By this stage I was completely overwhelmed. But a decision had to be made and I had to get into the kitchen. So how did I decide?
in the end, my guests – unbeknownst to them – decided for me. I had invited two of my dearest friends – Bec and Dave – to my place for Sunday lunch. Bec and Dave are getting married. Dave loves pavlova. And I mean, LOVES pavlova. So much so, that they had pondered having a pavlova as their wedding ‘cake’. I have somewhat of a reputation for making pretty good pav. Some might say ah-mazing pav.
An unspoken question lingered between us – would I make their wedding pavlova?
I decided this was it. The Ultimate Australian Dish. A wedding pavlova.
And so it was that I whipped one up, as a trial run for the big day, when Bec and Dave came for Sunday lunch.
Was it a success? Immodestly I will say, an absolute, hands-down, faces stuffed, back for seconds, roaring success. Apart from a slight sizing issue with each layer (that will have to be perfected and measured for the wedding day), it stacked up perfectly. The vanilla cream was fluffy and sweet. The Cointreau soaked strawberries were juicy and made it a little bit grown up and fancy. It towered above us, in all it’s Aussie glory, daring us to step out of the box and make pavlova a new wedding tradition.
PS – I will add that before we stuffed ourselves with wedding pav, I served up a combo of my other favourite Aussie dishes – Mum’s salmon crunch pie and an heirloom tomato salad. Fresh, summery, delicious.
PPS – here’s the recipe.
Lizzo’s Wedding Pavlova
6 eggs whites
A pinch of salt
2¼ cups caster sugar
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1½ teaspoons vanilla
Vanilla pod, scored lengthways & seeds removed
2 heaped tablespoons caster sugar
2 punnets strawberries, stalks removed, hulled & diced.
Extra caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Beat the egg whites and salt in an electric mixer until they form stiff peaks. Gradually add the sugar, beating at full speed, til all sugar has been added and the mixture is sweet and silky. Lastly, fold in the vinegar and vanilla. Spoon large dollops onto sheets of baking paper, laid on baking trays. Create enough decreasing-in-size-circles (I made four) to make your layered pav as high as you want. Place in the oven (reducing the temperature to 150°C) for one hour. Turn off the heat and leave pavlova in the oven until cold.
When the pavlova has cooled, move onto a large flat plate, starting with the biggest circle (removing the baking paper from each layer), and then spoon over some of the cream (whip the cream with the seeds from the vanilla pod & the 2 tablespoons of sugar), then the strawberries (soaked with the Cointreau and a sprinkling of extra sugar). Continue to layer, finishing with the smallest layer of pavlova, cream and lastly strawberries on top.
I had leftover strawberries so with no real skill and a lot of flamboyance, sprinkled them around the base of the pav. Serve.
NB: as soon as the knife hits the top layer, the whole thing will collapse, and no longer look quite so spectacular. Don’t lose heart. Just eat and enjoy!