After all these years cooking for work and pleasure, I’m still surprised when I come across new dishes that combine ingredients in such a seamless way that the final flavour is greater than the sum of its parts. The makers of modernist food attempt to find new combinations, but rather than coming up with new dishes, the results are mostly constructions on the plate that look pretty.
Recently I dined at Michael Ryan’s Beechworth restaurant, Provenance. He served a small ramekin of freshly made silken tofu with new-season salmon roe. Simple enough, but it was new to me and it’s a taste I’ll remember.
Taste and memory led me to a similar combination, though one I’m familiar with and have been for a long time, which is the main recipe this week: the sweet, salty, mineral and fish classic of salt cod with leeks.
That sweet and salty pairing is also evident in the second recipe that combines leeks with pancetta. Improvising from that point, successful partners for leeks are leg ham, bacon, duck and quail.
For breakfast tomorrow, I’m making soft poached eggs with fried leeks and prosciutto.
SALT COD WITH LEEKS
Soak salt cod in a large tub of cold water for 24-36 hours, changing every 6-8 hours. I do this in the laundry and let the tap run slowly into the tub so I don’t have to remember to change it. Once that’s done, drain and cut cod into large pieces to fit in a large pot. Fill with water, bring to the boil and simmer for 25-30 minutes. Drain, let it cool a little and shred cod into flakes, discarding any bones. Set aside. Cut leek in half lengthways and slice into 1cm rounds. Heat 4 tbsp oil and lightly fry leek, onion, garlic, celery and carrot with parsley, basil and chilli until soft. Add tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes. Add flaked salt cod, stir and cook for another 5-6 minutes. Season to taste with salt, if needed, and plenty of pepper. Grill bread and brush with remaining olive oil. Serve hot.
Serves 6 as a substantial first course
Wine Italian or Australian vermentino or fiano
LEEKS BRAISED WITH PANCETTA
Wash and cut leeks into equal lengths of about 10-12 centimetres. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to the boil and plunge leeks in. Simmer for 10 minutes then drain. Scatter pancetta sticks on the bottom of an ovenproof dish along with carrot and onion slices. Lay leek pieces on top and pour in chicken stock. Lightly salt and cover dish with foil. Bake in a preheated 160C oven for 90 minutes. Meanwhile, work lemon juice and butter together with a spoon until well incorporated. When leeks have finished cooking, remove from oven and place on a plate. Whisk lemon butter into remaining liquid, replace leeks and return, uncovered, to oven for 5 minutes. Serve hot.
Serves 4 as a first course
Wine Chardonnay or viognier