By Christine Salins.
Like most of us during lockdown, Matt Preston spent a lot of time at the computer. His latest book, World of Flavour, in which he seeks to uncover the truth behind some of our favourite dishes, is the result of countless hours of research through online archives.
The stories he has turned up are fun, surprising and in some cases truly fascinating as he delves into the origins of flavour-filled dishes ranging from spaghetti bolognese and chicken korma to potsticker dumplings and Portuguese custard tarts.
Matt Preston’s World of Flavour (Lantern, $39.99) has more than 100 recipes, some in their classic style, others with a special ‘Matt twist’, but all with commonly found ingredients. I love that he’s included only easy recipes, acknowledging that if you want a really good Pad Thai for example, you’re probably better off getting it from your local takeaway.
This is the eighth cookbook from Preston, who became a household name during 11 seasons of MasterChef Australia. He began to uncover the secrets behind many of our most popular dishes while writing a column for Taste magazine, reimagining old dishes for today’s audience. But his interest goes earlier than that, having collected historic cookbooks for many years.
Preston says that before information was digitised, it was easy to assert the origins of a dish without any information to back it up. He wanted to give credit where credit was due – “it’s meant to be a snapshot of the truth”, he says in the book’s introduction.
Each recipe is introduced with a myth-busting history about where the dish came from and how it evolved, in his trademark witty and colourful style. They’re great stories to share around the dinner table, especially at a time when we’re all missing international travel.
Preston’s delving into national repositories in Australia and abroad turned up some fascinating information about spaghetti bolognese, which far from being an Italian dish from the city of Bologna is a creation of Italian migrants living in the UK, Australia and the US, he says.
Preston ventures that if we truly want to claim it as an Australian dish we should start using kangaroo mince rather than pork or beef. The addition of other indigenous ingredients like lemon myrtle or ground wattleseed could also be worth experimenting with, he suggests.
If three hours seems like a long time for a ‘shortened’ recipe, note that his first recipe for Bolognese a decade ago took four hours plus!
½ cup (125 ml) olive oil
100 g pancetta or bacon, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 large celery stalks, finely chopped
2 brown onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon brown sugar
4 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ cup (70 g) tomato paste (puree)
500 g pork mince
500 g pork and veal mince
500 g beef mince
2 cups (500 ml) red wine
2 × 400 g cans diced tomatoes
3 cups (750 ml) chicken stock
2 cups (500 ml) tomato passata
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
6 cm piece of parmesan rind
4 cm piece of pith-free lemon peel
3 bay leaves
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper cooked spaghetti (or your choice of pasta),
grated parmesan, to serve
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta or bacon, carrot, celery and onion, and cook, stirring, for 8 minutes until the vegetables are soft.
Add the sugar, garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the tomato paste starts to darken slightly. Transfer mixture to a large heatproof bowl.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil in the pot. Cook the pork mince, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, for 5 minutes until lightly browned. Transfer to the bowl with the vegetables. Repeat in two more batches with the remaining oil and pork and veal mince and beef mince. Set aside.
Increase the heat to high. Add the wine to the pot and bring to the boil. Simmer for
5 minutes or until reduced by half. Deglaze the pot as you stir. Return the mince and veggie mixture to the pot. Add the tomato, stock, passata, Worcestershire, parmesan rind, lemon peel and bay leaves. Season well with salt and pepper.
Cover and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to very low. Tilt the lid so the pot is partially covered, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 hours or until the sauce has reduced and thickened and is a glossy dark red colour. Serve with cooked pasta and grated parmesan.
Recipe and image from: World of Flavour, by Matt Preston, published by Lantern, $39.99.