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Garden to table

11 April 2023
bri dimattina copyright lottie hedley

Inspired by the abundant lemon trees and tomato vines of her Italian grandparents’ garden, Bri DiMattina – a home gardener and trained chef who inherited her love of good food from her chef mother and her Italian nonna – shares three delicious recipes from her new book Nostrana using fresh produce you can easily grow and harvest yourself. Words Bri DiMattina, Photos Lottie Hedley

Zucchini arancini

117 zucchiniarancini

Arancini are usually made with rice, often from leftover risotto. They have a delectable filling, such as cheese, truffle or ragu and are rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. A lot of Italian cooking represents this style of using up everything, and is the spirit of this dish. If you, like me, are seduced into planting lots of zucchini, unsurprisingly you will have lots of zucchini to use up, so this is for you.

Arancini are Sicilian and southern Italian, and a similar recipe in Rome is called suppli. There are many variations and other names as you travel through Italy, but I think this one, made purely from grated zucchini, is a uniquely New Zealand garden version.

Serves 6


  • 3 zucchini, grated
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Small handful of parsley, finely chopped
  • Thyme leaves, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup (40g) finely grated pecorino
  • ½ cup (100g) fine dry breadcrumbs, plus more, to coat
  • 100g mozzarella, cut into 1cm cubes
  • Vegetable oil, to deep-fry


Place the grated zucchini into a clean tea towel and wring out over the sink, to remove excess liquid. Place zucchini into a large bowl.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Gently cook the onion and garlic until translucent, then add to the zucchini.

Add the parsley, thyme, pepper, eggs, pecorino and breadcrumbs.

Mix well and season with salt and pepper. If the mixture seems too wet add some more breadcrumbs, though it should be fairly moist.

Take a small handful of the mixture and flatten a little in the palm of your hand. Place a cube of mozzarella in the centre, then enclose with the zucchini mixture and shape into a ball. Roll in the fine breadcrumbs to thoroughly coat.

Half fill a large saucepan with vegetable oil and heat over medium high heat. Deep-fry arancini in batches until golden brown. Drain on paper towel.

Note: You can make these in big batches and freeze them after crumbing. They make a great lunch snack in the middle of winter.

Tomato caper sauce with parmesan fish

106 tomatocapersauceparmesanfish

This sauce is essentially a ‘cooked salsa’ to serve on fish, chicken or even beans, rather than as a pasta or pizza sauce (although go right ahead!).

It’s a summer flavour bomb and goes with everything. Most memorable for me growing up was this sauce served on blue cod, so that’s what I’m giving you here. If you like, make a bigger batch of the sauce and keep it in the fridge or freezer to have on hand for a quick meal.

Serves 4


  • Plain flour, for dusting the fish
  • 4 blue cod fillets
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ cup (60ml) milk
  • Chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley, thyme or oregano), to taste
  • ½ cup (40g) finely grated parmesan
  • Butter or olive oil, for frying

Tomato caper sauce

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 slices pancetta or streaky bacon
  • 4 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup (250ml) water
  • 1 cup (250ml) white wine
  • 1 cup combined oregano and parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 100g butter, chopped
  • ¼ cup (50g) capers


To make the sauce, heat the oil in a large, deep frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, then add the pancetta and cook until crispy.

Add the tomatoes, garlic and lemon zest. Cook for a few minutes, until the tomatoes have reduced down a little, then add the spices, tomato paste, water, wine and half the herbs. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until it thickens. Add the butter and stir until melted and combined.

Remove from the heat and add the remaining herbs and capers (if you want, you could fry the capers in a little butter until crispy first).

Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Season the flour with salt and pepper then use to lightly dust the fish. I do this by placing a few tablespoons of seasoned flour to a bag, then adding the fillets and shaking gently to coat evenly.

In a shallow bowl, lightly whisk the eggs and milk together, then stir in the herbs and parmesan.

Heat the butter or olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.

Dip the fillets into the egg mixture and place into the pan (you may need to spoon a little of the herbs and cheese left in the dish on top of them). Cook for about 5 minutes each side, until lightly golden brown and just cooked through.

Reheat the sauce and serve with the fish on top.

Note: You could swap the blue cod for monk fish, or talk to your fishmonger for other alternatives.

Spiced apple cake

189 spicedapplecake

This recipe hails from my mother’s café, Eliza’s Pantry. It’s super simple and uses four apples with their skin on. The apples don’t have to be at their best, it’s a little like a banana bread recipe for apples. They can be rescued because no one is inclined to eat them, and turned into something delicious – but the best part is that it is all just mixed up in a food processor then baked.

Serves 12


  • 4 apples, quartered, cored, but not peeled
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups (440g) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 250g butter, at room temperature, chopped
  • 2 cups (300g) plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Ice cream and caramel sauce, to serve

Cinnamon crumble

  • ½ cup (110g) brown sugar
  • ½ cup (45g) rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 25g butter


Preheat the oven to 180°C fan-forced. Grease a 23cm springform tin and line with baking paper.

To make the crumble, combine the ingredients in a food processor and process until crumbly. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

For the cake, place the apples into the food processor and process until finely chopped. Add the remaining ingredients and process for 1 minute. Pour into the prepared tin and sprinkle with the topping.

Bake for 1–1.5 hours, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve with ice cream, caramel sauce, or both.

Extracted from Nostrana by Bri DiMattina. Published by HarperCollins NZ, RRP$55.

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