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The joy of food

9 May 2023
Category:
petra galler c melanie jenkins (flash studios)

Namechecked on social media by no less than Yotam Ottolenghi, Auckland-based chef and baker
extraordinaire Petra Galler’s new book Butter, Butter is a love letter to rich, decadent baked goods
with a European sensibility and a Middle Eastern twist, inspired by her Jewish heritage. Words Petra Galler, Photos Melanie Jenkins

The expression ‘Everything in moderation, including excess’ is something my father always said when we were growing up and I can’t think of a better approach to sum up my style of cooking, and the way in which I strive to live.

Balance is beautiful but sometimes balance in baking can be so much better when it tilts towards more. More spice, more flavour, more crunch. Big, bold and bolshy.

I grew up in a Jewish family where the joy of preparing food and eating together is woven so deeply into our culture that dinner was always an occasion to be celebrated, and an opportunity for either me or my father to spend a couple of hours planning and prepping.

I have no doubt that this obsession stemmed from my paternal grandmother, Zaza, the original force-feeder of the family. Her savoury crêpes, Polish coffee cake (which contained no coffee at all) and her heart-attack-inducing cheesecake were legendary.

Truth be told though; these were actually the only truly delicious things she made! She wasn’t a cook, in fact she strongly disliked it. It was the feeding part that was her thing, and she did that with gusto. Nothing made her happier than watching her grandchildren positively stuff themselves while she sat smiling with her white wine spritzer.

Then, and now, food has always been a form of love; the centre of all family gatherings, every holiday, every celebration. Food, at its very core, is the most nurturing gift you can offer and has the power to really connect people.

There is something very personal and gratifying about cooking for someone, bringing happiness via deliciousness, turning someone’s day around with something spectacular. I loved this feeling which, in hindsight, is partly what propelled me into restaurant kitchens over 10 years ago.

Professional kitchens can be challenging places; an absolute hothouse of stress and tension. I was a shy and rather awkward 20-year-old, deeply unsure of myself and leaning heavily into the ‘fake it til you make it’ mantra. It’s actually comical how little of a clue I had; it had the potential to go pear-shaped quite promptly!

Despite the sheer terror I felt during these early years, I made it through, and my already sizable food obsession only grew as I learnt more, and became more comfortable and confident. Finally I knew: I was in love with food, I knew I could cook, and I knew that this was the place for me.

I have never had any formal training to speak of. From a young age I devoured cookbooks, researched recipes and food trends for hours at a time and, although I have spent a decade working professionally as a chef, as far as baking goes I consider myself more or less self-taught; some sort of cowboy, perhaps!

About six years ago, we had a family reunion in Haifa, a beautiful city in Northern Israel. We spent a month exploring the country as well as Jordan and Palestine. It was this trip where I discovered the joys of Knafeh, the power of rose water and orange blossom, and spicespiked syrups.

The food itself and the attitudes around cooking and eating really did something to me. It was so celebrated there. Walking through the spice markets in Jerusalem, seeing people from every background and walk of life coming together to enjoy the flavours, aromas and textures. It was an absolute sensory overload in the most delicious of ways and since then I have been obsessed.

Rhubarb custard cake

rhubarbcustardcake

I adore rhubarb and I adore this cake. It’s creamy, tangy and sweet; what more could you want? The tartness of the rhubarb is the perfect foil to the velvety smooth custard base and it’s oh so pretty upon completion. Make sure the rhubarb isn’t cut too small as this will make it more likely to get swallowed up in the batter.

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 160g plain flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon flaky salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 325g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 55g butter, melted and cooled
  • 70g sour cream
  • 4 teaspoons dark rum
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 360g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into batons
  • 20g raw sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 170°C fan-bake. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin.

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the eggs, egg yolk, sugar and vanilla until thick and pale; about 3–4 minutes.

With the mixer running on a low speed, add the butter, sour cream, rum and zest and mix until combined.

Working by hand now, gently fold through the dry ingredients.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin.

Arrange the rhubarb batons in tight lines on top of the cake; don’t press them into the batter, just lay them gently on the top so they don’t sink. Sprinkle with raw sugar and bake for 40–45 minutes until golden brown.

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Turkish Kol böreği

turkish kol boregi

Zucchinis are up there with my favourite vegetables and they absolutely shine in this dish. For such a simple filling, the final flavour profile is really robust and punchy. The trick with filo is to make sure you keep it damp; these sheets dry out in record time and it will be impossible to roll and coil them without serious breakages. Keep the sheets under a moist tea towel and only take out the sheets as you need them. This is delicious served hot or at room temperature with a big dollop of minted yoghurt.

Serves 8–10

Ingredients

  • 3 zucchinis (approximately 500g)
  • 1½ teaspoons flaky salt
  • 40ml olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ½–1 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • 200g feta, crumbled
  • ¼ cup fresh mint, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh dill, finely chopped
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • salt and black pepper, to season

To assemble

  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 105ml milk
  • 12 sheets filo pastry

Sesame seed topping

  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 30g sesame seeds

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan-bake. Grease and line a 25cm ovenproof frypan.

For the filling, grate the zucchinis and place in a colander. Sprinkle with salt and allow to sit for 10 minutes; this helps draw all the moisture out. Squeeze to get as much liquid out as possible; we don’t want any soggy filo happening here.

Heat the oil in a large frypan and sauté the onion, garlic, fennel seeds, chilli flakes and sumac until softened and fragrant; about 6–8 minutes. Add the drained zucchini to the pan and cook for a further 2–3 minutes before removing from the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Gently fold the feta, herbs and zest through the cooled zucchini mixture. Season to taste.

In a medium bowl whisk together the egg, oil and milk until combined. Set aside.

Lay three pieces of filo on top of each other and brush generously with the milk mixture. Place roughly a quarter of the filling in a line following the longest edge nearest you. Gently roll up into a cylinder, brushing the edge with a little more of the milk mixture so it seals firmly. Gently twist the filo into a coil and place in the middle of the prepared baking dish. Brush with the milk mixture once more.

Repeat three more times with the next 9 filo sheets and filling, coiling them around each other in the dish to make a large spiral. Make sure to brush the tops and sides of each coil with the milk mixture; this is also handy if you need to patch up any broken pastry.

For the topping, whisk the egg and oil together in a small bowl and brush all over the pastry before sprinkling with sesame seeds.

Bake for 40–45 minutes until golden brown and crunchy. Cool briefly in the pan before slicing into generous wedges.

Images and text from Butter, Butter by Petra Galler, photography by Melanie Jenkins (Flash Studios), published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $49.99.

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