In these health-conscious times, we often hear of the benefits of a Mediterranean diet – a diet we're regularly exposed to here in multi-cultural Australia, where we have an abundance of olive oils, vegetables, seeds, nuts, fish and seafood.
However, it wasn't always so. Back in the 1950s Australian cuisine took its cue from British fare; food that today would be considered rather dull. In post-war Britain rationing was still in effect, and the only olive oil you could get was purchased in small corked bottles from the chemist – and it was used to rub on aching muscles, not for cooking!
Then along came Elizabeth David, a Brit who had travelled the world from a young age and whose cookbooks brought the many delights of French and Italian cooking, in particular, into British homes. Her first cookbook, Mediterranean Food, was published in 1950, and it created a great stir on the cooking scene.
She went on to publish 13 cookbooks in all, with millions being sold around the globe. Perhaps the world's most influential female food writer of the day, she's still cited as an influence for many leading chefs, who love her simple and authentic philosophy when it comes to food.
In this issue, to celebrate Mediterranean food, I'm presenting dishes from France, Greece and Italy, two of which have a slight Scottish influence. No one in the world prepares sauces better than the French and the stunning soft yoke eggs with beurre blanc is the perfect starter.
The Greek-style crispy skin snapper with skordalia work together beautifully, complemented with the tangy blood orange salad. Equally mouth-watering at this time of year – or any time of year, for that matter – is the seared rare tuna, served with a salad of shaved fennel and radish.
The prawn and mussel recipe combines both grilling and steaming. The aromas of garlic, parsley and lemon are all prominent and the dish is combined with a chilli, buttery broth.
For all lovers of pasta, the whisky-flamed crayfish with farfalle, garlic and cream won't disappoint. What a beautiful dish for special occasions! And to round off the meal, we have a French country classic: cherry clafoutis with Chivas Regal.
Grilled lemon prawns with beer and garlic steamed mussels
The mussels are wrapped in foil and steamed, while the prawns are seasoned with lemon and pan grilled quickly. Everything is then combined in a deep bowl with all the fragrant juices from the mussels.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Preheat the barbecue on high for 10 minutes. Combine together the mussels, garlic, chilli, parsley, butter, beer and seasoning. Carefully place into a double fold of foil lined with baking paper, and close the top to make a good seal.
Season the prawns with the olive oil, lemon zest and seasoning. Place the mussel parcel onto the middle of the open grill and close the lid. Allow to cook for four minutes, then open the barbecue and place the prawns onto the open grill, around the mussels. After three minutes, open the hood and turn the prawns, giving them another three minutes to finish cooking.
Place the prawns onto a warmed plate. Open the mussel parcel and using tongs, place the opened mussels on top. Spoon some of the liquid over and serve.
Soft eggs in tomato nests with chervil beurre blanc
This is a beautiful vegetarian entrée to start a special meal with great friends. Learn to master soft-boiled eggs prepared this way and you'll be the envy of all.
Preparation time: 12 minutes
The beurre blanc sauce
In a hot oiled pan, grill the zucchini slices and asparagus spears quickly and place onto four plates. Sauce with the beurre blanc and top each with a tomato and egg cut in half. Finish with a scattering of the snipped snow pea ends.
Grilled tuna with radish and fennel salad
Tuna is an oily fish with a rich flavour and coarse-grained flesh. It can dry out if overcooked, so grill to rare and serve with a visible pink seam in its middle. The golden-skinned waxy Kipfler potatoes need to be scrubbed well and steamed until tender.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Place the olive oil and the sage leaves into a fry pan and heat until the sage leaves turn crisp. Season the tuna on all sides then place into the oil. Grill for one minute only on each side then remove and set aside. Keep a pink seam visible in its centre.
Combine the sliced potatoes with the pesto and place onto four plates. Combine the radish slices, fennel and parsley with the mandarin oil and place onto the plates.
Place the tuna onto the potatoes and garnish with the cress leaves.
Crispy-skinned snapper with skordalia
The snapper is made even more delicious when combined with the tangy skordalia. This is a thick purée made with mashed potato, garlic, olive oil and vinegar. The salad comes alive with the tangy blood oranges and the cooling fresh mint.
Preparation time: 12 minutes
Peel and steam the potatoes until fully cooked, then mash using a mouli. Add in the garlic, olive oil, lemon zest and juice and vinegar, and the salt and pepper. Combine together the vinegar, olive oil and the seasoning.
For the salad, combine the orange segments, onion, olives and the mint leaves. Grill the scored snapper fillets, skin side down until crisp and golden. Turn and finish the cooking.
Present on top of the skordalia and finish with a little of the dressed salad.
Cherry clafoutis with Chivas Regal
This is a French dessert of fresh cherries, suspended in a rich crepe-like batter. There are many versions of this French classic, but I love this one, laced with the beautiful Chivas Regal whisky. It's best served warm, with a little cream.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Set the oven to 200°C. Use the six tablespoons of butter to coat the inside of the ovenproof flan dish. Place the pitted cherries into the dish and set aside.
Place the eggs into a mixing bowl and lightly beat with a whisk. Add the vanilla seeds and the flour then combine well. Fold in the melted butter and sugar, and then slowly incorporate the milk until smooth. Fold in the whisky and pour gently over the pitted cherries.
Place into the oven and bake for 10 minutes, then turn down to 180°C, dot with pieces of the butter cubes and cook for a further 20 minutes, or until puffed up and cooked.
Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the sugar and serve while warm.