We test out recipes from Ostro

Earlier this week we roadtested different recipes from Julia Busuttil Nishimura’s new cookbook, Ostro, and invited Julia herself to come in and select the best one. Here are the results of our office cook-off…


Anthony Shaw made ‘Buttery leek soup topped with apple, pancetta and sage’ (pg. 103):

When I chose this recipe, I was thinking that it might be a mistake and that being spring in Melbourne, it could be so warm that soup might miss the mark. Fortunately (?), Melbourne’s weather didn’t let me down and soup was the perfect antidote to a miserable, wet and blustery arctic-like day.

Butter, cream, potatoes and leeks – what more could you want for a delicious soup? Adding apple, sage and pancetta, along with a little more butter, lifts this warming winter soup and transforms it into something closer to a sensual embrace on a cold and wet winters evening. The toughest part of making this soup was resisting the urge to taste it so much that there wasn’t enough left to share.

This soup is now my go-to cold weather indulgence.

Judges' comments: The soup was simply excellent. It tasted fluffy, buttery and very yummy, and the crouton mix was perfect.


Jo Robin made ‘Ricotta gnocchi with a summer tomato sauce’ (pg. 140):

The recipe was very straightforward (great for a cook who is not so confident!!) with delicious results.

Judges' comments: The gnocchi was incredible. The ricotta was pillowy soft, and the sauce was exactly the right texture and richness. The flavours of garlic and basil really popped out of the sauce, and it was topped by the perfect amount of parmesan cheese.


Chris Gordon made ‘Roasted peppers with basil and capers’ (pg. 62):

It was a long day – the kind where I ran from place to place, eventually arriving home late and wet from the rain. Regardless, I popped my coloured capsicums in the oven, poured myself a glass of wine and departed the kitchen with a steaming bowl of pasta to watch my current television series in another room. Oh, the time went so quickly. Before I knew it the capsicums were black and charred, and the house smelt like an old, worn out BBQ. I placed half the capsicums (and my despair) in a plastic bag to make them shed their skins, as suggested by Julia, then left my tray, in which the other half of the capsicums had embedded themselves, to soak overnight.

Lessons were learnt making this foolproof easy-peasy oven-roasted recipe. It was foolish to not have used the oven timer.

Judges' comments: The peppers were scrumptious. They were very well roasted and had a silky texture. They were flavoured with just the right amount of basil and capers, and the dish was fresh and delightful.


Stella Charls made ‘Greens pie’ (pg. 60):

I’m addicted to cavolo nero at the moment and so this recipe felt like an obvious choice. I really, really love pies but I’m no baker and I’ve never even considered that I’d be able to make my own pastry from scratch so Julia’s home-made cheddar shortcrust pastry seemed like it would be a challenge. Lucky for me, the recipe was simple. Everything came together beautifully – and deliciously!

You can serve this pie hot or cold, and I already know I’ll be making it again for future dinner parties or picnics.

Judges' comments: The pie was amazing, and of all the dishes, it had the highest degree of difficulty. It looked visually stunning, and the balance of greens inside was perfect. Overall, it was delicious.


Bronte Coates made ‘Roasted cauliflower and wheat salad’ (pg. 68):

I love roasted cauliflower so this recipe was a no-brainer. Julia also said it was easy to make, and would keep for the next day – both important traits when entering our office cook-offs. As seems to be customary for me in these challenges, I ended up having to make some substitutions after looking through my pantry – I replaced the prunes with dates, and the whole wheat grains with freekeh. The dates made the dish rather sweet but I liked how the capers cut through with a salty undercurrent. I would definitely make this again, probably during the week so I can pack the leftovers for lunch.

Judges' comments: The cauliflower was cooked beautifully, and tasted nutty and delicious. Freekah was substituted for the wheat, and this substitution worked very well. Dates were switched for the prunes which is a good option for anyone looking for a bit of extra sweetness to the dish.


Kara Nicholson made ‘Everyday banana loaf with homemade butter’ (p. 200):

I chose this dish partly because I wanted to try something I knew I would make again on a regular basis (not just for special occasions) and partly because I needed to be able to transport it in on my bike!

This recipe had three optional extras: cocoa, chocolate and walnuts. The only way I was going to know which to choose was to do a test run where I used all three. The end result was a little too bitter and heavy for me but I loved the texture and flavour of the walnuts and the chocolate so I left out the cocoa second time around. I have to credit my partner Leon for making the butter and although it took a lot longer than the recipe said – entirely due to my ancient whisk – it was worth it for the unique slightly sour and salty flavour that works perfectly with the sweetness of the banana and bitterness of the chocolate. I loved that the buttermilk was used in the recipe too. I will definitely make this again.

Judges' comments: The banana loaf was so good. It was moist, not too sweet, and the addition of dark chocolate added the perfect flavour balance. The handmade butter was tangy and it offset the flavour of the cake brilliantly. It looked beautiful and tasted divine.


Judi Mitchell made ‘Lemon olive oil cake’ (pg. 210):

The simple and tasty ingredients of this recipe were what appealed most. While I was preparing it the time just melted away and I was transported to the Mediterranean – the aroma of lemons and olive oil – what a perfect way to finish the day! The instructions were easy to follow, not too time-consuming and could be prepared with a minimum of fuss. Judging by the comments from colleagues the result was a success. It was moist, fragrant and soooooo tasty and I discovered afterwards it is one of Julia Busuttil Nishimura’s favourites from the book – a great endorsement – I’ll be making it again.

Judges' comments: The cake was utterly glorious to look at. It was rich and fragrant, with a brilliant texture, and was completely delicious.

And the winners are…

Ricotta gnocchi with a summer tomato sauce for savoury.
Everyday banana loaf with homemade butter for sweet.

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Julia Busuttil Nishimura

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