Many of us daydream about living ‘the good life’, but the reality is that most of us already are, just by being alive and well, breaking bread with friends and family, and getting back to basics and cooking things from scratch.
This is the philosophy behind Adrian Richardson’s new book, The Good Life: A year of cooking and eating with family and friends (Pan Macmillan, $59.99). The chef and owner of Melbourne’s La Luna Bistro was born into a family passionate about food. “My family has strong Italian roots, and it’s no secret how important food is to Italians.”
The Good Life is a big delicious book. A comprehensive collection of recipes divided into chapters based upon the four seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. I particularly like the Masterclass sections, which provide step-by-step instructions on making sausages and salami, terrine, focaccia, labne, fresh pasta, gnocchi and much more.
Having filled my market basket with locally grown apples, I chose to roadtest Adrian’s recipe for Apple Tarte Tatin. For the pastry, you need 300g of plain flour, 80g caster sugar, 250g unsalted butter at room temperature (chopped) and 2 egg yolks. Combine these ingredients in a food processor and process until the mixture forms a ball. Turn out onto a bench and carefully shape into a disc, then cover well with cling wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour to rest.
You will need four or five medium sized Granny Smith apples, an additional 150g unsalted butter (gym here we come!) and 250g extra caster sugar. Adrian suggests that you melt the better in a heavy-based ovenproof frypan (24cm in diameter). Add the sugar and stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then increase the heat to medium-high and cook for 8-10 minutes until the sauce turns into a golden caramel.
While the caramel is cooking, peel, core and quarter the apples. I used my all plastic apple slicer and corer for this job. You place the apples in a decorative manner in the pan, taking care as the caramel might splatter. Cook for a further 8 minutes. I found that popping a lid on helped the process. According to Adrian’s instructions, the apples “should be soft but not mushy and they will release their juices and stop the caramel from burning”.
Roll out the pastry to create a circle slightly larger than your frypan. Cover the apples with the pastry and tuck the edges of the pastry down into the pan. Bake the tarte tatin in a preheated moderate oven (180 degrees C) until the pastry is golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool for 15 minutes or more. To serve, invert the tart onto a plate, Adrian suggests a drizzle with Calvados and serve with ice cream or whipped cream. This quantity will serve 6-8.
The verdict: using the quantities given for the pastry, the mixture seemed a little too buttery and soft, so I found myself compelled to add a little more flour to encourage the mixture to form a ball. The resultant pastry was still quite buttery and crumbly and, hence, a small chunk broke away when I inverted the pan. I note that Stephanie Alexander suggests 100g unsalted butter to 200g plain flour, one egg, a tablespoon of sugar and 2 teaspoons of water, so these quantities may be more suitable for a less buttery, firmer dough. To be honest, I would have preferred puff pastry.
However, the tarte tatin did turn out quite nicely and it tasted lovely, as it should! As Adrian points out, The Good Life is “not about flash, fancy, show-off food that can only be replicated in a restaurant… [the dishes] are about comfort and simple pleasures. And, above all, they are about flavour.” Indeed.
My partner, Peter, probably best summed it up by saying “If I was to buy only one cookbook, then The Good Life might well be it, as it is packed with recipes for so many different things.” With more than 300 pages, beautiful photography by John Laurie and recipes ranging from The Perfect Steak to Sticky Coffee Puddings with Chocolate and Prunes, The Good Life is definitely one to go into the Christmas stocking, particularly for the man in your life.
With thanks to Pan Macmillan and Adrian Richardson.
Cookbook reviews and interviews with food writers and chefs.