Bonnie Stern: Donna Hay’s simple recipes taste as good as they look

Donna Hay, Australia’s most popular cook, has 23 cookbooks, her own bimonthly magazine, a television series, a newspaper column and a signature Royal Doulton collection. Her latest cookbook, The New Easy, is a collection of quick and easy recipes in her signature style — modern, clever and delicious, presented with outstanding photos. On her recent visit to Toronto, I asked about her food-styling techniques — she said a general knowledge of food and art go a long way, and she takes shapes, textures and colours into consideration when styling. She likes the monochromatic look most people avoid, and prefers plates without rims because they look like a canvas she can create on. All good tips if you like posting your food photos to social media. Here are three easy recipes from her book that have a new technique, taste or trick — and they will look great, too.

This sauce would also be great in lasagna, over polenta or on baked potatoes. And the crispy herbs are a great garnish for salads.
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup fresh oregano leaves
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
1 lb ground chicken
1 cup dry white wine
1 796mL/800g plum tomatoes, chopped with juices
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 lb pappardelle pasta
finely grated pecorino to serve
1. Heat oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add oregano and cook 1 to 2 minutes until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon to paper towels and reserve.
2. Add onions, garlic and tarragon to the pan and cook, stirring, 3 to 4 minutes or until softened. Add ground chicken and cook, breaking up any lumps with a wooden spoon, 5 to 7 minutes until golden. Add wine, tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook 10 to 15 minutes until reduced.
3. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain, add to sauce, and toss to combine. Divide pasta between bowls and top with crispy oregano and pecorino. Makes 4 servings

Brining chicken breasts for even 15 minutes adds so much flavour and the cooking technique results in perfectly cooked, tender, chicken breasts.
4 cups cold water
1/2 cup salt
8 sprigs fresh sage
4 cloves garlic, smashed
4 6oz boneless, skinless
chicken breasts
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1. Place water and salt in a bowl and stir to dissolve. Add sage, garlic and chicken and let stand 15 minutes.
2. Remove chicken, garlic and sage and pat dry with paper towels.
3. Heat butter and oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add chicken and cook 5 minutes. Add sage and garlic, turn chicken over and cook another 5 minutes or until chicken is golden brown. Reduce heat to low and cover pan with a lid. Cook 4 minutes, remove from heat and let stand another 2 minutes.
4. Serve chicken with the sage, garlic and pan juices. Makes 4 servings

As well as a topping for salads, these slightly tart, candied walnuts would make a delicious addition to a charcuterie plate.
Candied walnuts:
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp sea salt flakes
1/2 cup plain natural yogurt
2 tbsp white balsamic
sea salt and cracked black pepper
2 bulbs fennel, thinly sliced
2 Granny Smith (green) apples, thinly sliced
3 cups shredded cooked chicken
1/2 cup mint leaves
1. For candied walnuts, place sugar and vinegar in a large, non-stick frying pan over medium high heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until sugar has caramelized and is light golden. Add walnuts and salt and toss to coat. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and cool.
2. For dressing combine yogurt, vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
3. Place fennel, apple, chicken and mint in a bowl and toss to combine.
Divide between serving plates, sprinkle with walnuts and serve with dressing on the side. Makes 4 servings

About Bonnie Stern