Why some retro recipes deserve a revival

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Pineapple and Fennel upside down cake.

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It’s a universal truth that most cookbooks don’t age well, and with the benefit of hindsight many dishes from the 1970s and ’80s seem pretty grim. However, there’s no reason to throw them on the scrapheap of edible missteps. Many of those dishes are proud signposts of our heritage and form part of our identity as a nation.

Take ki-si-min, for example. Its origins are as much a transTasman bunfight as those of the pavlova, but this curried cabbage and mince stew was the first venture into the realms of Asian cooking for many Australians and Kiwis (although it bears no resemblance to any real Asian dishes I know). 

Upside-down cakes, too, were a rite of passage for many a young baker. I can still remember the feeling of sheer pride as a young tacker when I turned out my first decent upsidedown cake, with no fruit stuck to the base of the tin and a gloss of caramel running down the side. Far from turning up our noses up at these pieces of our history, let’s tweak them and then celebrate them. Here are a couple of ways to modernise some of the great dishes of yesteryear. 

CARAMELISED PINEAPPLE AND FENNEL UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

Serves 8-10

It may seem strange, but the aniseed flavour of fennel combines with the tartness of pineapple to make a fantastic match.

• ¼ cup white sugar

• 1 small fennel bulb, cut into thin half-moons (reserve fronds for garnish)

• 25g butter, plus extra for greasing

• ½ small pineapple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced lengthways into wedges

• 2 tbsp brown sugar

• 300ml double cream, to serve

Cake batter

• 2 cups plain flour

• 1 tsp baking powder

• 1 tsp ground fennel

• ½ tsp salt

• 150g butter

• ½ cup sugar

• 2 eggs

• 1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the white sugar and 1½ cups water in a small pan, bring to a simmer, add the fennel and cook for 10 minutes, until tender. Drain, reserving 2 tbsp of the fennel water. 

In a frying pan, heat the butter and fry the pineapple for about 3 minutes until lightly browned. Add the brown sugar and stir gently to create a caramel. Stir in the drained fennel and reserved fennel water, ensuring that the caramel thoroughly coats the pineapple and fennel. Arrange the pineapple and fennel in the base of a greased and lined 22cm-diameter cake tin. 

Preheat your oven to 180°C. For the cake batter, place the flour, baking powder, ground fennel and salt in a bowl and mix to combine. In a separate bowl, or the basin of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then mix through the vanilla. To this, add the dry ingredients a little at a time, mixing at a slow speed to form a smooth batter. 

Pour the batter over the pineapple and fennel and bake for 35 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin, then turn out, garnish with the reserved fennel fronds and serve with cream.

KI-SI-MIN REDUX

Serves 4-6

Ki-si-min Redux.

Ki-si-min Redux. Photo: William Meppem

This classic gets reinvented here as a curried paella-style dish, rather than a soggy rice stew.

• 2 tbsp olive oil

• 1 brown onion, finely diced

• 2 garlic cloves, minced

• 1 small carrot, finely diced

• 2 cups chopped cabbage

• 500g beef mince

• ½ cup green beans, cut into 1cm lengths

• ½ cup frozen peas

• 2 tomatoes, chopped

• 1 tbsp curry powder

• 1 tsp smoked paprika

• ½ cup white wine

• 3 cups chicken stock

• ½ tsp salt

• 3 cups sushi rice (or other short- or medium-grain rice, but not risotto rice)

• 1 squid tube, cut into thin rings

• coriander sprigs, to serve

• lemon wedges, to serve

In a very large frying pan or paella pan on a medium heat, add the olive oil and fry onion, garlic, carrot and cabbage for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the mince and fry until browned. Add the beans, peas, tomato, curry powder and paprika and stir to combine.

Add the wine and stock and stir again. Add the salt, check, and season again if necessary. It should taste slightly saltier than you’d like the final product to be as the salt will also season the rice. Scatter the rice over the mince mixture and stir just enough to distribute it evenly. Bring to a simmer and cook on low-medium heat for about 7 minutes. Press the squid rings into the rice and simmer until the rice and squid are cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. Scatter with coriander sprigs and serve with lemon wedges.

Adam’s tip Sushi rice (also known as koshihikari rice) is a cheaper Australiangrown alternative to the bomba or calasparra rice usually used for paella-style dishes. All are short-grain Japonica varieties with very similar properties.

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