Q & A with Paul West—part one

Q & A with Paul West—part one
Authors at the National Library
15 June 2016

Tasmanian chef Paul West is a familiar face—he and pup Digger appear regularly in living rooms around the country in the Australian adaptation of the immensely popular English program River Cottage. With 4 seasons of River Cottage Australia under his belt, it's not surprising that Paul has written an accompanying cookbook, with viewers no doubt clamouring to try his recipes for themselves. On 17 June, Paul will host dinner at the Library for lucky fans, sharing his story and a meal inspired by The River Cottage Australia Cookbook.

Book cover of The River Cottage Australia Cookbook  Photograph of Paul West

Images courtesy Bloomsbury Publishing

We caught up with Paul ahead of his visit to ask him about River Cottage Australia and books—and to wheedle a recipe or two from him, of course! Keep an eye out for the second part of our conversation (and more recipes) on the blog next week.

In The River Cottage Australia Cookbook—and in the River Cottage Australia television show—you present a philosophy of sustainable food production. What does this mean in a practical sense for you, and how can we incorporate this into everyday living, particularly in non-rural kitchens?

It all has to begin with the recognition of our connection and influence over the food system, whether we do so actively or passively. The choices that I make as a consumer of food have impacts that reach far beyond my own hip pocket and kitchen. By taking personal responsibility for as much of the food that I eat as much as possible, I can guarantee that it is fresh, nutritious, grown in an environmentally sustainable manner, and that it benefits my family, my community and myself. I know that it’s not realistic for everyone to grow their own food (though it’s certainly a fantasy that I hold), what is possible however is to be a conscious consumer. Every meal that we eat can affect positive change to our food system.

How do you choose which recipes to include in a cookbook?

First I think about the main topic for the book, then I think about chapter headings, then I think about star ingredients, then I develop recipes. The tastiest and most visually appealing recipes are the ones that make the final cut.

Why did you write this book?

I wanted to capture the essence of the my kitchen and the farm and share it with as many people as possible.

How would you describe your latest book?

Accessible, beautiful and in need of a sequel.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Sitting still and staring at a computer screen for HOURS.

What was the best part of writing your book?

Getting the first hard copy in your hand, all that hard work embodied.

Tomato galette recipe

Recipe taken from The River Cottage Australia Cookbook by Paul West, published by Bloomsbury, RRP $45, out now.

 Photograph

I like to cook a galette for a leisurely summer lunch. Weighting the puff pastry gives it a dense, buttery texture but it still has a delicate flakiness. It’s the perfect base for some ripe, garden-fresh tomatoes and some sweet, roasted red onions.

Recipe serves 6.

Ingredients

  • 4 red onions, skin on, halved from roots to stalk
  • Olive oil, for roasting
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 sheets of frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • A mixture of half a dozen or so ripe tomatoes, cut into different shapes 
  • Small bunch of thyme, leaves picked
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

Method

Preheat your oven to 200°C. Line a large, flat oven tray with baking paper.

Place the onions skin-side down on a baking tray. Splash a little olive oil over them, season liberally with salt and pepper, then slide the tray into the oven and bake for 25–30 minutes, or until tender.

Put the sheets of pastry on the lined oven tray so they snugly fit within its rectangular shape, trimming as needed. Lay another sheet of baking paper on top of the pastry and then place another oven tray the same size as the first one on top of that. Weigh both trays down with a couple of ovenproof pots and pop it in the oven along with the onions. Bake for around 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden and cooked all over.

Remove the cooked pastry and onions from the oven and take the top oven tray off the pastry.

Scoop out the soft onion flesh and scatter it evenly over the pastry, all the way to the edges. Lay the tomatoes on top of the onion. Sprinkle over the thyme leaves and season well with salt and pepper.

Turn the oven up to 220°C and place the galette back in the oven. Cook for around 10 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened and coloured a little around the edges. Remove from the oven, drizzle over a little extra-virgin olive oil, cut up into slices and serve straight away with a fresh green salad.