Karen Martini’s new cookbook is simply called Cook. And with 1000 recipes, it’s doing some heavy lifting in trying to get people to do it.
At 912 pages, its size is reminiscent of Stephanie Alexander’s hulking 1996 tome The Cook’s Companion, which many refer to as the kitchen bible.
In fact, the culinary legend is quoted in the preface to Martini’s Cook. “All serious cooks will thank Karen Martini for this excellent and ambitious book,” says Alexander. “She acknowledges the ‘undeniable kinship’ between The Cook’s Companion and Cook, and I take this as a compliment from a talented colleague representing the generation after my own.”
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Martini is one of Australia’s most famous chefs. She’s been cooking most of her life, and her brand of food is simple and with bold flavours, drawing on her Tunisian‑Italian heritage and a career that includes Melbourne Wine Room, while she was also founding executive chef at Sydney’s Icebergs Dining Room & Bar. Her most recent restaurant endeavour is Hero, in Federation Square’s Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI). She’s also the author of eight books, resident chef on Better Homes and Gardens, writes columns and hosts events.
Cook includes some of her favourite recipes – some she learnt from her family, others that featured on her restaurant menus over the years, as well as some classics, from midweek meals to elaborate feasts. In the sidebar there’s ingredient alternatives, suggestions for side dishes or what you could serve it with if you wanted to make it for a dinner party. It was five years in the making.
“The journey behind this book is a lot longer,” Martini says of the book. “It’s 26 years, or maybe close to 30 years of cooking and eating. All the pleasure in life, I’ve realised, comes from food and flavour, and I want to share that [here].”
One of the recipes in her book is the beloved pasta dish, carbonara. We even popped around her home and she made it for us.
“The central tenet of carbonara is a sauce composed of egg and rendered fat from some kind of cured pork; I use flat pancetta or guanciale. The eggs cook gently in the heat of the pasta, not on the stove, and emulsify into a silky, glossy coating for the pasta. Plenty of cheese and ample pepper are the other key ingredients,” she says in the recipe intro.
Like many Italian dishes, the ingredients used to make carbonara are contested. It doesn’t faze Martini, she knows what she likes and she’s sticking to it.
“You'll encounter fierce opposition from some about adding garlic, but I still do. Some will be offended by the parsley, but that doesn't put me off. Others will be appalled at the use of whole eggs, rather than yolks, but they sauce the dish beautifully, and I'm not about to waste egg white from the beautiful, pasture-raised eggs that I pay very good money for.”
She goes on. “Some will dispute the use of Parmigiano-Reggiano, rather than Pecorino Romano (it is a Roman dish, after all) – but, for me, its nutty luxury can't be beaten.”
As for the pasta shape to use? “Spaghetti appears to be traditional, though macaroni mounts a formidable case. And, in truth, a fresh or dried egg pasta, tagliatelle or fettuccine, also works wonderfully. Do as you will, just please do not add cream.”
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
150g finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
6 flat-leaf parsley sprigs, leaves finely chopped
600g dried spaghetti, or fresh or dried tagliatelle or fettuccine
250g guanciale or flat pancetta, cut into 5mm-thick lardons
3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Add the eggs, cheese, parsley and about 20 grinds of black pepper to a large bowl. Whisk well. Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente.
Meanwhile, heat a good splash of oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Fry the guanciale until golden and crisp, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low and add the garlic. Cook until fragrant and lightly golden. Season with salt and pepper, take off the heat and add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta cooking water to stop the garlic burning.
Tong the cooked pasta from the water directly into the frying pan, over a medium heat. Toss through until any pasta water has been absorbed and the pasta is coated, rather than sitting in liquid. Remove from the heat, then add the egg mixture and toss to combine. The sauce will thicken with the residual heat of the pasta. Don't be tempted to return to the stove, or there's a danger of scrambling the egg. Serve immediately.
This is an extract from Cook by Karen Martini, published by Hardie Grant and out now, $100. Buy it here.
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