Tanya Bartolini always knew she loved to cook, but it wasn't until she took maternity leave from her high-stress career in accounting and finance and gave birth to her first son that she realised she wanted to do it for a living.
'I realised that I had all these recipes in my head and scrawled on loose scraps of paper throughout my kitchen cupboards. I wanted to share them with other like-minded people," says Tanya.
'I'm not a chef, I'm just a person who loves food and loves to cook good, hearty meals for my family. Coming from an Italian background, food was a big part of my upbringing and for me, food is synonymous with family. It began to dawn on me that there must be millions of people like me, who don't want to tackle fancy recipes with a million ingredients and even more steps to follow. I thought I was time-poor before but becoming a mum only exacerbated that. It helped me understand the challenges people face every day in putting appetising dishes on the table."
It is for this reason that Tanya developed The Everyday Cook Network. Tanya's aim for the network is to create a forum of food-lovers who can interact with each other, sharing recipes, food wins and failures, and tips and tricks for improving dishes. Tanya frequently films videos showing her preparing meals, to better instruct her followers on how to put together a dish step-by-step.
Followers are encouraged to email in their own recipes directly to Tanya or to post them on the accompanying Facebook page, to create interactive discussion.
While establishing the Everyday Cook Network, Tanya has written her family history, interweaving it with delicious Italian recipes to create her first cookbook, Blending the Cultures.
'My book is really about my entire family. After the second World War, Italy was a broken country and thankfully, my grandfather took the risk to come to Australia in search of a better life for his children and ultimately, my children. Throughout everything we've been through, food has been the thing that has kept us together and the book is a celebration of the way food can unite us and bring such joy," says Tanya.
'I took my heritage for granted growing up – I thought everyone knew about gnocchi and cannoli and that everyone's Nonna made rich tomato passata. Blending The Cultures is my attempt to share a part of the Australian story that isn't widely documented and to both preserve and share these beautiful recipes," says Tanya.
Blending the Cultures features recipes from simple spaghetti sauce and marinated eggplant to garlic soy BBQ squid and savoiardi cake. It outlines the basics of making homemade pasta and chicken stock, removing the fear of the unknown when it comes to cooking from scratch. The book is written in Tanya's own voice, with mentions of her personal experience with the dishes and why they mean so much to her.
Blending the Cultures
Author: Tanya Bartolini
Nonna Ida makes the best crumbed chicken and it wasn't until recently that I discovered the exact reason why. My son absolutely loves this dish.
2 large chicken breasts (preferably free range)
¼ cup Scotch whisky
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 cups dried breadcrumbs
½ cup parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon powdered chicken stock
extra virgin olive oil
Thinly slice the chicken breasts (about 3-4 pieces per breast). Use a meat tenderiser to lightly hammer each piece thin.
Marinate the chicken: place in a bowl with eggs, scotch and garlic whisked together. Place the marinating chicken in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Place breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and chicken stock in a bowl and combine. Remove a piece of chicken from the egg mixture and place in the breadcrumbs, thoroughly coating the chicken. Transfer to a plate and continue until all pieces of chicken are crumbed.
Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Once the pan comes to temperature (breadcrumbs will bubble when dropped in), place chicken pieces in the pan. Cook on one side until golden brown, then turn and repeat. Once cooked, transfer chicken to a plate covered in paper towel. Repeat until all pieces of chicken are cooked.
This dish is best served warm and golden and crunchy.
My cousin and wonderful cook Bruna served this for lunch on one of our trips to Italy. My husband Tony absolutely loves this dish. A meat lover, he really appreciates the intense flavour.
3 sirloin steaks, at room temperature
60 g baby capers, drained of their vinegar
2 anchovy fillets, cut finely
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Place a frying pan large enough to hold the 3 steaks comfortably onto the stovetop over a high heat.
Whilst the pan heats up, season steaks with salt and pepper and rub with olive oil.
When the pan is smoking, add steaks to the pan. Cook for 30 seconds and turn. Cook for another 30 seconds. Continue rotating sides, 30 seconds at a time, until the meat is cooked rare. Remove steaks from heat. Rest, on a plate and covered with aluminium foil for 5 minutes.
Remove the foil and pour any juices back into the frying pan. Cover steaks again.
Return the pan to a medium heat and add garlic and anchovies to the steak juices, stirring with a wooden spoon. Cook for long enough to break down the anchovies into a paste. Add the capers, balsamic vinegar and, if needed, a small amount of olive oil, stirring constantly. Cook for 1 minute; remove from heat. You should have a lovely rich, glistening sauce.
Transfer the steaks to a cutting board. With a sharp knife, cut the steaks into very thin strips. Place a bed of rocket onto a serving platter; then place the steak strips in the centre of the rocket. Drizzle the balsamic sauce over the steak.
Oh my, how I love crostata di marmellata. I have been known to eat it for breakfast! The glorious jam-filled pastry is just divine with a good coffee or tea.
I have very fond memories of eating this at my Zia Angela's place in Italy. Homemade pastry filled with homemade fig jam: so perfect that it looked as if it had come straight from a professional kitchen.
My version is simple. Yes, it involves pastry making but you can buy the jam from supermarkets.
Thank you Italy for introducing me to such a wonderful pastry delight!
2½ cups 00 flour
½ cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup butter, softened
2 egg yolks
1 cup raspberry jam
Sift flour, sugar and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and add softened butter and eggs. Using two butter knives and a cutting action, mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. (It is better to use knives as hands release to much heat into the dough.) Continue blending with a cutting action until your mixture resembles coarse meal or large breadcrumbs.
Tip the dough mixture onto a floured work surface and knead for 2 to 3 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, flatten slightly and then wrap in cling film. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat a fan-forced oven to 180o Celsius.
Roll the dough on a floured work surface, forming a rough rectangle about 1cm thick.
Keep some of the dough aside to create the lattice work decoration on the top of the crostata.
Using your fingers, pinch the sides of the dough to create an edge. This will hold the jam in place. Cover the dough's base with jam.
With the extra dough, roll out flat (about 1cm thick) and cut strips. Place the strips, one at a time, to create a lattice work effect on top of the crostata.
Bake in oven for about 20 minutes, until the pastry is a lovely golden brown colour. Allow to cool.
I often cook this at home. Similar versions are found in many Italian cookbooks but it was a long-time friend (and this book's photographer) who inspired me to include this here. Many years ago, we sat at school discussing what type of pasta and pasta sauce we preferred. I remember her telling me it was her mum's spaghetti with broccoli. I was surprised: not many kids say they love broccoli. I was also intrigued. Many years later, when I was trying to work out a different way to use broccoli, I remembered that conversation. This is the result.
If cooking for kids, omit the chilli.
I like to serve this with some grated lemon rind on the pasta, giving it a lovely fresh taste, and some grated parmesan cheese because… well, it really is essential to most pasta dishes!
2 small broccoli florets
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 small red chilli, deseeded and sliced thinly
500 g dried pasta
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra for dressing
1 tablespoon cooking salt
grated parmesan cheese
Prepare broccoli by cutting it into tiny florets small enough to fit into your mouth in one bite. Use the entire broccoli, including the stem.
Fill a large pot with tap water to the ¾ mark. Place the pot onto a high heat and bring water to the boil. When the water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon of cooking salt, the dried pasta and broccoli. Stir to ensure that the pasta does not stick to the pan or itself, and bring the water back to a rolling boil.
Whilst the pasta is cooking, fry garlic and chilli in olive oil over medium heat in a large frying pan for about 30 seconds. Turn off heat and leave the pan on the stovetop.
Continue to cook the pasta and broccoli until the pasta is cooked through. Use a coffee mug to reserve a cup of water when draining.
Tip the broccoli and pasta into the frying pan along with half of reserved pasta water. Turn the heat to medium/low and toss the pasta through the liquid, chilli and garlic. Cook for 1 minute or until combined. Transfer to a large serving bowl.
Question: What inspired your love of cooking?
Tanya Bartolini: My Nonna's and my parents. For us food is synonymous with family so for me food and cooking provides a feeling of warmth, love and family.
Question: What was important for you in regards to creating The Everyday Cook Network?
Tanya Bartolini: I wanted to encourage people to cook. To provide a safe environment where they can look at content from other everyday cooks and think to themselves well if they can cook that for their family then so can I.
Question: Where and where did the idea for The Everyday Cook Network arise?
Tanya Bartolini: I came up with the idea with my husband one day when we were thinking of ways to advertise book which is soon to be released. The idea was to generate an online following but then I saw the opportunity to provide a solution for people. I have plenty of friends that either don't like to cook or aren't that confident in the kitchen. For years I have been trying to find ways for them to cook simply but nutritionally for their families and thought to myself I need to share this with others. For me the power of a community can be mind blowing. Imagine if I can build a community of everyday cooks, not professionals, just people like me who have solutions on how to cook simply and wonderfully for dinner parties or their fussy children/families. I am watching this come to life everyday since I launched the network in June and the contribution from other everyday cooks never ceases to amaze me. It is so exciting.
Question: How does The Everyday Cook Network work?
Tanya Bartolini: The Everyday Cook Network is somewhat of a cooking club. It is a website and Facebook site where people can contribute their recipes or food ideas, tips and tricks. I post recipes of mine and/or encourage others to post based on various topics, such as kids, health etc. The recipes are stored on the site as an online cookbook. A cookbook for everyday cooks, created by everyday cooks.
Question: What is your goal for The Everyday Cook Network?
Tanya Bartolini: My goal is to create a large community of everyday cooks. There is so much cooking knowledge out there that has been passed on from one generation to the next. These are not necessarily people who have been trained professionally but they are trained to know what tastes good, what is easy to cook and what their family will eat. Imagine a club of thousands and thousands of people who everyday contribute their recipes and ideas. Powerful and Motivating for all of us Everyday Cooks.
Question: How often do you add new recipes to The Everyday Cook Network?
Tanya Bartolini: New recipes are added daily.
Question: What inspires you when you are in the kitchen creating fresh recipes?
Tanya Bartolini: So many things inspire me. An ingredient, a recipe in a cookbook or something I have watched on television. I am also inspired by the food from my travels to Italy to visit my family. My family are amazing cooks so I am always trying to create my own version of something I have eaten with them.
Question: Can you tell us about Blending the Cultures?
Tanya Bartolini: Blending the Cultures is a book that captures not only my families story but my families food story. My mother is 2nd generation born Italian-Australian and my father was born in Italy and migrated here when he was 5. I have always wondered why my family is so Italian in some ways but in other ways so Australian. So, I started digging into my family story from WWII in Italy through to today. The story is told from my perspective, in my words and shares with you my families food and my food. So many of us here in Australia today have come from parents or grandparents that have migrated from another country and as a result of a strong desire to "Fit in" a lot of our traditions and food has altered. For my family we are fiercely Italian yet completely Australian. I explain what this means in more detail in my book. Hopefully I touch the hearts of most Australians who have a similar story or for those who don't I hope I provide them with some great new recipes.
Question: Where should we start – what's the best recipe to begin with?
Tanya Bartolini: My favourite probably is the Savoiardi Cake. Only because I can remember as a child at any family gathering I would always want Nonna Ida to make this cake.
Question: Overall, what are your favourite three ingredients?
Tanya Bartolini: Pasta, Tomato Passata, Wine
Interview by Brooke Hunter