When I was growing up, we always had cold milk on the table for breakfast and lunch. And I used to love it. But today, milk seems a little forgotten at the back of the fridge, relegated to a supporting role for coffee, tea and cereal, and not much else. Which is odd considering what a great staple it is. Considering how packed with nutrients it is. And considering how versatile it is.
I guess things change over time, sometimes without us even noticing. And it’s certainly not always for the better. Convenience slowly took us so far away from eating ‘real’ food, from making things from scratch and, in many cases, from being as healthy as we can be. But isn’t that changing! There’s a vast global movement, from the best chefs to home cooks, that values the flavour, the goodness and the sheer pleasure in cooking as naturally as possible.
I’m a real believer in cooking with wholefoods, foods that are as unprocessed and as complete as possible. Rather than becoming obsessed with detailed dietary information, if we all just ate a good variety of fresh, natural, minimally processed foods – with the occasional treat – then we’d all be a lot healthier, and a lot happier. And we’d eat much more delicious food, too! Milk is exactly that – an essential wholefood.
One of my daughters, Amber, actually helped put milk back on our kitchen table. Sitting down with a nice cold glass of milk has become such a pleasure for her now – she even has it for dessert! Sure I’ve been cooking with milk forever, but it’s such a joy to rediscover it as a delicious and nutritious drink on its own.
Something as simple as a glass of milk is not only refreshing for kids (and not just kids), but it is also ‘real’ food, a real snack. It’s full of nutrients and is a much better alternative to most packaged juices. A lot of commercial juice is made from concentrate, and without the fibre of whole fruit it is closer to soft drink than it is to a healthy food. Where milk is a natural wholefood. With no additives, no other ingredients. Just milk.
So, I’m buying quite a bit of extra milk now! I’ve always used it in all sorts of things, from making a béchamel for lasagne, a vegetable bake or, my girls’ favourite, tuna pasta bake. That may sound a little retro. Well, it is. It’s a reworking of my mum’s version, and I also do a version of her cauliflower and cheese. Back to basics, hey! I’ve rebooted it with leek and sometimes even roasted beetroot.
Milk also finds its way into my panna cotta recipe, making the elegant little desserts that little bit brighter. For an Italian meat ragu with a more northern accent, I replace the stock or water with half a litre or so of milk. It gives such a beautifully silky and luscious feel to the sauce, but also actually makes it lighter than a tomato-heavy sauce. Not to mention using it in batter and dough for pancakes, scones, cakes and all sorts of other things – forget about the packets! And really, I could go on, and on.
Cooking with natural wholefood ingredients is essential to making the most nutritious and delicious food possible, whether for a family meal or an occasional treat. And milk plays such an important role in my kitchen, helping to keep it natural for my family.
Golden macaroni with cauliflower & tuna
A tuna bake is quite a nostalgic dish really, a old staple of the family dinner table that was either dreaded or eagerly anticipated depending on the skill of the duty cook. I’m not going to incriminate myself by describing my memories, good or bad. But this version is pretty delicious, mellow and creamy with a whiff of warming spice and a crunchy golden crust.
Baked pasta is a pretty handy dish when you’re busy, it’s pretty quick to put together, and you can assemble it when you have time and bake it when you don’t. It also reheats pretty well, the whole thing just gets a little more intense and a little crunchier, not such a bad thing really.
serves 4-6 mains
prep time 15mins (approx.)
total time 1hr (approx.)
500 grams short pasta, macaroni, tubetti etc.
60 grams butter
5 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 red onion, finely diced
freshly ground black pepper
1½ tablespoons curry powder
60 grams plain flour
800 ml milk, warmed
100 ml cream
90 grams parmesan
370 grams tuna in oil, drained
2 handfuls breadcrumbs
Preheat your oven to 180°C fan-forced or 200°C conventional.
Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water. While the pasta cooks, place your cauliflower cut side down on a board and cut into 1cm thick slices. Add the cauliflower to the pasta pot for the last 5 minutes of cooking, drain.
While the pasta and cauliflower cook, add the butter to a medium saucepan and melt over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion, season and cook for around 4 minutes or until fragrant and softened. Add the curry powder and fry off quickly. Add the flour and stir through briefly to cook out the rawness. Pour in the warm milk, whisking as you do. Cook for around 2 minutes, while whisking, the sauce should have thickened and be smooth. Add the cream and half the cheese, whisk until combined, season.
Add the tuna, pasta and cauliflower to a large bowl and pour in the sauce. Stir through, breaking up the larger pieces of cauliflower a little as you go. Tip the mix into a ceramic baking dish, top with the remaining cheese and the breadcrumbs and bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden.