Devoted foodie julia busuttil nishimura is poetic licence personified when it comes to her signature recipes.
Despite being born in Melbourne to Maltese parents and marrying her soulmate from rural Japan, the author and Instagram star’s name is so synonymous with delicious Italian fare, you’d think she hailed from the Tuscan countryside.
Her hit debut cookbook, Ostro, released 2017, and newest tome, A Year of Simple Family Food, out late August, are both based on a firsthand knowledge of Italian cuisine’s ethos, fuelled by a lifelong food fascination. “At the Maltese Club as a kid, I’d always find myself in the kitchen watching the chef,” says the now 32-year-old mother of sons Haruki, 4, and Yukito, five months. “I cooked our Christmas lunches from 12 years old, and spent my teens reading cookbooks every weekend. Back then, the only people writing them were Stephanie Alexander and Jamie Oliver, so it didn’t enter my mind it was something I could do.”
After studying politics and Italian at university, she moved to Southern Tuscany to work as an au pair. “The entire culture—the food, the people, the friendliness—just felt like home to me,” she recalls. “The family I worked for lived next door to the nona [who loved cooking], in a beautiful villa with an olive grove. There was so much care in shopping for ingredients. We’d drive to different farms to buy pasta and pecorino and ricotta.”
Haruki loves to help out with the baking.
After returning to Australia to finish a master’s degree in teaching, Busuttil Nishimura started a cooking blog as a hobby. Little did she know it would catch the eye of a major book publisher and soon become her full-time occupation. “Like Ostro, my new book is inspired by Italy, because that’s the food my family eats most at home— along with the occasional Japanese meal, thanks to Nori,” she says of her husband, who is a chef at hotspot cafe Cibi, in Melbourne’s Collingwood. “We have hundreds of cookbooks between us, and our kitchen is a really creative space where we always bounce ideas off each other.”
Now, more than ever, she says, home-cooking comfort food has emotional appeal. “It’s not winter yet, but people are already going for that heartier food [during the COVID-19 crisis] because it really does make you feel comforted.” She agrees a silver lining of lockdown was the upswing in households cooking together and finding their way back to a traditional sit-down scenario. “Food and family are intertwined. That notion of being together and sharing food at a table is a practice often lost in our busy lives. No matter what the day’s brought us, just setting the table and enjoying a meal together is reassuring. And for kids, cooking is just fun. Haruki loves it, especially baking. He helps chop his own vegies.”
Broad bean salad with mint and pecorino (recipe on p120).
Busuttil Nishimura’s best tip for anyone wanting to improve their cooking prowess is as laid-back as her recipes. “Just be patient. I’ve made cakes before that were disasters but I learn from my mistakes and try again,” she says. “I can’t cook like a five-star Michelin chef, but I don’t need to. The [following] recipes from my new book are ones I treasure, but it’s the ingredients and sentiment that bring them to life.”
SPAGHETTI WITH FENNEL AND PRAWNS - Serves 4
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