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Three, maybe four cheeses and cream

and an under-appreciated Australian cooking guru

You may remember that included in my weekly 'to cook' list I have 'one new recipe' which I have now decided to alternate with 'one recipe from a 'guru''. This week it was the gurus' turn and Beverley Sutherland-Smith. One of my middle period influencers. For I guess the modern term 'influencer' is really almost the same as the older 'guru'. Though a guru implies wisdom whereas an influencer doesn't necessarily, however much they might think they are imparting wisdom.

Anyway here is a young Beverley Sutherland-Smith as she was back in 1981. Probably not that young really as she started her cooking classes back in 1967 - and they are still going strong. Goodness know how old she is now. Indeed I remember being served a delicious banana and passionfruit pavlova - by my husband's boss's wife at some function or other, which she had learnt to cook in one of those classes. Not very exotic I know, but it was to me back then. And it was delicious.

As my sub-heading for this post says, Beverley Sutherland-Smith has never reached the heights of fame of Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer or the various male Australian celebrity chefs and cooking personalities we all know. I simply don't understand this. Maybe it's because she never had a restaurant, and I don't think she did television either. Maybe she offended someone along the way. For me she was a real discovery back in my early Australian cooking days. An Australian Delia Smith in a way. Not flashy but reliable and just a little bit different. I don't think I have ever had a real failure with any of her recipes and some of them are used over and over.

The book I chose for this particular exercise is the first one of hers that I bought. I now have several - half a dozen or so I think. This one promises you an entire meal ready in an hour. It's arranged in seasons with some extra dishes at the back. The outstanding recipe in this book - for me anyway - is Pears in passionfruit sauce. Alas the recipe is not online, but basically you slice your pears and cook in a heated mix of sugar, water, orange rind and juice. When they are cooked add some cream and butter and boil until you have a yummy thick and syrupy sauce. The final and genius touch is to add passionfruit pulp. It's divine. If you want the quantities, etc. just let me know. Or just have a go.

But for this 'to cook' exercise I decided I should try something new, so to make the task easier I concentrated on her Autumn recipes. After all it is Autumn. I considered Chicken breasts with orange and almond sauce - and indeed I may try this some time soon. Alas no recipe for that online either. Very, very few of her recipes are. I simply do not understand it. I seriously think that she has written so many good ones, that it's worth somebody cooking their way through one of her books - or at least a selection of her best. Or what about Bananas in sultana and rum sauce? That might work and David keeps buying bananas so that sometimes it's a bit of an effort to eat them before they go off.

It's odd isn't it, how some people become famous and others don't? Why? Is it the personality of the person in question? I have no idea how she presents herself. But then Elizabeth David never did television or had a restaurant. And was not a trained chef either. Maybe it's just knowing the right people who are prepared to push you and have the right contacts. The right editor or agent. There are other cooks who have played their part in my cooking education with a similar story - Margaret Costa, Katie Stewart - even, in a way Robert Carrier, who is not very often included with Elizabeth David, Julia Child and Jane Grigson in the pantheon of cooking gods of the 60s and 70s.

So what did I choose to cook? Well this is it and before you turn away, thinking it is bland and really not worth having a go at, let me tell you that this is a real discovery. I shall be making it again. It's Tagliatelle with three cheeses - and that's all it is - a dish she first came across in a Roman restaurant:

"We all ordered tagliatelle with cheese and the waiter appeared with a huge oval white platter, resembling a meat plate in size and three small dinner plates. Expertly he served the tagliatelle into the three smaller plates and then ceremoniously deposited the huge platter in front of me, explaining that the best flavour of all would be on the large platter. Sticky with cheese and with extra portions of sauce left underneath the tagliatelle, it was undoubtedly the best of the four portions."

It is one of those dishes, like its cousin cacio e pepe that is unbelievably simple and unbelievably delicious. And infinitely variable too. Timewise it takes the time it takes to cook the pasta. As the pasta nears its completion you melt your three cheeses with some cream in a saucepan, boil for a moment and then pour it over the pasta. I admit I added a bit of butter too. Yes - not healthy. Don't eat it every day.

She went on to give some more advice:

"The pasta should be the best quality you can buy and the cheese should be grated on the day it is to be eaten. Packaged and pre-grated cheeses won't have the same flavour at all. In this sauce there is a combination of three cheeses: Gruyère or a melting type of cheese, Parmesan and a blue cheese, all of which form a creamy mixture around the pasta. For the blue cheese use a Roquefort or Danish blue but be cautious in the amount you add as the blue cheese should not dominate but just contribute a light flavour."

I hate blue cheese, and the bit of blue cheese we had - some Castello - was really past its best, but I remembered a Spinach and ricotta lasagne of Delia's that we had some time ago, which had a little bit of Gorgonzola in it, and which had added an intriguing extra bit of oomph - umami I suppose. So I took Beverley's advice and was very sparing with the amount of Castello that I used. Too sparing I think as you could hardly taste it. Next time I shall add a little more. And I did buy a classier pasta than usual as well, although it was Tasty cheese not Gruyère, and it was fettuccine rather than tagliatelle. None of that to be had.

I also remembered that Robert Carrier in his Robert Carrier Cookbook had had a recipe for baked pasta with two cheeses - mozzarella and Parmesan - that I had loved as a young woman. Not quite the same thing though as it was baked and there was tomato in it as well, which of course, made for a quite different taste.

However, after that he had a recipe for Romeo Salta's Macaroni with three cheeses (Pasta ai tre Formaggio) which came from a New York restaurant run by the said Romeo Salta who came from Italy, and changed the way the Americans thought about Italian food. He loved northern Italian food which he considered more refined, even though he actually came from Perugia in the south.

That particular dish was one of the forerunners of America's love affair with macaroni and cheese, although Salta said that you could: "Use any shape macaroni you like". It's also a baked dish - and you will find lots of versions online. Therefore much longer to cook of course. This kind of thing. We all know how to do that - but it is indeed a bit more complicated than my dish of the day.

I reasoned that my three cheesed pasta sounded like a very traditional, regional Italian speciality, even if people used cheeses to suit themselves, and maybe didn't use cream. Maybe even added a touch of herb or bacon. However, I can find no historical or cultural notes on this. So I have decided it's just one of those dishes that every Italian knows and makes all the time, depending on what they have available. Really too simple to be a recipe. After all I 'messed' with it a bit by adding the butter.

As I said, I could not find Beverley Sutherland-Smith's recipe online, but I found a few - all slightly different: Three cheese pasta - Claire Brookman/Taste; Green tagliatelle with three cheeses - Delia (alas no picture); Three cheese pasta - Cookist and Three cheese (and sage) pasta - Donna Hay/Kahakai Kitchen

I also found that three cheeses are a popular choice for risottos - as in Jamie's Three cheese risotto. Then there's four cheeses, but once you start talking about four cheeses you are into pizza.

I browsed through my library and browsed the net with a focus on the Italian chefs I could think of but could not find any other recipes there. Honestly I think this is considered just too ordinary for words.

But do give it a try. It's lovely. I gave it four stars, David three. And the other thing, which is purely personal, is that it reminded me of the noodle dishes I was sometimes served in France which were really, really simple and tasted much the same. Not quite as cheesy perhaps. More buttery. Beverley Sutherland-Smith actually presented it as a starter not a main dish. For this particular menu the main dish was Prawns with almond garlic butter, which I would also have loved to try but never will because of David's hatred of prawns.

This was followed by a platter of figs, grapes, walnuts and chocolate served with a spiked coffee. Now what could be simpler than that?

The ones shown here are roasted - but you could do that too. Beverley just put them on a plate. Which is sort of very Elizabeth David - except perhaps for the chocolate. I don't think of Elizabeth David eating chocolate somehow.


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