We spoke to Ellie Bouhadana (aka @ellies.table) before lockdowns lifted. Throughout that time, Ellie's inspired meals and sardine-heavy meals were a source of food envy or motivation - whichever you choose. The Melbourne-based chef outlives the period of isolation, though. Regardless, her perspectives on food and recipe for cured sardines are aspirational (and achievable) for the summer to come, too. Enjoy, eat up, and find joy in small fish.
What is your favourite thing about cooking/food? How did you find your passion?
Food represents people's history. Culture is passed down through food - that is why I feel so connected to it. I grew up with food being central to my Jewish community and identity. I am most passionate when I watch people cooking their traditional foods in their homes - how they weave through the kitchen, so comfortable, so full of love to feed.
I don't have an exact moment when I found my passion, rather it was and continues to be a build up of times spent watching my mother and grandmother cooking together at home for Jewish holidays, wandering through markets overseas choosing fresh fruit, pickled vegetables and fish from the deli, learning from my aunty in her small apartment in a neighbourhood outside of Tel Aviv, taking in the smells and watching how women rolled pasta in Italy, watching the love my friends put into the food they cook at the restaurant where I currently run the kitchen. All these moments have formed my excitement for food, cooking and eating.
What are your top three pantry staples? And top three fridge essentials?
Extra virgin olive oil
Packet of pasta
A wedge of parmigiano reggiano
Do you have a go-to outfit or look for days spent in the kitchen?
I like to feel good when I am spending a long while in the kitchen. Jeans and a cute frilly shirt with my comfy beige crocs is what you will usually see me in.
What is the ultimate meal of love?
Anything that has spent a long time in the oven or on the stove, gently softening, every now and then your love pouring into it through painting it with its own bubbling juices. That may be a small lamb shoulder, with the bone in, cooked simply with anchovies, oregano, garlic and white wine. A green lemony salsa hastily chopped up at the end to pour over.
Another ultimate meal of love for me is spaghetti aglio e olio with either a few anchovies melted in or a piece of guanciale sliced and fried into it. Always with lots of chilli, parmigiano grated into it while mixing through at the end with pasta water and parsley from my garden. My partner and I make this for each other on lazy nights spent together. It is simple but always so beautiful.
Do you have any tips for those of us still in lockdown (and, truthfully, even out of it now)? How can we find inspiration, motivation and keep things alive in the kitchen?
It is really hard to feel motivated to cook and be in the kitchen when you can't exactly share the meals with friends and family. I think a nice way to keep things fun in the kitchen is to make small antipasto plates to eat for an early dinner that don't take too much energy to put together. These kinds of spreads feel luscious yet low key enough that you are able to feel motivated to prepare them - you can enjoy them on your own as much as you can if you were making it for a group of friends.
If you have a balcony or porch you can eat it outside as you watch your neighbours go on their evening strolls. I like to make myself a drink (maybe vermouth on ice or a negroni), and sit on the porch with a few slices of salami, some marinated fish or vegetables (you can buy a tin of anchovies from the grocer or make your own marinated small fish or peppers), a wedge of cheese and bread.
What recipe can we share on the journal?
This is my recipe for marinated sardines. They are a beautiful snack to eat as part of an evening antipasto plate - especially as the days are moving towards getting warmer. Make sure you have a few pieces of bread to soak up the marinating juices at the end, a glass of white wine to pair with it etc.
Lemony Marinated Sardines
Ingredients you'll need for two people as a snack -
- 200-250g very fresh sardines
- Red wine vinegar
- Flakey salt (like maldon)
- Juice of one lemon
- Three cloves of garlic
- Small handful of parsley plus extra for garnish
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Dried chilli flakes
The process -
- Ask your fishmonger to clean the sardines for you or do it yourself - with a sharp knife remove the heads of the sardines then slice open the belly and clean it out. Rinse the cleaned belly under cold water. Pinch the spine and gently pull it free from the flesh. You are now holding a beautiful butterflied sardine.
- Arrange the cleaned sardines in a shallow ceramic or glass dish and pour over three tsps of red wine vinegar.
- With your fingers sprinkle over a generous pinch of flakey salt.
- Squeeze over the juice of one lemon. This will start curing the sardines.
- Finely slice 2 cloves of garlic and sprinkle the slices over the sardines, followed by a small handful of finely chopped parsley.
- Pour over enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the sardines (about 1/4 cup) - essentially preserving them.
- Cover the dish and place it in the fridge for at least six hours. Or you can leave them to cure in the fridge overnight.
- Pull them out of the fridge 30 minutes before you are ready to eat. Take them out of the oil and serve on a plate with more fresh parsley and dried chilli flakes, along with some bread and olives too.