Tasmanian Menu by Simone Cooper (Bett)
A feast for the eyes, a feast for the plate
By Robyn Lewis
Tasmania is no longer the Apple Isle. While the decline of its apple industry may be a shock to some – drive down the Huon Valley now and many orchards are divided into hobby farms – there is good news: Tasmania has graduated to become the Gourmet Isle, and is now at the forefront of Australia's pantry.
Since the 1980s its crops have diversified, slowly at first and then with increased momentum. Tasmania’s population took up travelling, its farmers won Nuffield Scholarships, immigrants brought new ideas, and the result was the genesis of a number of food industries.
It started with seafood; with its unpolluted oceans and rivers and relative insulation from sea level temperature increases, Tasmania retains a competitive advantage, and its seafood is world class, much of it exported to Asia. First scallops, abalone and crayfish (now called rock lobster), then oysters, salmon, ocean trout and mussels, fish harvesting and farming has taken off and the quality is superb. In my opinion there aren’t better table fish in Australia than the deep sea Tasmanian blue eye (trevalla) and stripy trumpeter.
Crops expanded from the staples such as potatoes, peas and onions to include wasabi, organic garlic, saffron and exotic mushrooms. Dairying has blossomed – no longer is milk just sold fresh or powdered, but there’s plenty of creative value-adding in the form of cheeses good enough to win trophies at our national shows. Yoghurts, ice creams, meats – you name it, Tasmania’s got nearly all of it.
Its meat industry is also undergoing a resurgence as consumers seek farm-reared, humanely slaughtered and hormone-free supplies, combined with an interest in tastier meat from older breeds that have dwindled on ‘the mainland’. Australia’s oldest Southdown stud (Southdowns are historically the best flavoured of all sheep) is located just out of Hobart. Tasmanian wagyu and Angus beef feature on many of the best menus.
Then there’s the rebirth of the Coal River Valley, just out of Hobart. Once a near dustbowl (few realise that parts of Tasmania are very dry) and suitable only for sheep and dryland cropping, an irrigation scheme brought plentiful water; it’s now home to the largest apricot orchards in the southern hemisphere, a growing number of award-winning vineyards, one of the nation’s largest lettuce and mesclun farms, cherries and other fruit and vegetables.
And it’s all GMO free. Tasmania maintains a moratorium on genetically modified foods statewide, which enhances its clean, green brand significantly, and helps make Tasmanian the provenance of choice for many consumers seeking purity of their food supply. As more people demand healthier choices, for themselves as well as the planet, Tasmanian produce is hard to beat.
But how best to cook it? There have been Tasmanian cookbooks in the past, dating back to old high school home economics days and the ladies of the CWA. While there are still plenty of cake- and slice-makers about, times have moved on, and like the rest of Australia, Tasmanians too have a taste for Asian, Moroccan and other international flavours, but enhancing their own fabulously fresh produce.
Tasmanian Menu by Simone Bett arrives at a good time. MasterChef Australia judges Matt Preston, George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan and their film crew have recently left its shores, enthused by the quality of the produce, the new style restaurants, the people and their passion for great food and drinks (not only wine, but whiskies, beers and more).
Simone Bett is a fourth-generation Tasmanian, who feels a genuine connection with the Gourmet Isle, its seasons, produce, environment and community. Tasmanian Menu started as a way to record her favourite recipes to pass down to her children.
But over two years, and encouraged by local foodies including television presenter and renowned food author Judith Sweet, the project grew. Her partner landscape and portrait photographer Alastair Bett, ably assisted in making this book a celebration of Tasmania’s beautiful natural surrounds as well as the pristine environment.
Each recipe is showcased with a Tasmanian landscape, some close-ups of quiet moments, others of grander beauty. Tasmanian Menu became a family project involving their children Madelaine and Adrian (described as the best food critics), friends and locals including a group of parents from the local primary school.
The recipes are a mix of international influences and new takes on old classics, with Tasmanian flavours woven throughout. No tapas here, but three courses, plus a thoughtful children’s menu.
Entreés include Thai Prawn Dumplings (served with Huon Valley oyster mushrooms); Leek and Goat’s Cheese Tart; Seared Tasmanian Scallops; Oysters with Red Onion, Chilli and Tasmanian Apple Cider Vinaigrette; and Crispy Salt and Pepper Calamari, which also abounds in Tasmania’s waters.
Mains are also varied. Beef Wellington may be an old dish indeed, but make it with a Tasmanian eye fillet, and you’ll sure notice the difference – or if you prefer, serve fillet steaks with a Tasmanian Pepperberry and Port Reduction.
There’s Moroccan Spiced Lamb Rack; Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon with Pea and Mint Risotto; Pork Fillet with Mirin and Wasabi Glaze, and a delicious Creamy Seafood Soup of Blue Eye, Scallops, Prawns and Mussels…. incentive enough to have you rushing to the kitchen to try out a few. Vegetarian are not forgotten with a Pumpkin Ravioli with Salsa Verde.
The recipe ingredients and steps are well laid-out, and are within the capability of an average to accomplished home cook, although some have quite a few ingredients. Those in the Kids’ Menu section are easier, and children could assist in the making of most of them, or master a few themselves. I’m sure the Tasmanian Salmon and Vegetable Pancakes and Herb-infused Chicken Penne will be winners with my family, too.
Tasmanian desserts often revolve around its flavoursome fruit, including raspberries and other berries and stone fruits. There are Profiteroles with Raspberry Coulis (which you could serve with anything from ice cream to a a breakfast muesli); a classic Lemon Tart with Fresh Blueberries; Crème Brulee with Roasted Rhubarb; Elderflower Pannacotta (made with Tasmanian elderflower concentrate) and a very yummy Citrus Polenta Cake.
Of course it wouldn’t be a complete Tasmanian Menu without at least one apple recipe: appropriately, a new take on an old family favourite, Apple Crumble. Simone makes hers with Granny Smith apples – a staple variety of many a Tasmanian backyard orchard – in individual honey pots topped with an almond meal crumble. Yum indeed.
Not only is Tasmanian Menu a lovely snapshot and insight into local family cooking, but with its beautiful photographs it’s a fabulous souvenir of the Gourmet Isle.
If you’ve ever visited Tasmania, or plan to and want a taste in advance, it’s the book for you, and would make a great gift for homesick expats, too. The recipes can of course be cooked anywhere in the world, even though they may not taste quite the same as if made with the fresh, fabulous produce that’s put Tasmania firmly on the global foodie map, and moved it out of the apple basket to the front of Australia's produce shelf.
Tasmanian Menu by Simone Bett with photography by Alastair Bett is published by Simone Bett (Hobart, Tas; sc, 200 pp) and retails for RRP A$39.95.
It is available from select booksellers in Tasmania and online from TasmanianMenu.com (free postage).
- Hobart (TAS)
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