Her latest book One Pan Perfect is the perfect post-pandemic remedy

Donna Hay is one of Australia's most popular home cooks and authors. Picture: Supplied
Donna Hay is one of Australia's most popular home cooks and authors. Picture: Supplied

When a 25-year-old Donna Hay first walked into our kitchens in the late 1990s, a generation of home cooks around the same age hitched our horses to her wagon.

We were living out of home for the first time, we had money to spend, we wanted to impress our friends and housemates with meals that looked, and tasted, like they had jumped off the pages of the glossy magazines where she worked.

We picked up copies of the early Marie Claire cookbooks, Cooking (1997), Dining (1998) and Flavours (2000) and when the eponymous magazine was launched in 2001 we subscribed as soon as we could.

Twenty years later many of us feel as though we've grown up alongside Hay. Our children's parties drew inspiration from her kids editions, there was even a wedding-themed one in the summer we all got married. She went on a health kick with such books as Life in Balance (2015) and Weeklight (2019) when we hit a certain age. Her many television series, which kicked off in 2011, provided us with some respite from the grind. She just got us.

And nothing she ever did seemed out of our reach. Not even that trademark pasta swirl.

And now, post pandemic, she's done it again. One Pan Perfect is where we're all at. Who wants to wash up, who wants to stand over a pan for too long? The ideal meal is something you can pop in the oven and head out for a quick walk, or finish off those emails while working from home.

"That's always been my strength, being a home cook, I'm quite mindful of people's time restraints and skill levels," she says.

One Pan Perfect, by Donna Hay. Harper Collins, $49.99. Photography: Chris Court. Recipe and styling: Donna Hay

One Pan Perfect, by Donna Hay. Harper Collins, $49.99. Photography: Chris Court. Recipe and styling: Donna Hay

"I've got teenage sons, I know what a busy week is like, it's always been about making it as easy as possible for everyone while never compromising on flavour.

"I'm always looking for a shortcut or an easy way to get people cooking so it just seemed like a natural progression after lockdown, where people might have been cooking more than ever, to simplify it again, take that idea of throwing it all in the one pan, and mix it up again."

Hay streamed cooking classes during the pandemic and they were extremely popular. While there were ones directed at an adult audience the 4.30pm children's classes were the hottest ticket in town.

"I'd get emails and photos and messages on social media from all sorts of people who said the classes really made a difference to their time in lockdown," she says. Parents loved doing classes with their children, the children loved showing their parents a thing or two.

"They were really great fun."

In some ways Hay has played that role as we've learned to cook. She's challenged us at times but often provided us with recipes that have become firm favourites. Her banana bread recipe from 2008's No Time to Cook is the one I still use, alongside her too-easy muffin recipe. At Christmas, I am likely to present one of her majestic trifles.

She says she'll often get stopped at the supermarket. People are keen to talk to her about her favourite recipes, about the magazine and how much they miss it. She misses it, too, in a way, but says 17 years was a long time in the publishing game.

"We changed the way magazines looked at food," she says. "We had a great team, fantastic people, and we did some amazing things."

The magazine wrapped up after 100 issues in 2018.

One Pan Perfect is peppered with links to videos of her making the recipes in her own kitchen, via the ubiquitous QR code. It's full of kitchen hacks and tips to make everything easier.

It is like she's standing in our kitchens with us, and I guess that's how it's been since the very beginning.

  • One Pan Perfect, by Donna Hay. Harper Collins, $49.99. Photography: Chris Court. Recipe and styling: Donna Hay

All-in-one crispy baked tacos

All-in-one crispy baked tacos. Picture: Chris Court.

All-in-one crispy baked tacos. Picture: Chris Court.

Taco night just got a whole lot breezier. Cook your filling and tortillas at the same time and you have already-filled, crisp and golden tacos. Genius!

Ingredients

8 x 20cm flour tortillas

extra virgin olive oil, for brushing

400g cherry tomatoes

1/2 red onion, finely sliced

2 x 400g cans black beans, rinsed and drained

60g chipotle chillies in adobo sauce, chillies finely chopped and sauce reserved

250g fresh corn kernels

sea salt and cracked black pepper

1 large avocado, chopped, to serve

16g coriander leaves, to serve

lime cheeks, to serve

Lime yoghurt:

280g plain thick yoghurt

2 tbsp lime juice

1 tsp finely grated lime rind

1 small clove garlic, crushed

sea salt and cracked black pepper

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180C.

2. Brush both sides of the tortillas with oil and place them in a deep baking dish. Arrange them together, side-by-side, to form rustic cup-like shapes.

3. To make the filling, make a small cut in each cherry tomato, squeeze out and discard the seeds. Roughly chop the tomatoes and place them in a bowl with the onion, black beans, chipotles and sauce, corn, salt and pepper.

4. Spoon into the tortillas and bake for 18-20 minutes or until the tortillas are golden and crisp.

5. While the tacos are baking, make the lime yoghurt. Mix the yoghurt, lime juice, lime rind, garlic, salt and pepper together in a bowl to combine.

6. Serve the tacos with avocado, coriander, lime and the lime yoghurt.

Tip: Feel free to add grated cheese or haloumi to your tacos.

Serves 4.

Any fruit tart

Any fruit tart. Picture: Chris Court

Any fruit tart. Picture: Chris Court

This is my go-to tart for any occasion - from afternoon tea to after-dark. Look no further than the season's fruit bounty for the sweetest results.

Ingredients

180g plain wholemeal spelt flour, plus extra for dusting

75g raw caster sugar

125g very cold unsalted butter

60ml ice-cold water

1 tsp vanilla extract

pure maple syrup or honey, to glaze

1 tbsp demerara sugar

4 sprigs lemon thyme, to serve

vanilla bean yoghurt or ice-cream, to serve

Almond filling:

45g almond meal

2 tsp finely grated lemon rind

75g raw caster sugar

6 plums, stones removed and quartered*

125g fresh or frozen blueberries*

Method

1. Place the flour and sugar in a bowl. Using a box grater, grate the butter into the flour. Add the water and vanilla, using your fingertips to combine until a soft dough forms. Shape into a disc.

2. Dust the pastry with extra flour and roll out between two sheets of non-stick baking paper until you have a rough 30cm round that is approximately 4mm thick. Place onto a baking tray and refrigerate until firm. Remove the top sheet of baking paper.

3. Preheat oven to 180C.

4. To make the almond filling, mix the almond meal, lemon rind and sugar together. Sprinkle over the pastry, leaving a 5cm border.

5. Top with the plums and blueberries. Fold the excess pastry over to form an edge.

6. Using a pastry brush, glaze the fruit with maple syrup or honey and sprinkle the pastry with demerara sugar. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until crisp and golden.

7. Serve the tart warm or cold with lemon thyme sprigs, vanilla bean yoghurt or ice-cream.

Tips:

Choose your own fruit combination. You could use either eight apricots, six plums, three peaches, or four nectarines, halved and stones removed. You could also swap the blueberries for strawberries or blackberries.

In the cooler months, try sliced apples or pears with frozen berries for a tangy pop of flavour.

Serves 8.

Upside-down summer pavlova

Upside-down summer pavlova. Picture: Chris Court

Upside-down summer pavlova. Picture: Chris Court

All the summertime sweetness without the fuss! This recipe literally turns the classic pav on its head so there's no assembly needed.

Ingredients

6 white or yellow peaches or nectarines, stones removed and sliced into wedges

6 plums or apricots, stones removed and quartered

40g fresh passionfruit pulp

185g fresh or frozen raspberries

whipped cream, to serve

Meringue:

225ml egg whites (about 6 eggs)

220g raw caster sugar

35g coconut sugar

1 tbsp cornflour

1 1/2 tsp white vinegar

Method

1. Preheat oven to 160C.

2. Place the peaches, plums, passionfruit and raspberries into a deep 25cm x 35cm baking dish. Set aside.

3. To make the meringue, place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk on high speed until soft peaks form.

4. Combine the caster sugar and coconut sugar in a bowl. Add the mixed sugars to the egg whites, one tablespoon at a time, whisking until each addition has dissolved before adding more.

5. Once all the sugar has been added, scrape down the sides of the bowl and whisk for a further 10-15 minutes or until thick and glossy.

6. Place the cornflour and vinegar in a small bowl and mix until smooth. Add the cornflour mixture to the egg white mixture and gently fold through.

7. Spoon the meringue mixture over the top of the fruits. Reduce oven temperature to 140C and bake for one hour or until the meringue has crisp edges. Serve warm or chilled with whipped cream.

Tip: I recommend a freestyle approach to the fruits you use in this pavlova - just look to the season for inspiration!

Serves 6-8.

Zucchini, spinach and mozzarella lasagne

 Zucchini, spinach and mozzarella lasagne. Picture: Chris Court

Zucchini, spinach and mozzarella lasagne. Picture: Chris Court

Take everything you love about lasagne - golden, bubbling top, crisp edges, gooey centre - and refresh with nourishing greens for this lighter take.

Ingredients

850g English spinach (about 4 bunches), stems removed

1kg fresh ricotta

80g finely grated parmesan, plus extra

56g chopped mint leaves

52g chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves

sea salt and cracked black pepper

3 x 30cm or 6 x 15cm square fresh lasagne sheets, blanched

4 zucchini, thinly sliced using a mandoline

3 x 100g fresh mozzarella, drained and sliced

extra virgin olive oil, for brushing

Method

1. Preheat oven to 200C.

2. Place the spinach into a large heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand for 10 seconds, then drain. Press the spinach between absorbent kitchen paper to remove any excess moisture.

3. Roughly chop the spinach and place into a bowl with the ricotta, parmesan, mint, parsley, salt and pepper, and mix to combine.

4. To assemble the lasagne, place one lasagne sheet into the base of a lightly greased 22cm ovenproof frying pan. Top with one and a half handfuls of the spinach and ricotta mixture, a layer of zucchini, and then a layer of mozzarella. Repeat layering with remaining lasagne sheets, spinach and ricotta mixture, zucchini, and mozzarella, finishing with zucchini.

5. Brush the zucchini with oil, sprinkle with extra parmesan and bake for one hour or until golden-brown.

Tip: Every fresh ricotta is different so if your ricotta mixture is a little dry, add a tablespoon of milk.

Serves 4-6.

This story Why Donna Hay is still one of our favourite cooks first appeared on The Canberra Times.