A sexy tale of swedes and pasta

This piece of writing, which was originally written for The Sunday Age, is reproduced here, word for word, because it makes me laugh whenever I reread it.

I think I must be drifting into some sort of mental illness. The symptoms manifested themselves just the other day when I strolled into the local fruit shop and fell in love with the swedes.

It takes a certain mind to fall in love with vegetables, especially brown and yellow balls that look remarkably like those strange steel orbs that European men toss about in parks on sunny Sunday mornings. I used to think that swedes tasted like steel balls too, but that was in those dark days when such vegetables were force-fed to ungrateful children; like me.

I’m not like that any more, but now my past is coming back to haunt me through my children. If you ever see a cook book claiming it is full of enticing recipes for children, it’s either lying or each recipe is stacked to the eyeballs with sugar. I have discovered you can serve up the same dish four nights in a row, and one of them will eat it on Monday, another on Tuesday, all will deny it on Wednesday, and on Thursday they’ll sing in chorus: ‘Why can’t we have this more often, dad?’ But … What can you do when your own mother recalls such atrocities from your early, and not so early, days? Like the time, I am reminded, when I took a mouthful of swede, thinking it was potato, and spat it out all over the table. ‘There, there, dear,’ she said at the time. We don’t deserve such mothers, do we?

Swedes don’t deserve their reputation as pig feed either. They have a guts that pumpkin doesn’t, a colour that turnips miss, a touch of this and a hint of that, and they are cheap now, and always will be. Which, in the end, is why I fell in love with them.

The challenge was to make them more interesting to the unbelievers. As much as my new-found lover has plenty to recommend it in its usual guises of steamed, baked, or pureed accompaniment to most roasts, it needs a little lift to make it, well, sexy.

Try this: mash it gently, confuse it with a little aggressively tasty cheese, and a little chilli, and wrap it in pasta. Naturally, it would be Swedish ravioli.

4 firm swedes — Forget the soft ones, they’ve been waiting for a lover for too long.


black pepper

1 hot chilli, chopped finely

handful of fresh thyme, squeezed from the stems, for the filling, and more for the sauce

50g butter, and 50 g more (softened) for the sauce

200g Parmesan, and 50g more for grating — You could use a milder cheese for the filling, like Ricotta, but I prefer a more aggressive flavour, somewhere between Ricotta and goat’s cheese. Provolone would be fine, or an aged cheddar. You must use a Parmesan style for grating.


Peel the swedes, chop them into eighths, and place them in a bowl for the microwave. Cook them on high, covered, for about 10 minutes, depending on the power of your machine, until they are tender to the knife. Drain any excess moisture and sprinkle swedes with salt, black pepper and the butter. Set aside to cool.


Once the swedes are cool, mix the cheese, chilli and thyme through with a fork, or your fingers, until it comes together. It should be just short of dry, with a tangible amount of moisture.


Place on your sheets of pasta and enclose as before. Cut into shapes you like.


Cook in rolling boiling water for 4–5 minutes, until the pasta is cooked and gives to the bite. Drain.


Toss in the softened butter, black pepper, grated Parmesan and extra thyme, until the butter has melted and attached to the ravioli. Serve more Parmesan on the side.

WINE : Hunter semillon is something you cannot hurry. They often take 4–6 years before they blossom. The most consistent styles are from McWilliam’s and Rothbury.