“Winter is almost a distant memory and I’m beginning to use my kitchen in a different way,” says cook, teacher and author Julia Busuttil Nishimura.
“The food I am making is changing and the first hint of warm days has me craving a tidier, brighter and fresh space.”
For those who aren’t familiar with Busuttil Nishimura, her debut cookbook, Ostro, was released in 2017 and was listed among Australian Gourmet Traveller’s best food books of the year.
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Her cooking celebrates simple ingredients and seasonal produce, and is influenced by her Maltese upbringing and time spent living in Italy. It’s also made in her own, rather old Melbourne kitchen. She knows better than most the value of an orderly cooking space, especially as December approaches.
“I love a good spring clean,” she says. “It sets us up nicely for the busy festive period and ensures things are as they should be when it becomes too hot to do any sort of sorting.”
Naturally the first place she looks is the kitchen, which “usually needs the most attention”, too. Here she shares her tips for making it the best it can be.
Divvy it up
Busuttil Nishimura always keeps up her stocks of dry goods and stores them in jars – that way she always has the basics on hand and only shops for fresh ingredients.
“We don’t have a proper pantry per se, rather we have utilised existing cupboards that were probably meant for crockery and pots and pans,” she says.
Each cupboard is sectioned off: baking ingredients, legumes and grains, spices, pasta, oils and vinegars. If your ingredients have become jumbled through the year, Busuttil Nishimura says separating them out is a good place to start.
“I pull everything out and lay them on the bench or table and give everything a once over with a damp cloth, including the shelves,” she says.
If there’s an excess of some items, she consolidates them, making a list of those to use with a little more urgency, but never throws anything away.
Write a shopping list
Think about the staples you’ll need that are missing. “Dried pasta, good quality tinned tomatoes, capers, anchovies – that’s a meal ready to go,” says Busuttil Nishimura. She also suggests rice, dried beans and other grains, as well as seeds, oats and a good variety of spices.
If you’re starting from scratch, it’s worth buying on a need-to-use basis, she says, and building up your supplies over time.
Buying in bulk saves time, money and excess packaging. “I have particular suppliers that I use for some things, but mostly we’ll tend to shop at organic or specialty grocers,” she says. Among her favourites are The Common Good Store, a local grocery shop in Hawthorn, and specialty Italian and Japanese grocery stores.
There are a few things worth splashing out on that will serve you well beyond the spring and summer. The best? A topnotch kitchen knife.
“We buy ours from a small knife shop in Kyoto and I would be lost without it,” says Busuttil Nishimura.
She also recommends investing in a sturdy mortar and pestle before a food processor, and says “a microplane is priceless, as is a mandolin.”
Get yourself some proper pans, too. “The ones I use most are cast iron and go from stove top to oven and are perfect for almost every thing I cook,” she says.
Keep it clean
You don’t need to go overboard with gadgets and fancy do-wackies, though, and “having utensils or equipment that aren’t functional just takes up precious space,” Busuttil Nishimura says.
“I suppose I’m a bit old school but we use a stove-top kettle and toast our bread under the grill – our bench space is so minimal and that was the compromise we made to make our kitchen as functional as it could be.”
Every so often she does a stocktake, consolidates ingredients and shuffles things around, so nothing is forgotten.
Busuttil Nishimura does a big pantry shop every couple of months, and visits the market twice a week.
“Our meals are always based around fresh produce. After coming home from the market with my fresh ingredients, I will then look to my pantry to see what will be a good match,” she says.
From there she’ll decide on a recipe, and usually won’t buy any extra pantry items. “It actually is what makes me more creative in the kitchen and more reactive as a cook,” she says.
“I find spring cleaning a good time to be more creative as everything I have is fresh in my mind.”
Ostro was released in 2017 and shortlisted for illustrated book of the year at the 2018 Australian Book Industry Award. It was among Australian Gourmet Traveller’s best food books of 2017. Buy it here.
Want more tips? Read the rest of the spring-cleaning series here, including “How to Spring Clean Your Garden” and how to get more mindfulness into your everyday.