Hang onto your whipped butters, food lovers, Hope St Radio’s focaccia-loving original chef has just published a cookbook.

Ellie Bouhadana may have just stepped away from the stove at Hope St Radio, but that doesn’t mean the music stops – not least thanks to the arrival of her debut cookbook. In Ellie’s Table she shares recipes picked up through her travels through Italy and handed down from generation to generation. Part recipe book, part journal, Ellie’s Table is an extension of Ellie’s approach to food, full of recipes close to her heart, following her from her safta’s kitchen sharing the family rugelach recipe to a trip Italy, discovering along the way the secrets to perfect fried zucchini – a recipe with roots deep in Rome’s Jewish community. She shares memories of cooking Moroccan dishes as a child with her doda Melani and her dad. There’s also whole chapter on her celebrated focaccia and its accompanying butters.

Here’s Ellie herself on how she laid this table.

I wanted to write a book full of recipes and stories based on my family heritage and from the Hope St Radio kitchen where I just finished up after three years as chef. My inspiration for the book is the kind of food that makes people feel full and warm. I love that feeling after a meal with loved ones when your belly is rounder than before you sat down, and you’re so satisfied from the meal that you need to unbutton your jeans.

I grew up with women who cooked with intuition. Writing recipes down with proper quantities and measurements was never my grandmother’s style and I inherited her way of tasting and seasoning as I go, based on my own taste buds. That made writing a cookbook a challenge for me, but I learned to weigh and write things down and amend as I go, and it’s part of my process now. In saying that, when writing the book, I also learned the importance of getting to know a recipe and making it your own. Measuring is necessary and good but using your intuition and taste buds to guide you is equally essential.

The easiest recipe in the book is the pan-fried chicken thighs with green olives and pearl couscous. My food is usually produce-driven, so I’d like to think everything in the book is approachable for a home cook, but this is basically a one-pan dish with a couple of extra bits to enhance flavour. Salting the chicken thighs overnight, for example, draws out moisture and enhances flavour (even 15 minutes or an hour of pre-salting will help, even if you don’t have time to do it overnight). You cook the chicken in a pan skin-side down until it’s crisp, and then cosy the thighs up amongst grains of pearl couscous that expand into jewels after being covered in chicken stock and a sauce of garlic, anchovy, turmeric, honey, lemon and extra-virgin olive oil.

And if you like to challenge yourself, you might try the lamb-stuffed artichoke bottoms with onions and peas. This is a nostalgic dish that my dad’s Moroccan side of the family used to make on special high holiday meals or for Shabbat dinner. You make a meatball mixture rich with onion, spices and herbs and use it to fill hollowed-out artichoke bottoms. You then make a rich onion sauce for the stuffed artichokes to sit in and cover them with peas, water and lemon juice to braise the lot until they’re cooked through. Time consuming, but completely worth it.

No recipe says “let’s celebrate” quite like the whole sea bream with thyme, capers and butter. It’s a fun, dramatic moment bringing a whole fish to the table on a large plate. Your guests gasp in excitement. The fish is filled with fresh thyme and lemon and after searing it hard in a good amount of hot olive oil you finish it in the oven. Once the fish is out and resting, you throw butter and capers into the hot pan to create a savoury, frothy sauce that mimics the sea. 

Butter features quite a bit in my cookbook. Fat is good. Most importantly there’s a section dedicated to whipped butters. All of them were made to eat with my focaccia recipe. Whipped confit garlic and tarragon butter; whipped sesame seed and schmaltz butter; whipped anchovy butter; whipped bottarga butter with fish roe. It’d be fun to make all four of the whipped butters and the focaccia. Open a tin of anchovies and a bottle of good wine and invite friends over to snack.

I work with a lot of great Victorian producers, but one of my favourites is Five Tales Farm. I’m always in awe of their vegetables. The heirloom zucchini and lettuce I got from them this season were so beautiful.

I also love Daniel’s Run Farm on the Mornington Peninsula. Cheryl McGaffin is the best. She’s so knowledgeable about tomatoes and their complexities. Her family farm’s tomatoes are all heirloom varieties, and I think they’re some of the best in the world. 

The books I refer to most often when I’m cooking? I’m constantly inspired by Claudia Roden; she’s my Egyptian-Jewish queen. Her research into the history of Jewish food is diligent and I refer to The Book of Jewish Food and her other books whenever I am developing a menu.

I’ve also been a fan of Rachel Roddy for years now. I feel like I am sitting in her kitchen when I read her words (something I hope when I write for others now myself). My Kitchen in Rome is iconic and leafing through its recipes and photos transports me to special places.

MFK Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me was formative for me. I picked it up by chance at a small bookshop in the city, and from that moment on I took it everywhere with me for months. Her writing is of another time and place. Her words are romance, and I’m always inspired to write and cook after turning these pages.

If you take one thing away from Ellie’s Table, I hope it’s the idea that food is romantic, it is warmth and it is generosity. The meal is equally about the space and the warm light that radiates from the dining room as it the taste of the sauce or how the peaches and jamon are plated with the mozzarella.

I hope you read my book and are inspired to relax into the kitchen, perhaps with a glass of wine or with some music and a plate of pistachios to snack on as you cook. I want you to cook something you’re excited about. There’s no need to make 10 dishes for a dinner party – it’s more dramatic to focus on one or two. A very good roasted chicken and a tangy soft lettuce salad in an extra-large bowl, for example. Let the simple dishes stand out. Maybe some good bread and whipped butter to start. And hey, a little kitchen chaos is a good thing.

Ellie Bouhadana’s Ellie’s Table (RRP $55) is published by Hardie Grant Books, and is available from good local bookstores such as Readings, Paperback Bookshop, Hill of Content and Books for Cooks, and wherever else good books are sold. Keep up with Ellie’s wider adventures on Instagram and on Substack.