At this year’s Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, the flavours of northern Africa and the middle east come together in a range of menus designed to complement Verdi’s Egyptian masterpiece. Whether you choose share plates and drinks from one of the terraces, or splash out on one of the two pre-performance menus, there are lots of ways to eat at Aida on Sydney Harbour.
We managed to coax one delicious dessert recipe out of Fresh Catering’s Executive Chef Geoff Haviland. If you choose the 3-course dinner option in The Platinum Club, you’ll be supping on this Australian classic (with a Middle Eastern twist). Alternatively, enjoy a mezze-style feast with the pre-performance bar.
Caramelized Fig Pavlova with Saffron Lemon Curd and Halva Parfait
First, you need to make the pavlova:
You will need:
160 g egg whites
280 g caster sugar
10 g corn flour
1 tsp white vinegar
- Preheat the oven to 120oC
- Whisk the egg whites in a mixer with a whisk attachment until they are soft peaks then gradually add the sugar, a little at a time, until the meringue forms which is thick and glossy and sugar is dissolved.
- Add the corn flour and vinegar and whisk until just combined.
- Pipe 10cm circles of meringue onto baking sheets lined with baking paper (we actually use silicon moulds to guarantee consistency).
- Bake in the oven for 1 ½ hours or until the pavlovas are dry to the touch, then turn off the oven and leave the pavlovas to cool completely with the oven door slightly open.
- Reserve until needed.
Next, you will need to make the lemon saffron curd:
You will need:
100 ml lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
3 egg yolks
100 g caster sugar
25 g corn flour
100 g butter
Pinch of saffron strands (not artificial)
- Mix the egg yolks, sugar, corn flour, lemon juice and zest and saffron together in a stainless steel saucepan and heat over a low flame, stirring constantly.
- When the mixture reaches 50oC, strain the mixture into a bowl and whisk in the butter, whisking until the mixture has cooled.
- Chill in the refrigerator and reserve.
To make the halva parfait, you need:
240 g cream cheese
40 g halva
120 g sour cream
60 g honey
1 leaf gelatine
120 ml thickened cream, whipped to soft peak
- Heat the cream cheese in a microwave oven until soft, then whisk until smooth with the halva.
- Add the sour cream and whisk until smooth.
- Soak the gelatine in cold water until it is soft, then heat in a pot with the honey so it melts.
- Whisk the honey–gelatine into the halva mixture.
- Fold the soft peak whipped cream into the mixture and pour into a bowl.
- Allow to chill covered in the refrigerator.
Finally, you will need to prepare the fig compote:
100 g dried figs
300 ml verjus
- Chop the dried figs finely, then place in a pot with the verjus and slowly bring to the simmer.
- Remove from heat and allow to steep for an hour.
For the final assembly:
3 figs, cut into quarters
30 g pistachio nuts, crushed
1 pomegranate (or 4 tablespoons of pomegranate seeds)
- Place a tablespoon of halva parfait in the centre of the plate and use a spatula or the back of your spoon to trowel it along the middle as shown.
- Dust the pavlova with a bit of icing powder and place on top of the halva, just off centre as shown.
- Spoon a small amount of fig compote next to the pavlova and dot the plate with the lemon saffron curd.
- Use a burner to caramelize the fig quarter and lean it against the pavlova.
- Sprinkle a small amount of chopped pistachios off to the side and dot the plate with some pomegranate seeds and juice.
And finally, enjoy the beautiful textures and tastes of an Aussie classic paired with the flavours of the Middle East.
Q&A with Geoff Haviland
Geoff, when designing a menu for a special event such as Aida on Sydney Harbour, where do you begin?
Well first, we look at the overall theming of the production and where the cultural and culinary influences lie.
Once these basic ground rules have been established, we delve further into the dishes which we believe reflect the event’s ethos and which are most practicable to roll out on a very large scale.
As Catering Partner to such a prestigious event as this, our aim is to give patrons a “wow” food experience, one that is totally immersive and enhances their overall experience of the Opera.
Tell us a little bit about your background as a chef. I understand you’ve spent some time in the Middle East.
My culinary background stems back to when I was a university chemistry student and worked as a kitchen hand to support myself. I really felt an affinity for the industry, so I traded in my test tubes for knives and so far have had a wonderful and exciting journey.
I have spent close to 15 years overseas working in places such as UK, Germany, Dubai, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the USA.
I did indeed spend 5 years based in Dubai, where I had the great privilege of opening the three hotels at Dubai Festival City for InterContinental Hotels. I then worked as Group Executive Chef for Southern Sun Hotels Offshore, where I travelled around the Middle East developing F&B concepts for the group.
Do you have a standout food memory from your time there – a new flavour or texture, a taste moment that you can describe?
I think my greatest food memory from the region was the incredible diversity of flavours, colours and textures one can find throughout the region, especially in the souks (outdoor markets). One memory which springs to mind is the night souk in Damascus, where the city comes to life, especially during Eid, the post-Ramadan celebratory period.
People there love their food and upon entering the souk, you are overwhelmed by the smells, colours and loud background noise of people bartering and arguing over the food- absolutely amazing! Mountains of sweets of all colours, trays and trays of baklava, dates and spices everywhere, mezze of all types and flavours.
I also loved the way each nationality would claim they have the original recipe for some of the most basic Arabic dishes. For example, hummus has a variety of guises, whether one tries it in Beirut, Marrakesh, Amman, Cairo, Damascus, Tunis or Jeddah. Now, if you were ask them which nation has the best and most original hummus recipe, for sure a heated debate would ensue.
This menu takes in the flavours of North Africa to the Middle East. What special ingredients, unusual flavours, textures or colours can our audience expect?
Middle Eastern cuisine has a wide range of ingredients, which are used extensively in their dishes to give them that unique flavour profile most westerners cannot put a finger on.
Our menus will draw from the flavours of Tunisia, Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, so a diverse range of ingredients can be expected.
Some of the ingredients which will be incorporated into our savoury dishes are sumac (a dried wild berry), za’atar (dried wild dessert thyme mixed with sesame and olive oil), harissa (a Tunisian chilli pepper condiment), tahina ( the ubiquitous sesame paste), kaak (a dried fennel seed bread), saffron, freekeh (toasted cracked green wheat), manoushi (Lebanese pizza bread), and lamb merguez (spicy lamb sausage).
Our sweets will feature the flavours of rosewater, saffron, and orange blossom water, with some standout baklava items of mamoul, namoura and balourieh.