Eat IN BED: Elizabeth Hewson of Saturday Night Pasta
Food is a very intimate thing, this is no secret, but perhaps it gives reason as to why the paths of people working in food vary so greatly. These paths are inherently unique to each person – to the role food has played in their lives, to what drives, what excites, what scares, to what sparks pleasure and brings comfort, and even what causes discomfort.
Elizabeth Hewson’s story – or Lizzie, as many of us know her – is one that has unfolded so organically, so uniquely to her, that you couldn’t replicate it if you tried. Cookbook author, recipe writer, founder of Saturday Night Pasta and head of Creative at Sydney’s family-owned hospitality group Fink, Lizzie’s story is one that has been driven by her curiosities, her love to eat, a desire and a joy for telling stories and at times, her need to soothe anxieties. And perhaps this is how she’s built such a strong community – there’s heart behind everything she does.
We got to sit down with her and hear about the journey, from a (very) early affinity for dinner parties, to university in northern Italy, to building a community grown from her love for food and feeding in her now home-city of Sydney.
We visit Lizzie at her recently-renovated home where she lives with her partner, Tom, and two little ones, three-year-old Louis and six-month-old Remi, and of course, their fabulous furry friend Forest, or Forey B. Sydney based-photographer Nikki To shoots Lizzie in her sparkly new kitchen, and home, giving you a glimpse into the space designed by friend and architect Jaye O’Dwyer of SANN STUDIO who created the home around the family’s food-centric lifestyle. Lizzie also shares her recipe for her take on a quick pesto that she’ll often eat for lunch, thrown together using ingredients she always has on hand. Simple, punchy, comforting, and easy, like many of Lizzie’s much-loved recipes. This might not be a story or a path that you can replicate, but it’s certainly one that will inspire.
Lizzie wears IN BED 100% Linen Apron in Navy Gingham
On where a life in food began …
I love to eat. I always have, and I think this really is how I landed where I am. The more I ate, the more I wanted to know. I believe there are two types of people in this world: the people who enjoy balance, and the people who feed on obsession. I am clearly the latter.
I’m a twin and for our tenth birthday party we got to each choose how we wanted to celebrate. Like a normal 10-year-old, my sister chose a rock-climbing party. I chose a dinner party. My mum was the chef, my dad the waiter and the ‘sommelier’. Mum wrote a menu for my guests to order from – the options I chose were spaghetti Bolognese or yellow chicken curry. Quite the combination. My mum set up a little space at the door when you arrived with all her costume jewellery for us to choose from to dress ourselves up for the big night, and we used monopoly money to pay. I’ve always loved the magic and escapism that restaurants give, and when I think back to this party, I’d already fallen for hospitality and the magic of food.
On what has been most impactful and impressionable on Lizzie’s culinary education …
My mum is a great cook who never cooked from recipes, it was more improvised, and I’m sure this taught me a lot about the way I cook. I also loved watching cooking shows when I was a child – Jamie Oliver’s early shows, The Cook and the Chef, Nigella. But really, I’m a very curious person and I think this drove the hunger I had to learn.
After school, I went on to study communications in Bathurst, and this led me to a position with PR firm, BLACK Communications. I remember when I was studying thinking how odd it was that I seemed to be the only person who had an interest in cooking. It was through this firm that I was connected to the Fink Group and family, and to their restaurants, Quay and OTTO Sydney at the time. Some of the best professional advice I have ever received is when you don’t know, just sit and listen, and soak up as much as you can. This is exactly what I did as I sat in meetings with the Fink team and their chefs – I learnt a huge amount as I was introduced to their vibrant world and got a taste of the restaurant industry.
It was in these meetings, and listening to these conversations, that I came to realise that I wanted a seat at this table, that I wanted to be part of this world and to know what I was talking about. So, I enrolled in a master’s program in northern Italy’s Slow Food university, University of Gastronomic Sciences – this was an incredible course that exposed me to a huge range of topics relating to food. We visited producers around Europe, from a buffalo farm producing mozzarella in Italy’s Piedmont, to a citrus grove in Spain’s Seville to a cider producer in Devon, UK. The degree exposed me to classes and topics of all kinds, from chemistry to food writing to food law and labelling, with a focus on sustainability. Living and studying in Italy absolutely shaped the cook I went on to be, and who I am today.
I returned to Sydney to take a job with Fink, working across their venues as Communications and Marketing Manager. Working so closely with chefs and their restaurants through working with the Fink family has also significantly shaped the way I understand food, and ultimately the way I cook. I’ve had a front row seat to watching these chefs in their kitchens – particularly Peter Gilmore and Lennox Hastie – and through this, the chance to understand their process of creating dishes. Both Pete and Lennox have taught me a lot about the importance of great ingredients, and the importance of respecting produce. I learnt a lot about texture and balance from Pete, and great lessons in restraint from Lennox.
Cooking has also been a great teacher – learning from failures, experimenting, playing with ingredients. It has all informed and helped me to be the cook I have become.
On Saturday Night Pasta …
I was going through a particularly anxious and consuming time at work. I remember it was a rainy Saturday night and I decided I would make myself a bowl of tagliatelle. Louis [Armstrong] was probably playing through my speakers. It wasn’t the best bowl of pasta by any means, but I remember pouring myself a glass of wine and sitting down to it and realising that it was the first time in a long time that I’d been present; that I wasn’t overthinking something that had happened, or worrying about what was to happen, and that I hadn’t looked at my phone. I was just there in that moment, and that felt really good. I posted a photograph to social media, hash tagged #saturdaynightpasta and really, it’s grown from there.
I started working on the book, Saturday Night Pasta, in September 2019 and it was published around a year later, which happened to coincide with lockdown here in Australia, a time when many of us were turning to food to soothe, and had the time to do things like make your own pasta. Through this period, I also started creating self-care fresh food packs and that has grown into my recently launched product range of sauces and dried pastas. Saturday Night Pasta is of course about pasta, but it’s also about much more than that, and has been from the beginning – it’s about self-care and community. I want to continue building the brand and let it evolve organically, building on the product range and perhaps launching a cooking school later down the track …
On what inspires Lizzie in her recipe writing and cooking …
I think when you’re a creative person, inspiration can come from anywhere. Often for me it starts mostly with ingredients or a flavour, but can also be chasing an idea for a particular texture or type of dish, like craving a sticky roast pork or an easy one pot chicken. But for example, Louis loves Paddington Bear so him and I recently made a marmalade and dark chocolate ice cream – it really can come from anywhere.
On Lizzie’s approach to food …
My cooking is built on good, simple, seasonal ingredients. Ingredients that taste of themselves. When you start with great ingredients, you don’t have to do much to them. Its uncomplicated, approachable, homestyle cooking; after all, this is the food I find myself craving. I don’t set out to cook with a lot of ingredients, techniques, or equipment. I don’t like to follow trends. Cooking should always be without pretension. Taste. Season well. Consider balance and texture in a dish. And taste again. I want to cook food that is inherently delicious and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Cooking, and the preparation around it, is my self-care. It gives me the time to focus and be present; it fuels my imagination, communicates how I feel, and allows me to take time out from the mental clutter of the everyday. I think everyone can cook, but you must want to cook, you must like the process. And most importantly, you must enjoy eating, because ultimately, if you love to eat, you’re halfway there.
Cooking, and the preparation around it, is my self-care. It gives me the time to focus and be present; it fuels my imagination, communicates how I feel, and allows me to take time out from the mental clutter of the everyday.
On the process of recipe writing ….
My recipes usually come from pottering about in the kitchen. I’ll cook something, eat it, then test it, often multiple times. I think as a recipe writer trust is everything, so I really focus on getting my recipes the best they can be. When I’m working on larger projects, or wanting to be particularly creative, I’ll have some time off social media – it’s hard not to let it influence you and we all end up cooking the same thing. Having time away from it helps me to reconnect with my approach to food. Occasionally imposter syndrome bubbles up, but I’ve come to use this as a strength – I’m a home cook, and I write recipes for home cooks. Ultimately, my recipes are simple food that I love to eat.
Occasionally imposter syndrome bubbles up, but I’ve come to use this as a strength – I’m a home cook, and I write recipes for home cooks. Ultimately, my recipes are simple food that I love to eat.
On what cooking for people and feeding means to Lizzie …
It’s pure joy and happiness for me, feeding people. I also find that it’s an opportunity to start a conversation about food, about ingredients – maybe it’s talking about the story behind the cheese on your cheese platter or the burrata sitting in your bowl with tomatoes, olive oil and basil. I think people can fear food that’s too simple, especially when they’re entertaining, but I see it to be an amazing talking point. Feeding people delicious food is something I love, but I love too that feeding is also about uniting people and about sparking conversations and ideas.
On balancing a family, freelance work and a part-time job …
I absolutely don’t have everything together, even if it might seem that way, and that’s something that I perhaps need to work on – it’s chaotic and messy, but I love what I do. And I’m lucky to have a very supportive husband who holds us all together. Creativity is my relaxation. I’m naturally an anxious person and have a very active mind, which in many ways is to my detriment, but I also think it’s what drives me and is what has led me to work with food in the way I do now – pottering in the kitchen is my self-care and is how I work through anxieties. As much as I love restaurants, I’m definitely a homebody and bunkering down in our space, having time to potter, to make something delicious and to sit down to it, that definitely helps me to recharge. It all comes back to loving to eat.
Creativity is my relaxation. I’m naturally an anxious person and have a very active mind, which in many ways is to my detriment, but I also think it’s what drives me and is what has led me to work with food in the way I do now – pottering in the kitchen is my self-care and is how I work through anxieties.
On Lizzie’s Sydney home renovation …
We moved into this home six years ago and got to a point where we knew we would need more space, so we started looking around in other areas but came to realise that we loved this place and this neighbourhood, so we decided to stay put and renovate. I’m a bit of a history nerd so I did a deep dive on our block of what were originally working-class cottages and found out that our place used to be a belt maker, the place on the corner a butcher and next door to that, a piano tuner. It’s a great little community.
When it came time to renovate, we were really lucky that we could work with our great friend, and talented architect, Jaye O’Dwyer of SANN STUDIO. He knew us, and he just got what we wanted – he created an amazing design that considered our daily lives, and our love for light. It’s not the easiest space because we’re between two terrace houses, but he did such a clever job. We aren’t a family to watch much television, and we spend a lot of time in and around the kitchen, so this was a big consideration when we were looking at plans. The kitchen takes up a good chunk of our living space. I love it. I yearn to live in the country, so my brief was ‘country cottage with Tuscan farmhouse vibes meets inner-city terrace’. He nailed it.
We aren’t a family to watch much television, and we spend a lot of time in and around the kitchen, so this was a big consideration when we were looking at plans. The kitchen takes up a good chunk of our living space.
On the kitchen must-haves for a recent kitchen renovation …
The Smeg Victorian oven was always something I dreamed of. Grand, big and black with all the nobs. I feel very lucky to be working with the brand. I essentially designed the kitchen around this oven, so yes, a must-have. The other thing was an island bench that was a completely clear space. I didn’t want a sink, or a stove on the island, just a surface that almost acted as a table for us, and a place I could hold pasta making classes. We spend a lot of our time here as a family. The bench is made of dolomite – I really wanted a natural stone bench – and the only thing sitting on it is a bowl of lemons. I don’t love a fruit bowl, I think it’s something to do with canteen days of bad fruit salads with that one grape, so we have fruit and veg drawers to keep the fruit tucked away. One of my favourite features of the kitchen, along with the skylights that Jaye has used to get as much natural light in here as possible.
I’ve been lucky to work with wonderful designers of restaurants and beautiful spaces through the work I’ve done with Fink, and this came in handy when it came time to finally designing my own space. The red and white striped banquet is definitely influenced by that restaurant feeling I’m so drawn to.
On morning rituals and evening wind-downs …
I wish I had a zen morning ritual that involved morning stretches, maybe some breathe work, but I’m usually woken by a toddler or a baby, so as much as I’d like to say I have a morning ritual, things are little too chaotic here at the moment for such things. But, always, my morning starts by putting my little percolator on the stove – I carried it back with me from Italy and love the sound it brings my mornings and the smells that drift through the kitchen as it bubbles away. At night, it’s always a cup of peppermint tea and usually some classical music.
On day-off, at-home cooking and snacking …
I usually burrow around in my fridge and pull something together from what I have. Lately it has been chargrilled bread – my favourites are the AP table loaf, the Sonoma Miche loaf or the PiOiK focaccia. I’m loving roasting pumpkin and smearing toasted bread with the flesh and some feta, and a little salt and pepper. We’ve just started Remi on solids, so we have a lot of whole-roasted veggies in the fridge that come in handy for weekday lunches. Over winter, I always have a bone broth in the fridge and will often warm it, add pasta, legumes, noodles and whatever veggies or greens are hanging about. And, of course, pasta. But it has to be a sauce that I can cook in the same amount of time as it takes for the pasta to cook. I’ve been working on a lot of quick pasta recipes that I’m looking forward to sharing.
And to finish, a few faves:
Favourite kitchen tool: microplane, kitchen scales and a mandolin for texture, texture – it completely changes a dish
Favourite food book: anything from Nigel Slater, Diana Henry, MFK Fisher, Elizabeth David. Sorry, I can’t choose just one …
Favourite food person: see previous question …
Herb: Dill or thyme
Place to perch for a glass and a snack in Sydney right now: Bar Vincent, always.
Umami-packed pantry pesto
This is everything a traditional pesto Genovese (basil pesto) is not. It’s robust, umami packed and rich. It packs a lot of punch for a little ‘pesto’. If I’m ever in the dire situation of no anchovies in the house, I’ll use miso paste as a substitute. It doesn’t hit in quite the same way, but it still does a great job.
2 tbsp olive oil, plus ¼ cup
4 anchovy fillets
2 garlic cloves, smashed
¼ cup walnuts
2 tbsp tomato paste
½ tsp dried chilli
1 lemon, zest and juice
¼ cup Parmigiano Reggiano
Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, the anchovy, garlic and walnuts to a pan over a medium heat. Cook until the anchovies have melted, and the walnuts have browned. Add the tomato paste and stir. Cook for 2 minutes, until it turns a deep red. Remove the pan from the heat and add to a food processor (or mortar and pestle). Add the dried chilli, then blitz. Pour in the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil and blitz again. Stir in lemon zest and finish with the Parmigiano Reggiano.
When ready to eat, toss the pesto with hot al dente pasta in a pan, along with a good splash of pasta cooking water (start with ¼ cup and work up from there) and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste. Forcefully stir it to bring it all together, adding more cooking water if you need. Serve with a extra shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.