Broccoli Pasta and Kaya Toast / Ruby Jet White
Photographed by Jiho Yun
NOTE: I’d like to sincerely thank Ruby and Jiho for their enormous patience. I believe it was almost two years ago that I visited Ruby for this interview. I am very happy to be finally getting this out into the world.
Talking to Ruby was like opening a can of creative worms. Projects, Pop-Ups, Ceramics, Furniture Making, Travel, Businesses, Food, Noodles. A slow avalanche of all the things she has done, plus all the things she wants to do was very casually revealed throughout the day, without any acknowledgment of the enormity and variety of her accomplishments, and her quiet drive. I did have to dig a bit, if anything Ruby is quite modest. She admirably overachieves, especially when it comes to being a self-taught cook. If she wants to recreate something nothing gets in her way, she will research, test, and repeat until it satisfies the memory she is working towards.
I first came across Ruby through Instagram when she was selling her beautiful marbled ceramics wares as ‘Miss Changy’. (Side note, I regret to this day never securing a piece). I then met her in real life at a dinner my flatmate at the time, Viv was hosting. Viv put together an evening of Wonton making, for an eventual meal of Wonton Noodle Soup. Ruby turned up with large containers of noodles she had spent the day hand making, naïvely my first thought was that she must have bought bulk noodles locally. I couldn’t believe this ceramics talent had just spent an entire Saturday making planet Earth’s most delicious noodles for 15 people. I repeat, fifteen people. Over the next few months and years I followed Viv along to the various food Pop-Ups Ruby was hosting. I was blown away by this one Woman show, and her incredibly, unique and delicious food. I will also add during this time she would come over to our place weekly for Cantonese lessons. Yeah, she found time to learn her Mothers language. A few months back when I wrote the first draft comfortably from my couch as it rained, I saw Ruby on Instagram, who was outside braving the elements to make grog (clay) from exploded bisque ware for a new ceramics project she was working on. Earlier this year Ruby was down in Wellington for the Enjoy Summer Residency programme where she was researching and product developing clay cookers. I mean, if this doesn’t describe her relentless enthusiasm for ‘doing’, I don’t know what will.
Ruby humbly began her food journey by watching the very first season of Master Chef, which at the time was a new concept. She found it fascinating to watch ‘real people’ cook entire meals from scratch, and I’m going to assume a lot was learnt by watching the failures as well as the successes. Around the same time Ruby also remembers unsuccessfully making 2 minute noodles for her friends, she was following the motions of how one should cook these packet noodles, but getting it completely wrong. She quite profoundly, and generously thought, “how can I feed my friends, if I don’t know how to cook?”, she needed to learn basic technique. This initial thought truly sums up Ruby, and how she shares and develops her skill sets. She is focused, generous, passionate, and has a genuine love for making, with a huge respect for quality over quantity.
The meal Ruby made for Jiho and I is made up of her two earliest food memories. Kaya Toast, and Broccoli pasta. Is it too obvious if I note that yes, yes she did teach herself how to make both meals?
Kaya Toast is a breakfast dish, essentially coconut jam on toast. Ruby had Kaya Toast for the first time while she was in Malaysia visiting family. For the longest time after that trip, Kaya Toast was on her mind. Unfortunately no one in her immediate family knew how to make it, naturally, that didn’t stop her. She did her research, did the recipe testing, and came up with the recipe she uses today. “Growing up in both Australia and New Zealand without large amounts of family around to teach you, you just have to work things out yourself”. Ruby was born in Melbourne to an Australian Father, and a Chinese-Malaysian Mother, growing up the only time she would eat Chinese or Malaysian food at home was when her maternal Grandmother visited. Being quite young during those visits, she sadly missed the opportunity to cook and learn alongside her Grandmother. Ruby’s Mother cannot cook like her grandmother, however, she still knows exactly what the Chinese and Malaysia flavours should taste like – which has become a standard for Ruby to help point her in the right direction. She uses her Mothers memory bank as a compass to guide her as close as possible to her Grandmother’s cooking, which is an incredibly special way to learn.
The Broccoli Pasta was 10 years in the making. Ruby first tried a variation of this dish at a restaurant in Melbourne, it was nothing like the one she made for Jiho and I. In the original dish the broccoli was more of a sauce, and the pasta was large conchiglioni. Ruby recalls it being amazing, but it wasn’t until years later until she took this long had idea and began constructing her own version of it. “What I like about this recipe is that you get to eat broccoli in a different form. It’s a really good way to use up a whole head without needing to think too hard, and if you choose to roast the pieces they get really crispy and delicious.”
I could write a trilogy on Ruby that would rival the Lord of the Rings. Alas, I will try my best to leave it here so you can get into the recipes, but please trust me when I say this is just the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t get to Small Fry, a Cafe Ruby wasn’t looking to open but did because an opportunity and a space became available at Te Tuhi, the Contemporary Art Gallery in Pakuranga. Her time at Elam where in her final year project she taught herself how to make a Sarawak Laksa, Sarawak being a State on Boreno, East Malaysia where her family are from. The original recipe for the Sarawak Laksa has been lost over time, but Ruby was able to work towards recreating as best she could for her final year exhibition (Although she says she still hasn’t mastered the recipe). I’m not done, she also made the ceramics that the Laksa was served in, and the tables and chairs the guests sat at to eat said Laksa. AND the furniture she made for the exhibition was made with the idea and intention that it would be practical, functional and could be flat packed and/or taken apart easily. The chairs themselves were boxes that could be stacked and used as cubby holes when they weren’t being used as chairs. The Pop-Up restaurant she hosted for a rotating group of friends and strangers at her house, again making Laksa, which turned into a noodle making marathon. Her first batch of noodles for the event for 80 people didn’t work out, so she spent 18 hours the DAY BEFORE making a second batch, which thankfully, did work out. And last (for now), but not at all least, towards the end of our day together she nonchalantly mentioned that her Family have a noodle shop in Miri, East Malaysia which has been in her family for 60-80 years (ex-squeeze me?!), started by her Great Grandmother who came to Malaysia from China and decided she would make money selling noodles. Ruby spent 4 weeks in Miri with family she had never met before to learn how to make her family's noodles. They make two types of noodle, an egg noodle, and a rice noodle which is called 老鼠粉 (lao shu fen), which loosely translates to silver needle noodles, the bane of her life is not being able to master them. The noodles were once sold out of a hawker centre stall run by three of her grand aunties, but that has since closed and a second generation of Ruby’s family have picked up the reins. Two of the original grand aunties still make the noodles to this day, having never stopped working!It’s important to Ruby to learn and understand the entire process of making these noodles. Thankfully the Aunties are training the next generation on the noodle making process, which starts with grinding your own flour, something Ruby can’t replicate here but it is good to know others are learning. And can you believe she told me her food journey began at Master Chef, food and drive is undoubtedly in her DNA.
Ruby is currently working towards her first solo exhibition, opening July 15 at Enjoy Contemporary Art Space, Pōneke. Follow her on Instagram for more updates closer to the time, @rubyjetwhite.
Thank you again to Ruby for opening your home and thoroughly feeding Jiho and I, while keeping us both incredibly entertained with your wonderful stories.
I love this dish. It is so easy and really versatile depending on if you want a quick dinner after work or to spend a few hours making pasta from scratch. Additions like pesto, spicy greens such as rocket and mizuna, feta and different types of cured meats will elevate it - the recipe below is quite basic and if you remove the fish sauce/anchovies then it is completely vegetarian.
Adding meat to this dish is a great way to add extra flavour and also allows for a small piece of meat (like a few rashes of bacon or one left over sausage) to go a long way.
The bread crumbs and soft boiled egg aren't necessary, but they are great for texture, richness and protein.
If you are trying to cut down on carbs I often substitute half of the pasta for thinly sliced zucchini (cut lengthways) "zoodles"...just throw them in in the last 30 seconds before the pasta is ready.
There are so many options! Please bring your own cooking intuition when recreating this dish. I am not the type to weigh or time things when I cook meals like this, these are all general indicators for quantity!
- Stale bread - I had on hand an old cheese scone which worked really well
- Nub of butter or oil for frying
1. Cut the stale bread into very small pieces and fry in butter until crispy.
2. Allow to cool, if the lumps seem quite large just blend it up in a food processor.
3. Set aside for the garnish.
Alternatively you can rip up bread, dress it in oil and bake in a 160-180C oven until golden then blitz in food processor.
Optional: Chorizo sausage (squeeze meat from casing and fry off) or bacon if you want something extra. If using sausage or bacon I would fry it before the breadcrumbs until really crispy. Then fry the breadcrumbs in the same pan (in the meat oils). Let the bacon cool then cut it up finely and use alongside the breadcrumbs.
You can also use store bought, which is a great easy option!
- 300g hi-grade flour
- 300g semolina
- 3 eggs
- Water as needed (I don't measure this, but have about half a cup ready).
1. Mix flours together
2. Whisk in eggs and bring together
3. Add water in, a splash at a time until the dough is a good consistency. Not dry and not sticky.
4. Knead dough until smooth
2. Wrap and leave to rest for 30mins at room temp
3. Roll out as you do with a pasta roller until smooth and your desired thickness. I used semolina to dust the sheets and a very sharp knife to hand cut.
4. Portion out the pasta into single serve bundles (eye ball it). If you have extra you can freeze the portions and enjoy another day.
5. Depending on your thickness cooking times will vary. Cook in salted water for between 2-5 minutes. Fresh pasta is cooks substantially faster than the dried stuff, so I suggest cooking your eggs separately for this option.
- 1 head of broccoli
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 birds eye chillies (leave out or lessen chillies if you don't like heat)
- Half a brown onion
- 1/2 tsp fish sauce or a few anchovies depending on your pantry
- Olive oil
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Juice of 1 1/2 lemons
- 4 eggs
- Good quality parmesan
- Cut Broccoli into tiny pieces, so it almost resembles rice
- Finely chop garlic and chilli
- Mince onion
- Finely chop anchovies if you are using them
- Zest lemon
- Juice Lemons
Please note: If you have fresh pasta start cooking your sauce first, which generally cooks in the same amount of time as dried pasta.
1. Heat a good amount of olive oil in your sauce pan and fry garlic, onion and chilli. If you are using chorizo and/or anchovies you can add this in now and fry together for a few minutes.
2. Add in the broccoli and continue cooking, if using fish sauce add a splash in now. Add in a tbsp's of pasta water too, this helps with the cooking process and moisture.
3. Add in lemon rind, season liberally with salt and black pepper.
4. Start boiling your eggs and cooking your pasta. Soft boiled eggs usually take between 5-6mins depending on their size. I usually use the same water to cook both the eggs and the pasta, just make sure you time it right.
5. When the broccoli sauce is looking pretty much cooked add in your lemon juice. Taste and evaluate seasoning. Remember that the pasta will take a lot of the salt away from the sauce.
6. When the pasta and eggs are cooked remove the eggs and put in a bowl of cold water. Drain the pasta (reserve a tiny bit of pasta water) and add the to pan/pot with the broccoli.
7. Stir the pasta through the sauce and dress with some extra olive oil if it's looking a bit dry. Taste agin to check seasoning.
8. Peel the eggs, hopefully they will have a runny yoke!
9. Serve out pasta, top with an egg, sprinkle over breadcrumbs (and crispy bacon if you went for that), garnish with loads of parmesan and an extra drizzle of olive oil. Fresh basil is also a yum topping.
10. Eat before it cools down!
Kaya is simple and delicious to make! It is a sweet coconut curd, coloured green from pandan leaves (you can buy them from most well stocked asian groceries). Kaya is eaten in Malaysia and Singapore typically as a breakfast, sandwiched between white bread and a huge slab of butter, served along side black kopi (coffee) and soft boiled eggs. A sweet and savoury sensation!
The process is similar to make lemon curd in that you have to cook it over a double boiler, be really careful not to over cook this otherwise it will be lumpy and hideous, in saying that if you don't cook it enough it won't set properly. But trust me, it's easy to make! Again, use your cooking intuition when recreating this at home. I also like to serve my kaya toast with some toasted coconut for extra texture.
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 125ml coconut cream
- 65g sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 4 pandan leaves
1. Blend everything together. Strain.
2. Cook over a double boiler until thickened.
3. Pour into a sterilized jar or a bowl, line it with glad wrap (to prevent steam) and leave to cool in your fridge
4. Eat it spread over buttery white bread or brioche on a lazy weekend morning with a side of black coffee and a couple of soft boiled eggs dressed in light soy and a dust of white pepper for an authentic Malasyain/Singaporean breakfast.