Sunday, December 19, 2010

Moema's chocolate fudge cake

I don’t really go in for chocolate cake. Or chocolate in general.

I know.

To be a woman and not care about chocolate is tantamount to admitting you don’t like puppies. I mean, what kind of freak doesn’t like chocolate?

It has been my secret shame for so long now. I haven’t deliberately tried to mislead anyone, but the above-mentioned confession has been met with reactions of disbelief, disdain and  deep mistrust so often that I just started keeping it to myself.

And it’s not that I dislike chocolate — I’m just indifferent to it. I’m not generally turned on by sweet stuff. Gimme vinegar crisps, savoury seafood, cheesy crackers, sea-fresh oysters, crispy bacon fat, lemony guacamole, salty, buttery veggies... These are the flavours I dream about. I’ve always felt towards chocolate confections rather the way I feel towards other people’s kids: they seem like a nice enough idea, over there on the other side of the room, but it’s kind of a relief when someone takes them away.

And often I have to wash my hands after handling them.

Well no more. You see, I finally found a chocolate cake that I like. No, scratch that. A chocolate cake I adore. One I could quite happily scoff all on my own, in a dark cupboard. It’s somewhere between a mousse, a sponge cake, and velvety fudge — basically every chocolate fantasy in existence rolled into one.

The view from the Westcliff

A sunny bit of the Westcliff

I tasted it for the first time a few weeks ago at the Westcliff (a friend of a friend’s birthday). One of the guests told me about Moema’s and that was that — I had to have the recipe. As a matter of interest for anyone who is a Yotam Ottolenghi fan (I am his numero uno, and I have the restraining order to prove it), Danielle — one of the owners of Moema’s and the kind lady who provided me with the recipe — worked with the chef in London before moving to our shores.

So, without further ado...

Moema’s chocolate fudge cake
Makes 2

1kg 815 chocolate
200g 70/30 chocolate
870g butter
340g egg yolks
580g sugar (for yolks)
290g sugar (for whites)
530g egg whites
3 double espressos

1. Preheat oven to 155C. Line 2 carrot cake tins with grease-proof paper and grease the sides with butter.
2. Put the chocolate and butter in a bain-marie and heat until melted.
3. Place the yolks and sugar (580g) in a large food mixer and combine until a sabayon is formed (I’m not sure what this is — I just read it as ‘combine well’)
4. Start mixing the egg whites. When they turn white add the sugar.
5. Fold the warm chocolate into the sabayon, along with the espresso.
6. Once combined, pour into each lined tin — 1200g of mixture into each (so you should have some left over).
7. Bake for 1 hour, until the mixture looks cracked and has risen.
8. Take out of the oven and allow to cool.
9. Add the remainder of the mixture to the tins (divided evenly between them, obviously) and return to the oven for about 10 minutes, until the top looks shiny.
10. And that’s that. Try not to eat it all in one sitting.

PS: This would make an excellent addition to your Christmas table — if you live in Joburg and you don’t feel like making one, you could always just pop in to Moema’s...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Eight days in Melbourne

We interrupt this blog to bring you a brief report on some stuff I ate in Melbourne. Okay?

My brother recently got married to a Melbournite (the lovely Bethany), so I got to spend eight days in this beautiful city. I’m not going to blather on about it because, unless you are planning to actually go to Melbourne some day, I don’t see why it should be of any interest to you. But the pics are pretty (I think — I’m not sure I have any objectivity on this matter). And I’m afraid I have to brag a little about getting to eat at two amazing restaurants. I’ve decided to present you with a pictoral essay to keep my bragging (and your yawning) to a minimum.

First stop: the Victoria Market. This is a foodie’s wet dream. This is a cook’s Mecca. This is heaven. In one large roofed area the size of an aircraft hanger, you’ll find isle after isle after isle of tables laden with every fruit, vegetable, leaf or seed your greedy mind can conceive of. All fresh, all beautiful. Next door, there’s a sort of warehouse filled with countless types of fresh seafood, meat and poultry. And I mean fresh. Next door lies yet another warehouse where merchants sell artisanal goods, from cheese to coffee, to wine to sweets, to the most incredible bratwurst-and-sauerkraut-on-a-roll I have ever tasted.

I think my heart might actually still be there, sitting on one of those tables, sulking next to a pile of organic cherries.

My brother, Ian, and Bethany took me to dinner at Attica, voted 73rd best restaurant in the world. The place itself was understated, but the food was unbelievable. We had the tasting menu of five courses. The one that stood out the most for me was the potato cooked in its own soil. It was presented very simply, and the sauce was quite subtle so you could really taste the potato, and although it did pretty much taste like a potato, the flavour was more intense than any I’ve had before, and the texture was waxy and buttery. Plus the goats curd sauce had a sprinkling of coconut husk ash in it. Apparently it’s one of the only types of ash that are not carcinogenic (so the waiter told us). I couldn't really detect any taste though.

Finally, I ate lunch at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Fifteen with my parents the day before we left. I had pretty high expectations, and was not disappointed. The food was so simple, imaginative, fresh and flavourful, it is exactly what I had hoped (I’m a big fan). 

To start: Grilled octopus, warm cannellini beans, chilli, mint and lemon. I went for this because I thought the inclusion of mint sounded intriguing — and it works. I’m going to try this at home folks, so I’ll let you know how it works out. Then primi: Gnocchi ripieni with stinging nettles, goats curd and marjoram butter. The flavours in this dish were subtle, but the more I ate the more delicious it became. (The pics are a bit kak as the lighting was inadequate.) 

On the way out, my dad asked if the man himself ever dropped by, and we were told he only visited once a year. And sometimes he skipped a year. Hm. (Obviously he's too busy trying to save America.)

So there you have it.

Normal blogging will resume from the next post. (Don’t miss it — I have an unbelievable chocolate cake/mousse recipe I simply must share, from a patisserie in Joburg who’s owners worked with Yotam Ottolenghi.)

PS: Check out my avocado and endive salad with creamy white wine and rosemary dressing recipe on the Kleine Zalze For the Love of Wine blog.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Four mini restaurant reviews...

I'm not really into writing restaurant reviews, but I've built up a little collection of pretty pictures and wanted to share them with you. These are all great places to while away a sunny Sunday afternoon with friends.

Café Max

This is a charming, dreamy little spot in quiet Waterkant Street. The food is reasonably priced, and they sell an incredible wooded rosé made especially for them (it matches the shutters), and so I would recommend Café Max if you're in the mood to while away a sunny afternoon snacking and quaffing good wine in the City Bowl. More here.

Reuben's at the Robertson Small Hotel 

To know Reuben's in Franshhoek is to love it, and the Robertson branch is even prettier — set, as it is, in a gorgeously revamped Victorian hotel at the end of a leafy street. The service was a little on the slow side on our last visit, but frankly it could be non-existent and I would still keep going back for the duck. It just has to be tried to be believed. 
More here.

The Venue @ South Hill

The Venue, situated on South Hill wine estate just past Elgin, is a class act. Breathtaking scenery (think rolling hills and green, green, green vinyards), switched-on, friendly service and good food (the seafood chowder was the best I have ever tasted — I still dream about it). 
More here.


Marianas in Stanford

This is only my favourite restaurant. In the world. Ever. 

Mariana and Peter Estherhuizen are the nicest people — Peter an attentive host, always ready with a naughty anecdote, and Mariana makes food that, without fail, has me staring disbelievingly at my plate, thinking I have no business going near a kitchen.

Their philosophy might be summed up in a brief exchange I had with Peter once when I called to say we'd be late: 'Don't worry,' he said. 'Arrive whenever you feel like it, and we'll feed you whenever
we feel like it.'

It's a two-hour drive from Cape Town to Stanford, so make a day
— or a weekend — of it. More here.

A pretty scene in the Overberg...
PS: I've been selected as an ambassador for Kleine Zalze wines this summer. Just living the dream...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Penne with lemon, ricotta and peas

Unfortunately I don’t have time to write a proper post, but I made this lovely pasta over the weekend and I just have to share it with you. It’s really very simple (as most good recipes are), and its success relies on the quality of ingredients (as most good recipes' do).

Buy decent ricotta (the kind that comes in its own little ‘basket’) — Woolies do a nice one. And try to buy fresh peas still in their pods if you can. It’s sort of the whole point of the dish: to have fresh spring peas.

I love shelling peas... I like to imagine I am a fifties Italian housewife, sitting outside, watching the world go by, gossiping, shelling peas over a large bucket.

Sometimes I even tie a little scarf over my hair, peasant style.

No I don't. I just made that up.

Be careful not to overcook the peas — they should be tender but still firm and bright green. Blanching is best.

Penne with lemon, ricotta and spring peas
Serves 4

400g penne
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
About 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2½ cups green peas, blanched
½ cup finely sliced basil leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500g ricotta cheese
Grated Parmesan, to taste

Place the pasta in a large saucepan of salted boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain and return to the pan. Toss the pasta with the olive oil, lemon juice, basil, peas, salt and pepper. Add the ricotta and mix gently. Spoon onto serving plates and top with an extra glug of olive oil and the Parmesan.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Artichokes Roman style

I have always adored artichokes, even as child — which is fairly unusual, I think.

About once or twice a year (which may as well have been once or twice a milennia, as far as my preteen self was concerned), my dad would arrive home from work in the evening with a large, bulging brown paper bag under his arm, and my heart would leap, because I knew that evening we were in for a treat.

My mom would boil the artichokes until just tender (remaining admirably calm despite my wheedling demands to know precisely how much longer they’d take), and all four of us would sit at the kitchen table, peeling the leaves, dipping each one into a large bowl of salty, lemony melted butter and scraping the soft flesh off with our teeth. When all the leaves were gone, I would drop the heart into the bowl of butter until it was thoroughly drenched, and place the whole thing in my mouth. This was a solemn ritual — I concentrated very hard on appreciating and savouring the heart, putting off its ingestion for as long as possible, because it had an annoying habit of melting and slipping down my throat in a matter of seconds. We only got about three artichokes each, and who knew when we were going to have them again?

My childhood infatuation with artichokes was mostly due to their being an excellent excuse to eat gargantuan amounts of butter, which I wouldn’t ordinarily be allowed. Also, there was something ceremonial about my mother, father, brother and I sitting together, peeling the leaves, enjoying.

I have a similar love for asparagus, for much the same reasons. They were a rare treat, always served hot, slathered in salty butter. Once, on a family road trip, we stopped at the top of some mountain pass or other, and my dad hauled out our little gas cooker, a small pot and a big bunch of asparagus. The green stalks were tied with string and made to stand up in a few inches of water, then the pot was covered with foil (I remember this very clearly, even though I was only 7 or so, because I thought it such an overly elaborate method — couldn’t they just chop up the stalks, boil them and be done with it?). About 10 minutes later, there we sat, on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, eating perfectly cooked asparagus. Heaven.

Spoils from the farmers' market...
I have experiences like this (and my parents) to thank for my great love affair with vegetables. (Butter may also have something to do with it.) Basically, this is a very long-winded way of saying that, until recently, I thought the idea of preparing either asparagus or artichokes in any way other than the methods described above — and I don't say this lightly — a form of sacrilege. To my mind, nothing was going to make these greens attain a higher state of perfection than simple butter and salt. And perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice. Nothing. I couldn’t understand how anyone would want to ruin them by serving them with hollandaise, for example, or sticking them in a quiche, or (gasp!) a soup. You might as well just throw them away, I thought. What a waste.

Recently, though, having made a commitment to eating more seasonally, I have found myself doing my weekly grocery shopping at farmers’ markets, and buying artichokes and bunches of asparagus by the dozen, because, of course, they are in season and more affordable. Having glutted myself on them slicked in butter, I was horrified to find myself daydreaming about a nice artichoke salad (!) or asparagus mixed into a pasta (see last week’s post). And yes, even soup.

This makes so much sense, though, actually. We are supposed to glut ourselves on these veggies for a few months a year — spring — while they're in season, until we are kind of sick of them. Then we don’t mind so much going without for the rest of the year.

I tried this breathtakingly simple River Café recipe only after I got a little sick (from eating all that butter) and tired of the usual. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. It might even be my favourite way to eat artichokes (sacrilege!). The liquid reduces to an intense flavour, and although there’s a lot of mint, it loses its pungency when cooked and becomes quite subtle and creamy.

I did feel terribly guilty about discarding all those precious outer leaves though, so I ate most of them. Raw. But that’s just me. If you like, you can keep some of the more tender leaves to put in a salad. Just toss them in a little lemon juice to stop them discolouring and eat on the same day. If your artichokes are fresh and young, the inner leaves should be perfectly edible raw.

These are sensational as an antipasti with bruschetta, or served with fish.

They still have a habit of melting and slipping down my throat far too quickly though. 

Artichokes Roman style
Serves 6
12 small or 6 large globe artichokes
Lemon juice
250ml olive oil
For the stuffing:
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed with sea salt
6 tablespoons olive oil
Coursely ground black pepper
1 1⁄2 lemons, quartered

1. Using a small, sharp knife, remove the tough outer leaves of the artichokes. If necessary, trim the spikes from the top. Cut the stalks, leaving about 5cm, and peel.
2. Using your fingers, gently prise open each artichoke, turn it upside down and, while pressing down with one hand, pull out the leaves with the other. The aim is to open out and flaten the artichoke.
3. For the stuffing, mix all the ingredients together and season well. Press this mixture inside the centre of each artichoke.
4. Pour the olive oil into a heavy stainless-steel saucepan large enough to contain all the artichokes. Place the artichokes inside, stuffed side down, jammed together so they stay upright. Scatter any excess stuffing over the top. Add enough water to come one third of the way up the globes, and bring to the boil. Reduce heat, cover with a sheet of grease-proof paper, place the lid on top, and cook gently for about 30 minutes until the water has evaporated and the artichokes have begun to brown at the bottom. 5. The timing will depend on the size and freshness of the artichokes. Test for tenderness using a sharp, pointed knife. You may need to add more water and cook for longer. Ideally, the result should be tender artichokes that have begun to caramelise in the oil. Serve with lemon quarters.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spaghetti with spring greens

Spring is a good time to stop and smell the rosebuds. I’m not going to warble on about renewal and the joyous mystery of the seasons (yea Gods woman — ‘joyous mystery’? Spare us!), but man, you’ve got to admit that visiting farmers’ markets around this time of year is like letting a kid with low blood sugar loose in a candy store. Especially if you’ve committed to buying more local and seasonal produce.

I recently finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver (of The Poisonwood Bible fame), a memoire of her family eating only food sourced within a radius of 100 miles from her home for one year, and I am so inspired. I’d read about eating seasonally and locally before, but this book really put it into perspective for me. But more on that in my next post, I think.

Back to spring and the gorgeous glut of greens available now. I visited the Tokai farmer’s market last weekend, which is located in the most beautiful woodland setting (complete with grazing horses), and I picked up some gorgeous organic asparagus and baby squash (zucchini, patti-pans and gems). Perfect items for this spring greens spaghetti.

It might sound like there are a lot of anchovies in this recipe, but once they’ve melted and coated the spaghetti, their flavour just fades into the background to give a subtle savouriness. You can leave them out if you prefer to keep it vegetarian. My only warning with this dish is that it is a very real and present temptation to eat all the asparagus before combining everything. So if you must have a taste, make sure your resolve is iron-clad!

I'm sure you know that the quality of the pasta is rather important. No Fatti's & Moni's please! (That dreck is to proper Italian spaghetti what margarine is to fresh farm butter.) With a glass of chilled dry rosé, this, for me, is the perfect early summer lunch.

Spring pasta with asparagus and baby squash
Makes 2 generous portions

250g spaghetti
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
6 or 7 anchovy fillets
1 bunch fresh sprue (thin) asparagus
2 cloves garlic, crushed with sea salt
About 300g baby zucchini, patti-pans, or any tender spring squash, finely sliced (julienne-style)
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pecorino, to taste
1 handful basil, leaves picked and chopped

1. Cook the spaghetti in plenty of salted water according to package instructions (al dente) and drain, but reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water.
2. In a separate large pan, heat the oil. Add the anchovies and fry gently for about 30 seconds, then add the asparagus. Continue to fry on a medium-low heat until the anchovies have melted and the asparagus is half-cooked, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.
3. Toss the spaghetti with the asparagus, anchovy and garlic, as well as the julienned squash. Season to taste. Add a little of the cooking water if the spaghetti seems a bit dry — you want to achieve a silky, slippery, glossy effect.
4. To serve, drizzle with a little good-quality olive oil, and top with shavings of Pecorino and the basil (I used the tender young leaves from my sweet and purple basil plants — no chopping required).

Post script: I have enjoyed my time off (oh, I have tales — breaking down in the Karoo on a lonely dirt road with no cellphone reception is a highlight — more on those another time), but I must confess I missed you terribly. It’s good to be back!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Plenty of Ottolenghi...

Saturday was Cape Town's first real taste of summer, and I decided the only appropriate way to celebrate was to run out and buy a tube of self-tan. Ah, there's nothing quite like the chemical aroma of dihydroxyacetone delicately singing one's nostril hairs to fill one with the joys of the season...

In 4-6 hours I would be a few inches closer to resembling a healthy, hot-pant-wearing, roller-blading native Californian, rather than something that lives at the bottom of the sea. I needed a venue. I needed to be seen. I needed to find a location where the sun meets the alcohol amidst discreet sycophants and white linen.

We brainstormed and, after a few heated disagreements, I remembered reading a review on Casa Labia in Muizenberg, so we decided to make a booking... Boy was that a mistake.

We got there to discover that they only served wine by the glass (one kind), and bubbly by the bottle (one kind), and the reason for this was that they do not have a liquor licence. They couldn't have told us this over the phone when we made our booking?

The service was disinterested, the food average, and in general I felt my new tan was just not getting the attention it deserved. For future reference, Casa Labia is probably safest for breakfast.

They do have a very pretty museum though, which is worth a look...

And an even prettier view...

On to more uplifting matters — Yotam Ottolenghi's PLENTY has infected my brain. I can't stop thinking about it, and it took me two full weeks to decide which dish to make first.

This is the one I chose. Green pancakes with lime butter. Beautiful for brunch. I really don't think I need to say any more than that.

Green pancakes with lime butter
Serves 3 to 4

250g spinach, washed
110g self raising flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 free range egg
50g unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
150ml milk
6 medium spring onion (100g in total), finely sliced
2 fresh green chillies, thinly sliced
1 free range egg white
olive oil

Lime butter
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
grated zest of 1 lime
1 1/2 tbsp lime juice
1/3 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1 tbsp chopped coriander
1/2 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 tsp chilli flakes

1. First, make the lime butter. Put the butter in a medium bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until it turns soft and creamy. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Tip everything out on to a sheet of clingfilm and roll into a sausage shape. Twist the ends to seal the flavoured butter. Chill until firm.
2. Wilt the spinach in a pan with a splash of water. Drain in a sieve and, when cool, squeeze hard with your hands to remove as much moisture as possible. Roughly chop and put aside
3. For the pancake batter, put the flour, baking powder, whole egg, melted butter, salt, cumin and milk in a mixing bowl, and whisk until smooth. Add the spring onion, chillies and spinach and mix with a fork. Whisk the egg white to soft peaks and carefully fold it in to the batter.
4. Pour a small amount of oil into a heavy frying pan and place on medium-high heat. For each pancake, ladle 2 tablespoons of batter into the pan and press down gently. You should get smallish pancakes, about 7cm in diameter and 1cm thick. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side, until you get a good golden-green colour. Transfer to kitchen paper and keep warm. Continue making pancakes, adding oil to the pan as needed, until the batter is used up.
5. To serve, pile up three pancakes per person and place a slice of flavoured butter on top to melt.


PS: I wish I could take credit for the image of the pancakes, but I can't — I scanned it from the book.

PPS: Don't miss out on this fabulous Eat Out competition — you could 'win the dining experience of a lifetime'. Doesn't that sound nice?

PPPS: Voting for the 2010 SA Blog Awards closes on Friday 17 September. I feel so dirty asking you this, but if you wouldn't mind voting just one last time...  (you can vote every 24 hours) x

Monday, September 6, 2010

Societi Bistro's Aubergine Fettuccine

A few months ago, seated and perusing the menu at Society Bistro — one of the most fabulous restaurants to ever happen to Cape Town's CBD — my eyes settled on 'Aubergine fettuccine: baked ricotta, chilli, fennel seed, cherry tomatoes.'

I read the line again and thought: 'I want to go to there.'

I have not been able to stop thinking about that dish, so eventually I asked for the recipe. I've never cooked with fennel seeds in a Mediterranean context before, but their subtle flavour goes beautifully with aubergine. I am so delighted with this recipe — and I know you will be too.

At Society Bistro they make their own fettuccine and their own ricotta — I used store-bought, and the result was even better than I remembered, but if you have homemade... Well, I'm sure I don't have to tell you.

The recipe is for one serving, because of course that's how they do it in restaurants, so just double or quadripple the quantities according to your needs. (I should just note here that SB did not provide ingredient quantities in the 'Assembly' section, so I just went with my gut.)

Aubergine fettuccine
Serves 1

For the aubergine caviar:
1 aubergine
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
10g fennel seeds
10g dry chilli flakes

1. Cut aubergine  in half lengthways, and score the flesh deeply to form diamond shapes.
2. Drizzle the olive oil and season with salt, pepper, chilli and fennel.
3. Wrap in foil and bake for 1 hour at 150C.
4. Allow to cool, then scoop out the soft cooked flesh.

1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
100g cherry tomatoes
20g rocket
125g baked ricotta (I mixed mine with some chilli, fennel seeds, salt and pepper, and baked it along with the aubergine)
Fresh chilli, chopped, to taste

1. Warm a large frying-pan and add the olive oil and garlic, and then the caviar.
3. Cook for two minutes on a medium heat, then add the cherry tomatoes and cook for a further two minutes.
4. Season with salt and pepper and add the blanched pasta to the pan.
5. Add rocket and toss in the pan.
6. Tip onto a serving plate, top with the ricotta and fresh chilli. Grate a little Parmesan on top if you like.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Zucca e funghi al forno

Zucca e funghi al forno from Venezia: Food & Dreams — more on that later...

Dear Diary: I feel like I’m in a scene from Withnail & I, out here in the country. I wish I had a joint. I don’t usually smoke marijuana, but in this environment it seems appropriate — obligatory, even.

I’m sitting in a bed in a cabin, wearing 10 layers of clothing, at the top of a mountain just outside Elandsbay. It’s 8:40am. The mist outside my cabin is thick as pea soup (I heard that in a movie once — can't remember which — still not convinced of its analogic merits). I can see only the faint outline of a few pine trees just outside; nothing but opaque icy greyness beyond that. It’s isolated, stark, damp and freezing — I’m expecting Uncle Monty to pop in any moment for a cup of tea and a fondle.

The day passes in a daze of sleeping, reading, aimless pottering and trying not to freeze to death ('Warm up? We may as well sit round this cigarette. This is ridiculous. We'll be found dead in here next spring').

I ended up playing Hearts on my laptop instead of writing, which was sort of the whole point of holing myself up in this cabin. Ah well.

My computer beat me 3/9.

The clouds broke just in time for a devastating sunset — and a counter-top-hot-plate dinner of puttanesca. God I love it when my fingers smell like garlic and basil... Or garlic and ginger. Or garlic and rosemary. I think the common denominator is garlic. God I love it. (That paragraph may have been inspired by a bottle-and-a-half of Laborie Cab/Sav, some mild chest-beating and proclamations of 'We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!' I'm pretty sure no one heard me.)

I was (inexplicably) rewarded the next day with no hangover and a sparkling summer's day: views from here to eternity and back. And the famous West Coast flowers are just starting to do their spring thing...

Truly, you could do a hell of a lot worse than spend a weekend at Mountain Mist.

Oh, you want a recipe as well? Very well...

I did spend a sizable portion of the weekend poring over a recent (treasured) gift from the Guinea Pig — Tessa Kiros’ tribute to Venice: Venezia: Food & Dreams. I am smitten. 'These are the things I ate in Venice,' she writes, 'Wonderful surprises let me say; things that you would never expect glancing at the menus of the many tourist-drained locali.'

I want to say it’s a feast for the eyes, but I won’t, because that’s a big fat cliché. But I will say that if you’re a cookbook-oholic and Italophile like myself, this is for you.

I like the recipe below because of its simplicity. Such easy-to-find ingredients, effortlessly combined, yet the result is something quite exquisite (perhaps you have to be a veggie-lover — the kind that can happily eat a bowl of buttery greens for dinner).

I made this dish with butternut and dried porcini mushrooms rehydrated for an hour in some hot chicken stock — and it all turned out beautifully — but fresh funghi and pumpkin are first choice, naturally. You could serve it with Parmesan-ey wet polenta (as I did), or with some crusty bread, or of course as a side dish to fish, chicken or meat.

You decide. For now I’ll leave you to contemplate this pearl of wisdom from Uncle Monty: 'I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is, you'll agree, a certain je ne sais quoi oh so very special about a firm young carrot.'

Yes. Yes, indeed.

Zucca e funghi al forno
Roast pumpkin & mushroom

800g pumpkin
5 tablespoons olive oil
About 400g fresh porcini or field or swiss brown mushrooms, cut into chunks
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
About 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan

1. Preheat your oven to 180C. Peel the pumpkin, remove the seeds and cut the flesh into 5mm slices. You should have about 600g of pumpkin slices.
2. Drizzle some of the olive oil into your baking dish. Add the pumpkin slices, mushrooms, garlic and rosemary, and season with salt and black pepper, then drizzle over the rest of the olive oil. Turn well using your hands or a wooden spoon, then spread everything out more or less rustically.
3. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the pumpkin is tender and golden in places, and the mushroom is crisp and golden here and there. Scatter with Parmesan and bake for another 5 or 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Spicy potato cakes

There is a moment, just before I am about to tuck in to breakfast, when I experience something very close to enlightenment.

It’ll be the weekend. I will have taken a walk to a local deli and purchased some freshly baked bread (Cassis’ Provencal baguette — herbs, olives, tomato — is my current obsession) and perhaps a chocolate croissant. Back home I will then have put four eggs (two for me, two for the Guinea Pig) into a pot, just covered with water, and set it to boil on the stove. This is the equivalent of a stop-watch, because within this time I must carefully coordinated the toasting of bread, brewing of coffee and slicing of tomato to coincide precisely with the eggs reaching that alchemistic state of perfectly cooked (yolk runny, white firm).

In the final seconds, the plates are laden with toast soldiers, sliced tomato and expectant little egg cups; the coffee plunger is poised for action; the salt and pepper grinders are in their proper places; a magazine, newspaper or book is propped just so for ease of reading while eating; and finally, the cry which signals that the transcendental apex of Saturday morning bliss is about to be realised — ‘It’s reeeeadyyyy!’ — sees the whole production culminate in a moment, a glorious, single moment.

Me, sitting before my breakfast, teaspoon in hand, enveloped in smug contentment. I am content because I know exactly what the next hour holds for me: pure, unadulterated hedonism.

(Hedonism, to me, used to mean drugs, alcohol and late nights — now it's breakfast. How time flies.)

Know what I mean?

I once longed to be one of those people who are perfectly satisfied with a virtuous bowl of muesli and a dollop of low-fat yoghurt, but convulsive shuddering meant I could never quite get the spoon to my lips. I crave eggs, every day (I’ll let you know how that’s working out for me in 10 years time).

Now, if I were living in North India, I wouldn’t have any trouble getting used to these potato cakes for breakfast (which is how they’re served there, or so my Best Ever Indian Curry Recipes cookbook tells me). No eggs involved, but they are gorgeously savoury, stick to your ribs and still have that sort-of breakfast hash-brown thing going for them.

I had them for lunch. I was trying to replicate memorable starter I had at Masala Dosa — and I think I came fairly close (close enough!). The Bombay mix might seem an odd choice, but trust me, it works. These are ideal to make for a crowd as a starter or snack. Serve with chopped cucumber and tomato with yoghurt, and the sprinkles, and just watch people’s faces. It’s fun.

Spicy potato cakes
Makes about 16

450g potatoes, peeled, boiled, mashed and allowed to cool
1 tbsp white poppy seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp chilli
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1 handful fresh coriander leaves, chopped, plus extra to garnish
2 cloves garlic
5 cm ginger, peeled and chopped
Sunflower or canola oil, as needed
1 tsp salt

1. Toast the spices until fragrant, then transfer to a mortar. Add the garlic, ginger and coriander and pestle the crap out of it until you have a thick, pasty mixture.
2. Combine the spices with the mashed potato and mix well. Using your hands, form into little patties, about the size of your palm.
3. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry the patties in batches until golden brown and gorgeous. Drain on paper towel.
4. Arrange on a dish, sprinkle with the salt and some coriander leaves, and serve with raita (I like a combo of chopped cucumber, red onion, tomato and yoghurt) and Bombay mix.

But before I go, I do have to tell you about the most divine little secret centre up the road from my house in Newlands — Montabello Design Centre. Well, it may not be much of a secret, but there's something about it that feels like a discovery, all tucked away just off Newlands Avenue.

It has an enchanting nursery, a forge, and various art and craft studios dotted all over the show. Best of all, there is wonderful café — Kwalapa — which is now one of my new favourite breakfast spots.

PS: Do please take a moment to nominate me for the 2010 SA Blog Awards in the Best Food and Wine Blog category (click on the widget on the top right). You know, if you think I should win ... or if you just want to kill two minutes. I'd be much obliged.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Amazing avocado sauce

This is a natty little sauce that is super-tasty and fool-proof/ lobotomy-friendly — I know you will fall in love with it. It was created one evening as I was concocting a makeshift salsa verde-cum-gremolata to go with some pan-fried rib-eye steak. I only had parsley, capers and anchovies, though, so I was going to make do with that, but then I spied half an avo at the back of the fridge, and (insert New Year's Eve fireworks and popping Champagne corks here) a star of a sauce was born.

It has all the punchy flavour of salsa verda, but the avo gives it a creamy, saucy quality that holds everything together beautifully... It also improves the texture. The trick is to chop everything up as finely as you can (you could use a food processor, but I think good ol' elbow grease and a sharp knife get a better texture).

Apart from being ridiculously easy to make, this sauce is amazingly versatile. You can take it in any direction you like by adding one or more of the following: chilli, garlic, lemon juice/zest, basil, and/or very finely diced red onion for a salsa-type effect.

Of course, it's only as good as the ingredients you use — I'm a fan of the bottled anchovies from Woolies, but tinned are even better; watery avo won't work for this, you want the creamy variety; capers... buy the best you can afford.

The sauce is unbelievable smeared over a seared, bloody fillet (particularly with some buttered ciabatta slices and this minty tomato salad with balsamic dressing), but it's also gorgeous on bruschetta as a starter, or tossed with al dente linguini and chopped tomato.

What do you think?

Is it as good for you as it is for me? 

Amazing avocado sauce

2 large handfuls (about 60g) flatleaf parsley
6 anchovy fillets
1 cup capers, drained
1 medium/large avocado, mashed

Finely chop the flatleaf parsley, then the anchovy fillets, then the capers. Then chop everything together so it's well-combined. Add to the avocado, mix well and serve.

This makes enough to smear generously over four seared fillets, or mix in with enough pasta for four people (about 450g linguini).

PS: Do please take a moment to nominate me for the 2010 SA Blog Awards in the Best Food and Wine Blog category (click on the widget on the top right). You know, if you think I should win ... or if you've got nothing better to do. I'd be much obliged.