Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Walnut, blue cheese and pear salad

The Guinea Pig and I were lying in a log cabin in the Tsitsikamma National Park a few days ago, listening to the waves crash not five metres away. It was 2:04am on Day 6 of our East Coast camping trip (well, we weren’t technically camping any more because it started pouring with rain the previous morning) and we were having a bit of a crisis. We’d just discovered we don’t like camping. We never knew that about ourselves.

In the dark, our thoughts turned to our lives at large, and ourselves at close: Who are we? We don’t own property, we don’t have kids, or a pet, or even a small sedimentary rock collection. Are we figments of someone else’s imagination? Do we actually exist? What have we got to show for our lives!?

The logical cure for this particular type of existential hysteria, as you well know, is a box of Zoo Biscuits. Remember those? I saw them at a roadside store and couldn’t resist — they spoke too earnestly of my childhood, of a time when any conceivable affliction could be immediately alleviated (nay, vanquished!) through the process of deciding which colour, or animal, to eat first.

Our conversation that night turned to the holidays of our childhoods, and the typically South African treats we used to get. Liquorice Allsorts: my parents would dispense these to my brother and I on long road trips — and we would always fight over the ones that offered the highest icing-to-liquorice ratio.

Melrose cheese wedges were also (and still are) obligatory middle class road food — 5% cheese, 95% processed ingredients with mysterious names like ‘milk solids’. Biltong is another classic — something I only ever eat when I’m on holiday for some reason.

We did, on our East Coast odyssey, eat at two gorgeous restaurants. If you’re ever in Knysna, make an effort to lunch at Isle de Pain on Thesen Island, where I had the most exquisite fig and blue cheese tart: leeks and ripe mission figs roasted on a feather-light bed of pastry, dotted with creamy Gorgonzola and blueberries, and finally drizzled with a balsamic dressing. Oh, and their sourdough ciabatta is devastating.

In Plettenberg Bay, we ate at The Grand Café & Rooms. This is the predecessor to the Camps Bay and Granger Bay restaurants of the same name, and I think it has an old-world charm the others lack — probably because it’s favoured by Plett’s ‘mink and manure’ set. If you do go, book a table on the terrace, which offers a sweeping view over the bay, and I can highly recommend the lamb curry.

I wonder if Julia Child ever made a lamb curry? (Ha — how do you like that for a subtle segue?) Yesterday I received my long-awaited copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Yes *sigh* I only heard about Julia Child for the first time when the movie came out. This fact, I think, foists me firmly into the ‘amateur (perhaps even fraudulent) cook’ category.

So far I’ve enjoyed reading it, but I found the idea of actually cooking one of the recipes rather daunting — you see, they are rather elaborate, aren’t they? I find her insistence on absolute precision a little intimidating. Perhaps that’s why I’ve naturally gravitated towards Italian cooking, rather than French: there’s a lot more room for invention, for instinctive guestimation and personal taste when it comes to Italian food. Not so with la cuisine Francaise — at least, that is my impression.

Of course, each and every recipe in MAFC calls for enough butter to kill  a small donkey, of which I wholly approve (the generous use of butter, not the killing of donkeys).

In the end
I settled on trying her soufflé au fromage (cheese soufflé) — except I also really wanted to try the soufflé aux epinards (spinach soufflé), so I decided to combine the two. My first ever soufflé was not a failure — in fact, I was rather proud of it — but it was a little on the heavy side, which I put down to my lack of experience in the folding department.

Also, my oven’s thermostat has bipolar disorder.

On the whole, however, the result was quite delicious. I served it with one of my all-time favourite salads of radicchio, walnuts, blue cheese and pear, some crusty bread (slathered in butter, naturally) and a few gallons of Pierre Jourdan Tranquille Blush. You could do a hell of a lot worse for lunch.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what transpired from our 2am life audit last week, let’s just say that we’ve decided to take a few large steps in a new direction. A word of advice: don’t ever consult the Zoo Biscuits unless you want answers to Life’s Big Questions.

Walnut, blue cheese and pear salad
Serves 4

For the dressing:
1 tsp sherry vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
50ml extra virgin olive oil

For the salad:
250g radicchio (feel free to include curly endive, wild rocket or romaine), torn into bite-sized pieces
2 sweet, firm pears
60g walnuts, lightly toasted
90g Cremazola (or Roquefort or Gorgonzola)

1. In a large bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients together until well combined. Adjust seasoning.
2. Slice the pears (it’s best to do this just before you dress them, as this prevents them from discoloring due to oxidation), then add them, along with the salad leaves and walnuts, to the dressing. Toss until every leaf and slice of pear is well coated.
3. Divide the salad between plates, crumble the Cremazola over the leaves and serve.


  1. Enjoyed reading this Robyn! Aah yes Zoo biscuits and Cream Soda.

  2. i'm pretty sure walnut, blue cheese & pear is the ultimate salad for me. that and an authentic greek salad - none of this adding lettuce leaves and crappy knorr greek salad dressing business. like so:

    oooom nom nom nom

  3. That is one wonderful salad! What a great combo!



  4. Here's to zoo biscuits :-). Your salad is gorgeous and your post was most enjoyable. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings...Mary

  5. I'll have to check out those Zoo biscuits to see if they're available here in the states! The souffles look marvelous!

  6. What a tasty & superb looking slaad, Robyn!!
    We also have zoo biscuits!

    MMMMMMMM,....Lovely food!

  7. This is one of my top favorite salads! Good question: I am sure Julia Child made curry; after all she lived to her mid-nineties!

  8. Mm, any salad that contains pears and walnuts is my kind of salad!

    I very recently received Mastering the Art of French Cooking as well, it is a little daunting as you flip through the tome, isn't it?

  9. We had the same salad for dinner tonight. Except we used baby mustard greens and red grapes were included.

  10. I couldn't help humming this tune while reading this..."Ag, please daddy, won't you take us to the drive-in...".
    As for Julia Child. I watched this movie for the first time last week and I was somewhat disappointed. I thought Meryl was a bit flat and the story was a bit of a flat liner for me...nothing exciting....
    What does excite me however, is the combination of this salad with the souffle....I love how you pulled the cheese theme right through the entire meal!!!

  11. Ooh yum!! Think I'm going to have to add your blog to my reader!
    Thanks for the comment on my blog

  12. Zoo biscuits are a good foil for an existential crisis. You can usually sort of identify the creature, but you're never 100% sure. It's very subjective. A metaphor for life, if you will.

  13. If that could be my lunch every day, I would be a "happy camper". Get it? :) I have never tasted any of the road foods you mentioned and I'm intrigued!

  14. What an excellent and flavorful salad. I love this!

  15. oh love your blog such fun to read would adore a guest post for Chow and Chatter on South African food please!


    rebeccsubbiah at yahoo dot com

  16. Your walnut, blue cheese and pear salad is one of my all time favorites. The fig and blue cheese tart at Isle de Pain is calling my name. What a lovely restaurant.

    I'm thrilled that you now have Julia's Mastering the Art of French cooking. I'm from an older generation who learned to cook from books such as this with only black and white illustrations and no gorgeous, slick color photos. You were very brave to choose a souffle for your first dish from MAFC. They turned out beautifully.