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.


  1. wish the husband enjoyed pumpkin! lovely meatless Monday meal :)

  2. Thanks Damn it!
    Your pics are making me miss visiting SA again! I froze like that on top of Table mountain, but only had to take the cable car down! Simple, delicious and fresh fresh fresh-that's why I love Italian as well. now a trip from SA to Italy and....

  3. great photos and a great post - this dish looks great too - the sunset picture is like a postcard.

  4. Your photos made me think of a perfect setting for "Wuthering Heights" I half expected a dashing what's his name to come through the windowsill.
    Also that dish sounds wonderful, love pumpkin that I hav learned to love both sweet and savory; in Lebanon they make jam out of pumpkin too.
    Your writing is superb, very enjoyable.

  5. Sounds like a lovely retreat. I grew up in Ceres and there the mist was as thick as pea soup!! Lovely post!!

  6. You've given us an all-together satisfying post. I'd love to be in the place where you are holed up. From one who has spent huge amounts of time in coastal areas comes an update on fog as thick as pea soup. To be considered such it must be so thick you can only see a foot in front of you. Your pictures and the recipe you have shared are wonderful. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings...Mary

  7. oh my god ...beautiful pictures...id love to curl up and just read a book there...
    thanks for stopping by my place..u have a beautiful blog

  8. Stunning photos, witty prose & an excellent meal. Does life get better than that. I've never been to SA but my God... I want to now.

  9. I am in love with everything surrounding Tessa Kiros. Received Venezia a while ago as gift and am enthralled with it.

  10. Sounds divine, the trip too! What a gorgeous place!