Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Spring minestrone

I recently took up hot yoga.

It was a tactic to cope with stress, because as effective as drinking several tall jugs of wine every evening is, I was finding it unsustainable.

Hot yoga, if you’ve never tried it, is yoga in a large room heated to about 40C — or, as some prefer to describe it, hell on earth.

It involves ingesting large volumes of your own sweat through inverted nostrils while your muscles cuss at you. Then there’s the humiliation factor of emphatically jumping to face your right when the entire rest of the class jumps to face the left.

It is deeply uncomfortable. It makes me feel like a motor function impaired gorilla. And yet... While I’m there, sweating like a hog in heat, I don’t think of anything else. I am completely present. One might argue that inserting rusty forks under one's kneecaps would have roughly the same effect, and I wouldn’t have to pay R60 a pop for the privilege. (Can’t fault you there.)

All I can say is, I guess you either get it or you don’t — I am certainly not trying to convince you to start hot yoga. But that hour at lunch time is like the eye of the storm of my life.

(Watch now as I deftly tie the topic of yoga to the spring minestrone recipe below.)

Making this spring minestrone is a bit like yoga...

(Impressive, huh?)

... in that it requires effort and commitment.

If, that is, you are going to be shelling farmer’s market peas and boad beans yourself, as I did. You could always just get the pre-shelled ones from Woolies if you like, I won’t judge you.

This minestrone is just so good for the soul — I mean, look how green it is. You can just tell it’s pure goodness. And it tastes even better than it looks. It’s the perfect way to combine all the lovely green things sprouting all over the place this time of year. (Feel free to add whatever you like — zucchini, beans, artichokes, or even chopped potatoes, pasta or cooked cannellini beans.) I'm sure I don't have to tell you that the success of this soup hinges on the quality of the stock.

Promise me you’ll try it.


Spring minestrone
Serves 6

Extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1,5 litres good chicken, ham or vegetable stock
100g peas, podded
100g asparagus, chopped into 3cm pieces (separate tips from the woody stems)
100g broad beans, podded
100g spinach, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small handful each fresh basil and parsley, finely chopped
100g Parma ham or pancetta, chopped & fried until crispy

1. Add a good glug of olive oil to a large heavy-bottomed pot and add the onion and garlic. Cook gently on a very low heat until the onion is nice and glassy (make sure it doesn’t brown), about 15 minutes.
2. Add the stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the peas and asparagus stems and simmer for 2 minutes. Then add the broad beans, spinach and asparagus tips. Cook for a minute, then stir in the ham. Season to taste.
3. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with a spoonful of chopped basil and parsley to stir through.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Broad beans, orecchiette, minty ricotta & anchovy croutons

I have a few strategies for cheering myself up when I feel a little blue, a little uninspired, or when I just want to plak a smile on my face.

The most effective is to sing Eminem songs to myself in a Punjabi accent (‘The Real Slim Shady’ is a favourite).

A stroll on the mountain is also a reliable way to lift my spirits. Summer arrived in Cape Town this weekend (and then swiftly departed on Monday), and since I’m lucky enough to live within walking distance of Rhodes Memorial, I took an amble on Sunday morning. And some pretty pictures. Mooi, neh?

Apart from warm weather and extra daylight, nothing helps summer hit home quite like the glut of greens that flood the farmers’ markets around this time of year, none of which I anticipate more avidly than broad beans.

These beautiful emerald nuggets are impossible to resist. Although, after podding about a kilo of them, I thought I might have a little more success resisting them next year.

I concocted this killer recipe over the weekend. You could leave out the mint, if you like, or the anchovies, but I liked the combination. It was a glorious plate of summer.

Broad beans, orecchiette, minty ricotta & anchovy croutons

The amounts for this dish are not all that important (i.e. I am too lazy to figure them out). Just cook enough pasta (about 450g for four people) and take it from there.

Pod a whack of broad beans, blanch briefly (like, a minute or two), then remove the tough outer skin. Boil orecchiette. Cut some nice, crusty ciabatta up into little bocks. Heat some olive oil and melt some anchovies (about 5). Fry the bread cubes until golden brown and crunchy.

Mix up some ricotta and finely chopped mint, and season to taste with salt and black pepper. (Add a tablespoon of yoghurt if the ricotta is a little dry.)

Divide the pasta and broad beans between plates/bowls, dot with blobs of  ricotta and top with croutons. Give a final sprinkle of salt and black pepper, drizzle with some good quality extra virgin olive oil and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Et voilà!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Table

Russel Wasserfall and his wife Camilla Comins are probably going to have to take out a restraining order against the Guinea Pig and I.

We are their NBFs (New Biggest Fans).

Set in an old farm house to one side of a lush vineyard (De Meye, a family-owned boutique winery in Stellenbosch), it seems somehow misleading to describe The Table as a restaurant — it feels more like visiting old friends for a long, lazy Sunday lunch.

Russel is instantly likable — what's not to love about a man who has you quaffing rosé and chatting away less than a minute after arrival? (If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s one of the South Africa’s top food photographers.) Camilla works her considerable magic in the kitchen. She's a professional food whiz: trained chef, stylist, and food product developer.

Our meal at The Table was 100% pretention-free. It was nurturing, nourishing, delicious, transportive — the antithesis of what one might expect from Jardine or Dale-Roberts (#nothingagainstthempersonally) and the like, whose dishes leave me feeling nonplussed as to how, exactly, I am supposed to have benefitted from the experience.

For R200, the set menu included steamed mussels in a creamy sauce with homemade bread to start, then a main of large, thick slices of perfectly roasted beef with Béarnaise, a flawless Caesar salad and an enormous onion tart that I think the Guinea Pig could quite happily have scoffed all on his own in a dark cupboard. Dessert was a very generous portion of some yummy kind of coconut cake with chocolate ice cream that I was just too full to take more than a bite of. Our entire meal could have fed four people. (The leftovers fed us for three whole days.)

It’s no coincidence then that Russel’s keyword throughout our sporadic afternoon conversations was 'abundance'.

Of course, we each drank our own body weight in wine, and were the last to leave. (A tip: if Russel makes a wine pairing recommendation, go with it. I didn’t and regretted it.) The Wasserfall-Comins were very gracious about our slurring, stumbling, and somewhat-embarrassing-in- the-cold-light-of-the-next-day ardour, bless them.

We are already plotting our return to the scene of the crime.

The Table at De Meye
083 252 9588

Psssst: This week's menu is…
• Starter
Bushpig rillettes with caper berries and pickles, a baked mozzarella in lemon with bay leaves and crusty bread
• Main
Butterflied leg of lamb cooked with thyme and paprika, served with potato wedges, braised leeks and baby spinach with a hot mustard dressing
• Dessert
Strawberries with meringues and cream and a scoop of chocolate ice cream