This is one of those dishes I would normally look at and think, ‘That looks yummy,’ and then click right on past it. The fact that I didn’t own a pie dish (until yesterday, when I procured one for this recipe) may have had something to do with it. I don’t know... Whenever pastry is involved, I tend to feel a little nervous and inadequate.
But I had a whole roast butternut in my fridge (more on that later), and three kinds of cheese (keep reading), and I knew, I just KNEW, that if I didn’t take action right now, they would be unearthed in three weeks’ time at the back of the fridge — mouldy, rotten and inedible — and then I would be visited by that special kind of shame that plants images of hungry children in my mind as I scrape hitherto perfectly edible food into the bin.
I am trying desperately, and failing often, not to waste food. In a fit of industry the other day, I threw two elderly sweet potatoes and a large butternut into the oven, thinking, ‘Hey presto, work lunches for the coming week, sorted.’ But after two days of buttered sweet potato, I couldn’t really look at the butternut. Too much moosh.
I also had some Edam, feta and creamy blue cheese left over from a drinks/snacks get-together that, hmph, never happened (you know who you are).
What to do?
I Googled ‘cheese + butternut’, and my favourite food blog, The Wednesday Chef, came to the rescue with this gorgeous recipe.
She used pre-made pie crust, and I fully intended to follow her lead and use Woolies ready-made butter pastry. Except, when I got to the appropriate isle, the shelf was empty. The revolting cheap stuff was there alright, but I can’t bring myself to touch it. It’s made with ‘vegetable fat’, whatever that means, and tastes like sawdust. I was so enraged that Woolworths had fucked up my dinner plans that I actually stamped my foot: not once, not twice, but three times. I stopped when I noticed a security guard edging towards me.
I had no choice but to make my own pastry. I was NOT going to flake out (sorry), because some part of me knew that if I didn’t use that bloody butternut and cheese tonight, it just wasn’t going to happen. So I went home and MADE PASTRY.
FOR THE FIRST TIME.
WITHOUT A FOOD PROCESSOR.
(A Jamie recipe, you can find it here — it's not on his website for some reason.)
I mean, who gets home after a long day at work and sets to making pastry? Well, me, because I am disturbed. I’d like to say it was worth it — and it WAS a gorgeous pie, rich and silky and satisfying, with a simple green salad — but really, I have better things to do with my time. We ate at 10pm for god’s sake, so thanks a lot, Woolworths.
I will definitely make it again, though — using ready-made butter pastry, of course. It’s quick-sticks that way, and a great meat-free, weeknight option.
This Saturday (that's TOMORROW), 20 people are coming over to my house with the expectation of being fed and plied with liquor. They have that expectation because I encouraged them to, in a fit of insanity a few weeks ago.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a gathering of the misfits, egomaniacs and narcissists that comprise my friendship circle (well, actually it’s more of a crumpled hexagon), but, as my husband sweatily pointed out, I do have a tendency to take it all rather seriously.
It’s true. I am a control freak in the kitchen. In fact, I make Anna Wintour look like Jeff Lebowski. I start out calmly enough. A week or so ahead, I’ll start perusing cookbooks and putting together a menu of sorts, which is really the part I enjoy most. Then, a few days in advance, I’ll start shopping, getting all the basics. The night before, I’ll begin to prepare whatever can be done in advance, and make a mental inventory of what needs to happen the next morning ... which is when panic sets in.
Somewhere along the line I got this notion that everything needs to be perfectly arranged before anyone sets foot through our door: serviettes, white tablecloths, champagne buckets, an immaculately tidy house, enough ice, perfect make-up, music playing, snacks on tables, the braai set up, enough chilled wine to kill a grade 12 rugby team, and of course all food prepared to within an inch of its life, so all I have to do when guests have arrived is flick on the oven or something. If things aren’t exactly right, I end up taking it out on the poor, beleaguered Guinea Pig, who is ultimately blamed for everything. Normally we have just enough time to slap on a smile and slip the knuckle duster/switchblade under a coaster before the first guests walk through the door.
I am host-zilla.
Okay, I WAS host-zilla. At least, that’s what I hope.
Four weeks ago, the Guinea Pig’s family came over, and I wasn’t perfectly prepared. There was no way I would have everything ready before they arrived. For once, though, I miraculously, magically, didn’t give a shit. I was still dicing tomatoes when they arrived, and nothing bad happened. I was relaxed, breezy, content.
'WHY,' I wondered, 'have I been putting so much pressure on myself all these years?' It’s utterly ridiculous.
(In my defence, I think I used being prepared as a way of exerting control over my sometimes crippling social anxiety, but five years of therapy seems to be paying off, har har.)
So this Saturday is a social experiment of sorts. The Guinea Pig is supportive, but still gives me nervous little sideways glances. In his defence, I don’t think we’ve ever had this many people over before, and under normal circumstances he would be prudent to anticipate some sort of hospitality Blitzkrieg.
But no. I am going to enjoy my friends, get drunk, and who cares if the fish is overcooked? (Okay, well, that is to be avoided because nobody likes overcooked fish, so I’ll just keep an eye on it.) Who cares if we run out of ice? (Although, there’s really nothing worse that warm wine, amiright?) Who cares if we run out of wine? (Good god! Who said anything about running out of wine?!?) And really, who gives a continental about a few dirty dishes in the sink? (Nnnngyaaaaaaaaah I can't take this anymore!!!)
So I’m going to be making this, and this, and some grilled fish and a few other tidbits. Easy peasy.
THIS dish, however, I made for the GP and I week or so ago after I found the recipe in a Donna Hay mag – it’s not something I’d make for a crowd, but it IS just a glorious way to enjoy aubergine, which I adore.
Gremolata is an Italian chopped herb condiment typically made of lemon zest, garlic and parsley, used to accompany meat, fish and veg. It's tangy and tasty, and makes a nice alternative to salsa verde.
Grilled aubergine with gremolata
Cut two aubergines in half lengthways and score with a knife. Stick a few stalks of thyme into the scored bits, brush with olive oil and scatter over two cloves crushed garlic, salt and pepper. Grill, cut side down, in a baking tray for about 20 minutes. Turn over and grill for a future 15-20 minutes, until cooked through.
In the meantime, combine a handful of flatleaf parsley, the zest of two lemons and a garlic clove (more garlic!) in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Combine with enough olive oil to get a sauce of sorts, and season with salt and black pepper. Drizzle the gremolata over the aubergine and serve.