Notes from my Kitchen Table
The kitchen table has been busy this past month with the onset of winter. A whole new variety of foods find their way into the food halls of our supermarkets and even the little corner shops. Suddenly we are charmed by the wonderful flavours of seasonal fruits like quinces, persimmons, granadillas and a variety of soft-skinned easy-peeling citrus - and strawberries. How amazing that we now have day-neutral strawberries which ignore the Circadian cycle and simply continue flowering and producing the sweetest, sappiest and most flavoursome berries.
I found some deeply aromatic quinces nestling in their furriness on purple paper at a farmstall in Robertson - we'd stopped off to buy some utterly sublime dry Juanita Cabernet Sauvignon from Rietvlei Estate (and a bottle of their stunning Red Muscadel 2003). We let the quinces ripen over a period of a couple of weeks and then I baked them slowly in the oven with honey. So delicious, and memories of my childhood came rushing to the fore.
Talking of Muscadel - I really think that this wine is so undervalued. Pure honeyed juice of the ripest of golden green Muscat de Frontignan and red Hanepoot grapes at their aromatic best is fortified with young brandy. The Spruitdrift White Muscadel that won gold on the recent Muscadel Competition sells at a mere R22 a bottle. Muscadel is such a heart-warmer on cold winter nights and miles away from the perceived tacky image that is sweet wine's misfortune. Swepie le Roux of Domein Doornkraal (hot-shot producers of some stunning sweet wines) near Oudtshoorn, who heads up the Muscadel Association, is not averse to replacing vermouth in a martini with a dash of Muscadel, creating a "Muscatini".
Slow cooking now becomes de rigueur in the cold of winter and aromas of comfort food fill the chill evening air chez Olivier. This gives one time to enjoy some yummy wines and read a good book or two - usually cookery books! I sipped slowly at the new release from Morgenhof, their Premier Selection 2001 a classically-styled Bordeaux Blend of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec with its elegantly concentrated dark fruit with ripe sappy sweetness and grippy, well-balanced tannins.
Click on the Quiet Food book cover to one a copy!
At the time I was paging through the latest foodie offering from Double Storey Books - Quiet Food, a recipe for sanity. (Double Storey Books). This is the most fabulous book of "Buddhist" food from the Ixopo Buddhist Retreat Centre. I usually start at the back end of a book and find this one filled with the most mouth-watering of dessert and bread recipes. There are plenty more - soups, salads, mains, the book illustrated in black and white with some enchanting photographs of kitchen workers preparing the offerings for the day. I will forever associate the Morgenhof with this book. Using Pieter and Annelene du Toit's Kloovenburg olive oil gave the dishes a unique and special flavour - it's so fruity and adds a whole extra flavour dimension.
Falling Cloudberries is a magnum opus by Tessa Kiros (Murdoch Books). When you look at the magnitude of this book, the opulence of the illustrations and the design, recipes from her Finnish, Greek Cypriot, South African heritage - it is the work of a lifetime. The recipes are a mélange of her experiences - enchantingly written and paying homage to her past, giving reverence to that which she has learnt in her own short life. She worked at the Groucho Club with a friend of mine who showed me Twelve, her equally work-of-a-lifetime book on the food of Tuscany - she now lives in Italy. Family feasts - reminiscent of my own childhood - abound. This is the most beautiful book I have seen this year, intimate, generous and sharing. If you buy no other cookbook this year you will have done well.
I would like to share one more book with you - but perhaps more the man than the book. Alan Coxon has written a book called Ready in Minutes - The Cook Book (Struik Publishers). It is well set out and cleverly styled in zero, five, ten, twenty, twenty-five and thirty-minute cooking time chapters, with photographs beautifully styled by the talented Abigail Donnelly. Alan has done an enormous amount of television work and is currently appearing with a series of South African Sporting Greats on BBCFood. He is a food archaeologist and fascinated by historical foods. Urbane almost retiring in the most charming way, during a recent visit to Cape Town he showed me a series of his new vinegar products. Made in South Africa and beautifully packaged in handblown amphora-shaped glass bottles, there is a Greek Vinaigre (ancient Greek coriander), a Roman Vinaigre (cinnamon, camomile, honey and a touch of peppercorn) and my favourite, an Ale-Gar. Made from a medieval English ale recipe, with added chocolate stout, fermented over oak, it's dark and richly flavoured and when reduced down in cooking becomes quite syrupy. Stunning just to dip bread into it before a meal too - we used some delicious Slaley single-variety Leccino Olive Oil and some West Coast salt from Velddrif with it - went down well with the 2003 Slaley Broken Stone Cabernet Sauvignon. I used the Roman Vinaigre when I made some potted shrimps recently and it added such a delicious counter to the garlic-flavoured butter I used for them.
To warm the cockles of your wintry hearts I offer beef with porcini and pancetta, a dish we enjoyed recently which you can prepare from dried cepes, but if you can land a couple of fresh ones, include them in the dish, they will add great flavour. Porcini (little pigs) and pancetta are such quintessential Italian flavourings. Both are available at delis and the dried porcini (also known as cepes - Boletus edulis) are stunning to use; don't throw away your soaking liquid, use it to add flavour to the dish. At this time of the year the forests of the Cape are filled with porcini after rain.
Beef with porcini and pancetta
Method: Soak the dried porcini in the 500 ml cold water for about two hours. Cut the pancetta into 1 cm x 2 cm blocks, place in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to the boil. Drain. Heat about half of the butter in a large pan and fry the pancetta gently to brown lightly and allowing it to render some of its fat; watch for burning. When it is crisp and well coloured, put it in a large, heavy ovenproof casserole and reserve the pancetta fat. Cut the beef into 2 cm cubes and toss well in seasoned flour until lightly dusted. Fry the cubes of meat - a few at a time - in the pancetta fat until they are well coloured all over, and then add them to the casserole. Drain the frying pan and wipe out with kitchen paper. Add the other half of the butter and cook the vegetables over a fairly high heat for five minutes. Stir in the tomato purée and wine. Scrape up all the bits and residue and bring it to the boil. Add to the casserole. Put in the porcini and their water and the herbs and over heat bring the casserole to a simmer. Skim if necessary. Season lightly, if at all, with sea salt. Add some freshly-milled black pepper. Cover and cook in the preset oven for two and half-hours or until the meat is cooked and tender.
Sprinkle with the parsley and serve with some creamy mash and a mixed leaf salad.
And what are we going to do with all those wonderful strawberries, or passion berries as they are labelled in Pick 'n Pay?
This is an adaptation of a recipe we used at our restaurant in Cape Town called Parks, originally made with raspberries that we obtained from our friends Raymond and Betty O'Grady of Hillcrest Berry Orchards in Banhoek near Stellenbosch.
Real strawberry rocky road ice cream
Method: Preheat the oven to 180°C and roast the almonds on a baking sheet until a dark golden brown, about 6-8 minutes. If the almonds are not crisp all the way through they will become soggy in the ice cream. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Meanwhile cut the marshmallows into 1,5 cm cubes. Chop the chocolate roughly and melt over simmering water - do not overheat. Meanwhile line a plastic tray 25 cm x 15 cm with non-stick baking paper. Sprinkle a layer of marshmallows and almonds on to the tray. Drizzle heavily with the chocolate. Repeat this process until you have used all the ingredients. You should aim for a rocky road that is about 2,5 cm thick. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes and break into medium-sized pieces. Make the ice cream. Bring the cream to just below the boil. Beat the egg yolks and sugar till thick and pale. Pour over the cream, stirring all the time. Return to low heat and cook the custard, stirring all the time over low heat until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Pass though a fine sieve. Purée the strawberries and pass through a coarse sieve to ensure that there are no lumps of fruit or pips. Stir the purée into the custard and add the liqueur. Chill completely before churning or freezing in your freezer. When the ice cream is ready, spoon it into a container, adding pieces of rocky road and stirring in as you go. Freeze in the refrigerator till firm. To serve, garnish with strawberries and bits of rocky road and mint and serve on a pool of chocolate sauce.
Wine suggestion: Sweeties here - how about some Muscadel?
Well, let me scrub down the old oak kitchen table. I'll keep my notebook and pencil handy so I'll have lots to talk about next month. Email me at email@example.com if you would like to know more about wines I have tasted and dishes we've enjoyed. Please visit my website, www.noshnews.co.za. There's a mine of information there about books, wine, places to stay and good food.
Till next time, eat and drink well.
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