Apr 7, 2004
Taste me, see me spell me

What’s hot according to Compass restaurant in New York: pistachio oil and black cashew nuts. Probably more fun to look at than to eat. Food that is inherently sexy: artichokes, wasabi, red peppers, roast chicken (always), coriander, broccoli, panini, Belgian chocolate. Food that has the kiss of death, no matter how delicious: lamb shanks (the word ‘shanks’ comes out of Shakespeare with images of spindly, lantern-jawed men in doublets and hose), eggs, brussels sprouts (does anyone still eat them?), lentils, mealiemeal (local polenta), pumpkin, macaroni, porridge. Very good for you, even tasty, but not sexy.

Posted at 09:40 am by MaryArmour
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I keep thinking about Greek food. Lots of rich tomato sauce, fresh chopped origanum, thick yellowy bechamel. Garlicky lamb.Moussaka. And there I stick because I don’t know anything more about Greek herbs and sauces. It’s not very trendy, rib-sticking food but I loved it so in the 1980s. And it is having a revival in New York but that doesn’t help me. I see from the restaurant review that Molyvos on Seventh Avenue serves scallops with panko, a delicate and crisp Japanese crumb. They shun ground beef in moussaka. Is it Greek at all? But then the Greeks wanted their food less Turkish in 1920, took out the flavours of the Ottoman Empire and introduced French techniques and ingredients, notably bechamel. What I might make over this Easter, to accompany the lamb, is skordalia, that potato puré with garluc, very slowly baked in a medium oven. I seem to recall it has cream as well, but I don’t know I want it so rich. Years ago I knew a zoologist with a girlfriend named Marian who made Greek dishes, including skordalia, in the pinched and nasty kitchen of a shabby ground-floor flat near the Bible Institute in Kalk Bay. Marion made us an earthenware jug of this creamy pungent skordalia while her husband smoked a pipe and told rather desperately unfunny drunken jokes. Very few of us as post-grad vegetarian-inclined students could cook anything more exotic than lentil cutlets, so her dishes seemed both sophisticated and exceptionally delicious. The marriage ended soon after, in mutual accusations of alcoholism and stinginess. When I read one of the biographies of the young Elizabeth David stranded on a lonely Greek island during World War II, making Christmas pudding for eager peasants and watching for Nazi U-boats, I thought of Marian. Difficult circumstances, inspired cooking.

Posted at 04:28 am by MaryArmour
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Apr 6, 2004
Recipe for a Cape autumn

BUTTERNUT AND SAGE SPAGHETTI (Serves 4) 1 small butternut pumpkin (about 500g), peeled, seeded and cut into small chunks 400g spaghetti salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 60g butter, plus extra for serving 30ml olive oil 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped leaves from 1 bunch sage good-quality Parmesan, grated Place the butternut in a saucepan and add enough salted water just to cover. Poach for about 5 minutes or until just tender, then drain, reserving a cupful of the cooking water. Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of salted water until al dente then drain. Heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan. Add the pumpkin, slat and pepper and fry until light golden-brown. Add the garlic and the sage leaves and fry until the sage has wilted and turned a little crisp. Add the cooked spaghetti to the pan and toss through with a dash of the reserved butternut water and some parmesan. Serve either in bowls or on plates, sprinkle with plenty of Parmesan and an extra grind of pepper.

Posted at 09:21 am by MaryArmour
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Feast or famine

The resources in the valley are tremendous and probably more varied and surprising than I’ve yet realised. This summer we’ve had apricots, quinces, passion fruit and mealies (corn on the cob) in abundance. Our neighbours have grown courgettes, pumpkins, rocket, sage, chives, coriander, eggplants and large orange persimmons. All I’ve managed to grow so far has been basil and a bush of fine-leaved origanum. The staples of the village are mostly bought in, a pity: carrots, potatoes, onions, chillies. Decent fresh garlic and root ginger are hard to come by. Also not available unless brought from Cape Town: bell peppers, broccoli, spring onions. There is lamb from the local farmers, fresh chicken from local poultry farms, pork from a specialist butcher near Klapmuts. There are no local cheeses even though Caledon dairy is so close. No harvested olives around here, though May is olive month in the Boland. Most village cooks are fond of baking and there are endless tea parties with melkterts and spomge cakes. It is conventional cooking in the rural Afrikaner style. A little heavyhanded and predictable as far as I’m concerned but good in its own way. I favour stirfries and Thai/Vietnamese sauces or Mediterranean. Plenty of fresh vegetables with soil on the roots, herbs from the garden, pastas, basmati, risotto, paella. We’d eat more fish or seafood but that is hard to come by and expensive. What we don’t use enough is fruit – there is simply too much of it. Regular gluts of tomatoes, apples, hanepoot grapes, potatoes, brown onions.

Posted at 09:17 am by MaryArmour
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Country cooking

It all started a month or two after we’d moved into the dorp (village) when one morning I looked up from my cup of filter coffee at the starlings fighting over ripening loquats in the tree alongside the front drive and decided that I should do something with the fruit. The trouble is, I couldn’t think what. And while I dithered and considered various recipes for loquat jam, the birds carried on pecking away. Schoolchildren climbed into the tree. Passersby helped themselves and broke branches. There were no suitable jars for bottling purposes in the kitchen. And I knew we wouldn’t eat our way steadily through three dozen jars of loquat jam in any case. Then the elder flowers were over and I hadn’t used them to scent cordials. I wasn’t sure about using the berries either. They tasted odd and while Margaret Roberts said they were safe to eat raw, another food writer said they were harmful. No elderberry liqueur. But we did make full use of the avocados. The seasons came and went. Friends and neighbours brought around boxfuls of peaches and I made purées and spiced peaches and sort-of pickled peaches. Apples arrived by the armful and I made apple butter. Right at the end of summer there were cratefuls of tomatoes and Una went out, collected jars from the neighbouring farmers’ wives and made tomato purée, at least 24 jars. Now it is almos time to think about loquats again. This is about country cooking for reforming urbanites. What works, what doesn’t what can’t even be given away and gathers dust on the mantel over the old fireplace.

Posted at 08:18 am by MaryArmour
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