The Curious Cook

The perfection of the pumpkin family

What do you think of as the dish associated with your earliest food memory? I love to think of what children long for, drinking cocoa by the fire after school like in an Enid Blyton story. In the classic Robert Louis Stevenson poem Young Night Thought a boy dreams of a procession of exotic characters marching past his mind’s eye as he falls asleep. My procession of nursery favourites would include dhal with spinach paneer in India, plum jam dumplings for the Austrian/Swiss Germans, pasta with pancetta and peas for those Italian bambini, vetkoek with mince or mieliepap with tomato onion sauce for us South Africans and roast chicken for almost everybody.

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In my battered 1960s copy of “A Child’s Garden of Verses” beautifully illustrated by Hilda Boswell, all kinds of dreamy things happen such as this vision above and a girl falling asleep in a boat that rocks her to sleep. Photo: Anna-Karien Otto

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The Curious Cook

An ode to the clove

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A twist on the usual garlic bread- sourdough toast with baked garlic. Photo: Anna-Karien Otto

This year has been the coldest winter in the Cape in the six years I have been living here. I live in the Southern hemisphere and therefore don’t really have anything to complain about, yet every year the onset of winter takes me by surprise. I am amazed at how the cold changes my personality –  I immediately become much more introverted, slow-moving and unexpectedly grumpy, like a desperate little animal preparing for hibernation, seeking only the warmth of its burrow. The only consolation I can think of is to seek out dishes that not only bring warmth and comfort, but galvanise me to not become too disheartened by the slow turn of the solstice.

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The Curious Cook

An omelette and a glass of wine

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Julia Child was famous for making a rather messy but absolutely delicious omelette.

Making a good omelette is a simple joy that has been eluding me for many years. I never seem to have enough patience to leave well enough alone and usually end up with an overcooked jumble of scrambled eggs. Eventually, it became so dire that I thought that only the most experienced chefs must know the secret and almost gave up altogether.

But then, while watching one of my favourite foodie films, Big Night (1996) I discovered a clue. This comic drama unfolds as two Italian brothers prepare the most wonderful multi-course meal for, among others, the beautiful Isabella Rossellini (who eats it all) and Louis Prima who of course never arrives.

The highlights of this meal-of-a lifetime is a groaning platter of risotto in contrasting colours and a giant pie filled with layers of pork sausage, tomato sauce, pasta and hard boiled eggs. This marvel is called timpani (the Italian for ‘drum’) because of its generous shape. And in this way, a legendary dish entered the public realm, beguiling food-lovers ever since. So much so that co-director and writer Stanley Tucci named his production company after it. 

 

 

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The Curious Cook

Summertime means strawberry time

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Photo: redberryfarm.co.za

When I was a child, one of my favourite holiday treats was to stop at Mooiberge farm stall in Stellenbosch to buy a box brimful of freshly picked strawberries. Bright red and nectar sweet, I would devour them right there and then in the back seat of our old beat-up Mazda. We used to combine them with the most perfect accompaniment, a punnet of thick Jersey cream, into which we would dip the tip of each berry. This was back in the late 80s and 90s, when this now iconic farm stall was much smaller with only a handful of scarecrows to point the way.

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The Curious Cook

Ancient cravings

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Digestive biscuits made with spelt flour. Served with local raspberry and pink peppercorn cream cheese from Fairview. Photo: Justus Wagener

Can you remember what was in Little Red Riding Hood’s basket? Well, most of us are just as distracted as she was by the flowers she stopped to pick along the way. And what with the looming presence of the Big Bad Wolf, who can blame us? But you may recall that Grandmother was ailing so her granddaughter was bringing her the perfect fortifying food – wine and cake.

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