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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Kos & Wyn | Food & Wine > Rubrieke | Columns > Michael Olivier: Notes from my kitchen table

My kitchen table

Michael Olivier - 2006-07-07

I am reading Elizabeth David. Again. This time it's a collection of her works called South Wind through the Kitchen, chosen after her death by people who knew her. I am reminded - again - that this lady is not only a wonderful writer but also a social historian; she also almost single-handedly introduced the British to European and Middle-Eastern Food after the horrors of the Second World War and the food rationing which continued until the early 1950s.

She has an ability to use words that make the simplest dish of sliced sausage and black olives sound like the food of the gods. As in French Provincial Cooking: "It consisted simply of a very large round dish, quite flat, completely covered with overlapping circles of thinly sliced saucissons d'Arles, in the centre was a cluster of shining little black olives." What a potent visual appeal.

She had no computer - she wrote in longhand, over and over again till she got it right, and my goodness, did she get it right. My great sadness now is that I used to see her in her eponymous shop in Pimlico when I was a young man (the late 1960s, since you so kindly ask) training in London and that I never spoke to her as I was in such awe of her.

We are fortunate in South Africa to have such a writer in C Louis Leipoldt. His ability to describe food, capture a moment in time, his way of starting a chuckle in me and keeping it bubbling through a paragraph has been a source of great inspiration to me.

Working as he did with Escoffier in London while he was studying medicine, he was exposed to the man who changed food, its preparation and its service in the United Kingdom for ever.

Sadly, though Leipoldt's food writings are wide-ranging and informative, today's cooks are looking for a bit more information from a recipe. They're looking for more detail than, for example, he describes in his Garden Soup recipe in Leipoldt's Cape Cookery: "Take of thyme, marjoram, young leaves of beetroot, sorrel, dock and lettuce enough for your purpose." Please write to me, those of you who have leaves of sorrel and dock in your garden.

In his charmingly written recipe for stewed sweet potatoes, the dear man recommends a large lump of sheep's tail fat, not that you'd find that now. But his description, that they "should be translucent, golden with a slightly brownish tinge [topaz in fact] and exquisitely tender", makes me almost taste them.

I like to feel that Dr Leipoldt would approve of my recipe.

Soetpatats - Stewed Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a very popular dish. As children we used to bake them whole in their skins in the oven of the Aga in our kitchen and eat them with our rich farm butter and sea salt and freshly-milled black pepper. This recipe has them stewed in a sugary honey spicy butter, which was far more suited to Sunday lunch and a more elegant accompaniment to bredies and roast meats, than bulky potatoes more suited to slurping up in the kitchen. My cookery teacher in London, Rosemary Hume, would have said of the whole potatoes that "they are not a polite thing to eat". If you can possibly get yellow "borrie patats" and use yellow "government" sugar ("goevermentsuiker"), so much the better.

You'll need:
1 kg sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into thick slices
75 g yellow sugar mixed with a little ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg and ground ginger
100 g butter
sea salt
freshly-milled black pepper
3 strips of orange or naartjie rind, removed with a potato peeler and containing no pith
150 ml water.

Preset the oven at 180°C. In a heavy-bottomed casserole, layer the sweet potatoes with the spiced sugar, butter, sea salt and freshly-milled black pepper and orange rind.
Pour the water down the side and bring to the boil on top of the stove.
Cover with a tight lid and bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until tender.
Bring back to the boil over heat and reduce the liquid until it forms a glaze over the potatoes.
Serves 6.

On my kitchen table as I write this is a bottle of Kloovenburg Shiraz 2002, fortunately with the cork removed. Recently highly acclaimed by Decanter magazine in their tasting of South African Shiraz over and above the more current flavour-of-the-month Shirazes. This is a special wine in my glass: deeply red and just such a concentration of berried vivacious fruitiness. Fine Italian leather with a grind of pepper and sniffs of vanilla pod are to be found on the nose. Full palate of sappy, velvet-textured fruit, delicately spiced, perfectly balanced and well reined in with a fabulous long aftertaste.

Maddy and I are perking up our appetites with crisp Melba toast spread generously with Pieter and Annalene du Toit's Kloovenburg Olive Tapenade (tapéno is Provençal for capers, so don't always expect to find olives; we served a dried fig tapenade with grilled quails once). There is also a vegetarian version, sans anchovies, available. And a Kloovenburg Olive Jam which is just sublime with cheese. If you have the opportunity to try the Kloovenburg Chardonnay, please do. Shut your eyes and you're in middle Burgundy.

Another great recent wine experience at the kitchen table was Vernon Cole's Ridgeback Sauvignon Blanc 2004 made by Cathy Marshall, which I brought back after a visit to the farm just after the harvest. Sadly overshadowed by its sister, the 5-star '02 Shiraz which came out guns a-blazing to launch this Noord Agter Paarl wine estate, this is a real cool dude. Stunning fruit - passion fruit and ripe fig, fabulous full mouthfeel and a great match for a goat's cheese and tomato roulade. A large square oven-baked pancake rolled with a stuffing of cherry tomatoes, aromatic sweet basil and goat's cheese, topped with grated parmiggiano reggiano and baked. With a simple salad of leaves, lemon juice and sloshed with Kloovenburg Olive Oil of the extra virgin persuasion. Food from upstairs where the angels come from.

I'll keep my notebook and pencil handy so I'll have lots to talk about next month. Email me at noshnews@iafrica.com if you would like to know more about wines I have tasted and dishes we've enjoyed, advice, or just to chat about food and wine. Please visit my website http://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.