Review: Myrna Robins
Cape Mediterranean, by Ilse van der Merwe (Struik Lifestyle)
Neither heritage nor nostalgic – the contents of this colourful hardback focus on the fare you would find on long lunch tables, set in vineyards, on patios or under beach umbrellas.
The meal starts with breads and spreads, goes on to tapas-like starters, followed by generous salads and vegetable dishes around crisp roasts or grilled seafood. Such appetising scenes can be found all over our country, but are more prevalent in the Western Cape, where the Mediterranean climate calls for seasonal, sustainable al fresco feasting.
The cuisine of the Mediterranean basin incorporates that of south-western Europe, the Middle East and north Africa, and is driven by olive oil, fruit, vegetables, seafood and wine, with some meat and dairy. Many South Africans who relish contemporary fare embrace CapeMed, as it also known, while often adding more poultry and meat than the northern cooks do.
Stellenbosch-born food writer and blogger Ilse van der Merwe still lives in this wineland town where she also finds time to be a TV presenter and recipe developer. With this, her first book as inspiration, cooks keen to turn to a healthier and utterly delectable diet will find the answer, from the opening chapter – Loaves, Flatbreads and Pizza – to the finale of mostly fruit-driven desserts.
Delving into the contents, we find that the array of breads, both yeasted and flat, include smoky cheese sticks and olive and feta focaccia. Among the dips and spreads you will find smoked snoek pâté followed by Bo-Kaap harissa paste, adding classic Cape favourites to others like tzatziki, pesto, hummus and tapenade.
Van der Merwe dubs her chapter of starters or small plates Tapas, Terrines and Tasters, opening with panfried calamari tentacles with chorizo which precede vegetarian platters like grilled marinated sweet peppers with garlic and olive oil, shellfish delights such as roasted garlicky prawns with lemon and herbs and finishes with some beautiful terrines – free-range duck liver and hot-smoked trout.
Sustaining fare for chilly days can be found in the chapter on soups, chowders and stews. Cooks with time on their hands should love the Cape style bouillabaisse, those who want supper served in 30 minutes will be drawn to the black mussel and tomato stew. When mountain peaks are snow-capped it’s time to make her Italian-style white bean soup with Karoo lamb while vegetarians will relish leek and potato soup with mature gouda.
The salad section offers favourites that most of us know and rely on, from caprese to Caesar, tabbouleh to roasted beetroot – and more. The chapter Bon Pasta, Potatoes and Rice offers no less than three recipes for gnocchi, starring potato, butternut and semolina, and they all look delicious.
Compared to the typical South African cookbook the section on roasts and grills is short, starring the ever-popular slow-roasted leg of lamb, coq au vin using local Riesling, and yellowtail stuffed and braaied.
Summer stone fruit, figs, granadillas and berries star in indulgent desserts, along with a few preserves.
The index completes the text of this appetising collection, beautifully photographed by Tasha Secombe. The title is, I noticed, published by Linda de Villiers, now retired, who also proofread the text – which explains the fact that this is one cookbook where I failed to find a single error.
“The way we love to eat” is the subtitle on the cover, to which many Kapenaars would respond: “Is there any other way?”