Tag Archives: Italian food

Italian-style white bean soup with lamb knuckle

14 May

One of my favourite recipes this winter: a brothy white bean soup made with lamb knuckle and topped with salsa verde. Photography by Tasha Seccombe.


Although many of us know and love traditional South African bean soup made with red speckled beans, there’s another variety that you absolutely have to try. It is made with small white haricot beans (almost like Italian canellini beans, which are not very common in SA in its dried form). These beans are very smooth in texture and they tend to not fall apart as easily as their speckled cousins, resulting in a non-stodgy end result. This is a slightly thickened brothy soup with chunks of deliciously tender meat and beautiful, small, silky beans. Made with chicken stock instead of mutton or beef stock, the soup is also lighter in colour than most bean soups. A dollop of punchy green salsa verde adds just the right lift to this meal.

A single lamb knuckle, sliced by your butcher, is enough to add the meatiness that this soup needs. It’s an economical way to serve a stylish soup in a fresh way this Winter. Serve with crusty bread, if you like.

Ingredients: (serves 6)

  • 30 ml olive oil
  • about 600 g lamb knuckle, sliced horizontally by your butcher
  • 1 large onion, peeled & finely chopped
  • 1-2 sticks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 large (or 2 medium) carrots, peeled & finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled & finely chopped
  • 3 sprigs rosemary
  • 250 ml dry white wine
  • 2 liters chicken stock
  • 500 g small white beans (haricot)
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • for the salsa verde:
    • a handful each parsley, basil & mint
    • 1 garlic clove
    • 2 teaspoons capers
    • 15-30 ml lemon juice
    • 45-60 ml olive oil
    • a pinch of salt
    • 10 ml Dijon mustard


  1. Heat the oil on high heat in a large wide pot (at least 6 liters capacity), then fry lamb knuckle in batches until browned on both sides (cut larger chunks of meat in half). Remove the meat from the pot and set aside, then turn down heat to  medium.
  2. Fry the onion, celery & carrot until soft, stirring often (add a little more oil if needed). Add the garlic & rosemary (add the sprigs whole, you’ll remove the woody stems later) and fry for another minute.
  3. The bottom of the pot should be coated with sticky brown bits by now. Add the white wine and stir to deglaze. Add the fried meat with all the juices back into the pot, then top with stock. Add the beans and stir. Note: Don’t add any salt until tright at he end, otherwise the beans won’t become tender.
  4. Bring to a simmer, stirring now and then, then turn heat down to low, cover with a lid and cook for about 2,5-3 hours until the meat is falling from the bone and the beans are really tender.
  5. Season generously with salt & pepper and remove from the heat to rest for about 15 minutes before serving.
  6. To make the salsa verde, chop all the ingredients together by hand or in a food processor. Taste and adjust with more salt or lemon juice if needed.
  7. Serve the soup in bowls with a dollop of salsa verde (and some crusty bread for dipping, optionally).

This recipe was created in collaboration with Lamb & Mutton South Africa. #CookingWithLamb #LambAndMuttonSA #WholesomeAndNutritious #CleanEating #TheWayNatureIntended

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Lamb & tomato ragu with gnocchi

5 Apr

Lamb & tomato ragu with gnocchi, basil and parmesan (photography by Tasha Seccombe)


This is hands-down one of the most comforting dishes I’ve ever eaten. It is made with boneless lamb that’s been cubed into 1 x 1 cm blocks – don’t stress about the labour, it goes quickly and it’s actually quite therapeutic (read: pour yourself a glass of wine while you do it). You can use chops, leg or even stewing meat, just remove the bones and chop-chop-chop. The result is a chunkier ragu than those made with ground meat, very tender with an incredible mouth-feel and packed with simple, robust flavours. Just the way the Italians intended.

I love serving this ragu with gnocchi, but it also works well with pasta – homemade is best. Fresh basil and grated parmigiano is compulsory. Bellissima!

Check out this handy how-to video:

Ingredients: (serves 6)

45 ml olive oil
1 large onion, peeled & finely chopped
1-2 celery sticks, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled & finely chopped
2 sprigs rosemary, woody stems removed & finely chopped
1 kg boneless lamb/mutton, cubed into 1 x 1 cm pieces
1 cup (250 ml) dry white wine
2 cans whole Italian tomatoes, roughly chopped, with juice
salt & pepper
5 ml sugar
about 750g-1 kg fresh gnocchi, cooked, to serve (or 500 g dried pasta, cooked)
a handful fresh basil leaves, to serve
grated parmesan cheese, to serve


  1. In a heavy based large pot, heat the oil over medium heat and fry the onion, celery, carrot and rosemary until soft and fragrant.
  2. Add the cubed meat and turn up the heat. Fry until it starts to catch (get brown and sticky) on the bottom stirring often – this is important, so be patient. It takes about 10-15 minutes.
  3. Add the wine and stir to deglaze. Add the chopped tomatoes with juice, season with salt & pepper, add the sugar and stir. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down low, cover and cook for 2-3 hours until very soft. Stir every now and then.
  4. Serve with cooked gnocchi or pasta, with fresh basil and grated parmesan cheese.

Note: Store-bought gnocchi don’t pan-fry well and should rather be boiled briefly in salted water until they pop to the surface. Freshly made gnocchi can be directly pan-fried in butter until golden, it only take a few minutes over medium heat and it is most definitely my preference.

This is the second recipe in a series of four Mediterranean-inspired Autumn/Winter dishes for Lamb & Mutton SA. Also check out my recipe for Greek-style 8-hour leg of lamb with origanum & preserved lemon.

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Caprese salad, triple cheese beef lasagne & tiramisu jars with Galbani Cheese

3 May

Caprese salad, triple cheese beef lasagne and individual tiramisu jars – my ultimate Italian-style feast! Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

When it comes to laid-back, festive, scrumptious food that’s packed with flavour, the Italians just know how. I’ve taken a few tips from their most popular traditional cheese-themed recipes to come up with my favourite three-course Italian-inspired feast: an over-the-top caprese salad, triple cheese beef lasagne (made with mozzarella, cheddar and mascarpone) and individual tiramisu cups with chocolate flakes and fresh raspberries. You can assemble the lasagne and tiramisu ahead so that you have more time to spend with your guests – the most important thing when hosting friends and family!

All my recipes serve 8, because they deserve a crowd. If you’re keen on a smaller gathering, just halve the ingredients to serve 4.

And don’t miss my video below – it shows how to make this killer lasagne.

Buon appetito!

My ultimate caprese salad with soft mozzarella, an array of tomatoes, fresh basil, pesto, toasted pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, salt flakes and ground black pepper. Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

Ultimate caprese salad (serves 8)

  • 3 very big ripe tomatoes, thickly sliced
  • about 400 g smaller tomatoes on the vine
  • a handful baby tomatoes, halved
  • 3 x 125 g Galbani soft white mozzarella, sliced into rounds
  • a handful fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan
  • 3-4 tablespoons basil pesto
  • extra virgin olive oil, for serving
  • balsamic vinegar, for serving (optional)
  • salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

Arrange the tomatoes on a large platter, interleaved with slices of mozzarella. Scatter with basil leaves and pine nuts, then drizzle with pesto (add a little olive oil to the pesto if it is very thick). Serve with olive oil and balsamic on the side, seasoned with salt & pepper. Serve immediately.

Note: The tomatoes will wilt on standing, so this salad is best served straight after assembling.

Triple cheese beef lasagne (made with mascarpone, cheddar and mozzarella). Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

Triple cheese beef lasagne (serves 8)

For the beef Bolognese sauce:

  • 60 ml olive oil
  • 1 onion, skinned & finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled & finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 kg lean beef mince
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, stalks removed & finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons chopped thyme (or 2 teaspoons dried origanum)
  • 375 ml (half a bottle) dry red wine
  • 1 beef stock cube dissolved in 250 ml boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cans whole Italian tomatoes, blended to a pulp
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

For the white sauce (béchamel):

  • 80 g (80 ml / 1/3 cup) President Butter
  • 80 ml (1/3/ cup) plain/cake flour
  • 1 liter full cream milk
  • a pinch of ground nutmeg
  • a generous tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 250 g Galbani Mascarpone
  • salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

For assembling:

  • 1 batch Bolognese sauce
  • 1 batch white sauce
  • 500 g fresh/dried pasta sheets
  • 200 g President Cheddar Cheese, grated
  • 300 g Galbani Creamy Mozzarella (semi-hard), grated

For the Bolognese sauce: Heat the olive oil in a wide, large pot with a heavy base. Fry the onion, carrot and celery over medium-high heat until soft and lightly brown. Add the garlic and stir. Add the mince and stir, breaking up any lumps and scraping the bottom to loosen any sticky bits. Add the rosemary and thyme. Continue to fry on high heat to brown the meat slightly, then add the red wine, stock, tomato paste, canned tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar and stir well. Bring to a simmer, then turn heat to low, cover with a lid and cook for 2 hours, stirring every now and then.

For the white sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium high heat, then add the flour and cook for a minute, stirring. Add the milk and stir with a whisk until the mixture becomes smooth and thickens slightly. Add the nutmeg, mustard and mascarpone and season well with salt & pepper. Set aside.

To assemble: Preheat oven to 180 C. In a large rectangular roasting tray or oven dish, start with a thin layer of white sauce, then a layer of pasta sheets (they will swell so don’t fit them too snugly), a layer of meat sauce, more white sauce, a layer of cheddar, etc. Continue and repeat, ending with a layer of white sauce and the grated mozzarella on top. Bake for 45 minutes until golden on top, then let it rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Note: I sometimes chop my onion, carrot and celery together in a food processor to save time. The cooked lasagne will continue to stabilize on standing, becoming firmer and easier to serve. The assembled lasagne (cooked or uncooked) freezes well – thaw completely before returning to the oven.

Individual jars of tiramisu, made with mascarpone, brandy and some chocolate flakes. Photography by Tasha Seccombe.

Individual tiramisu cups: (serves 8)

  • 5 XL eggs, separated
  • 1 1/4 cups caster sugar
  • 2 x 250 g Galbani Mascarpone
  • 1 Italian-style sponge finger biscuits (Boudoir/ladyfinger)
  • 375 ml strong coffee, warm
  • 75 ml brandy
  • cocoa powder, for dusting
  • 2-3 chocolate flake bars, for serving
  • fresh raspberries, for serving

Place the egg yolks and caster sugar in a large bowl. Use and electric whisk to mix until it is very thick and creamy. Add the mascarpone and whisk until smooth.
Clean and dry this whisk, then whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff. Add half the egg whites to the mascarpone mixture and fold in with a large spoon, continuing with the second half and folding until you have a smooth, creamy, mousse-like mixture. Set aside.
Working quickly, cut the finger biscuits into thirds, and divide the pieces into 8 groups of 9 pieces each (for 8 cups of 250 ml capacity each). Place the coffee and brandy in a shallow flat bowl, then dip 4 cookie pieces at a time into the coffee mixture, and place them into the bottom of each dessert glass/jar. Top with a dollop of the mascarpone mix, then a sifting of cocoa powder. Top with a second round of 5 dipped biscuit pieces, then place the remaining half of the mascarpone mix into a piping bag and pipe dollops of the mixture at the top of each glass to cover the biscuits. Dust some cocoa powder over the top, then cover with plastic or lids (not touching the mixture) and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
To serve, add some chocolate flakes and berries on top and serve straight from the fridge.

Note: The biscuits need time to soften in the fridge. If you serve them too soon, the cookies will still be tough. The tiramisu cups keep very well in the fridge for up to 3 days and the flavour improves with time.

(This post was created in collaboration with Galbani Cheese.)




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Panzanella with smoked chicken, capers & basil

6 Feb

Panzanella: a traditional Tuscan bread salad (photography by Tasha Seccombe, styling by Nicola Pretorius)

These days, most of us have access to great bread. Here in my hometown of Stellenbosch I can buy a large loaf of freshly baked sour dough bread any day of the week at Schoon de Compagne, and I use it in so many ways.

On the first day, I just eat it on its own, drenched with great quality olive oil or topped with a thick slab of cold Ayrshire butter. On day 2, I eat it toasted as bruschetta with various toppings: slow roasted tomatoes with garlic, marinated peppers, baked aubergines with feta, the list is endless. On day 3, I use it to make croutons or process it to make breadcrumbs for toppings and stuffings. The uses are infinite and the bread just keeps on giving. (For more ideas, check out Saveur’s 40 favourite recipes with stale bread.)

The Italians have great ways of using stale bread. They make fantastic soups, salads, meat dishes and even puddings with it – economical and oh so tasty. One of my favourite Italian inspired ways of using a stale loaf is to make panzanella, a traditional summery Tuscan salad of bread and tomatoes. There are many versions of panzanella, but mine contains tomatoes, yellow peppers, capers, basil, red onion and smoked chicken.

And here’s a handy tip: if you want to give your panzanella an authentic Italian look, don’t cut the bread, rather break it into chunks. This way the salad has so much more character. It’s a meal on its own, but don’t be afraid to serve it as one of many dishes on a lazy, extended, weekend lunch with lots of great wine in a shady spot under the trees.

Ingredients: (serves 4 as a main meal, or 6 as a side dish)

For the “croutons”:

  •  about 3 cups of stale torn bread chunks (preferably sour dough or ciabatta)
  • 60 ml olive oil

For the dressing:

  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) red wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced/crushed
  • salt and black pepper for seasoning

For the salad:

  • 3 cups toasted croutons (see above)
  • 2 small smoked chicken breasts, sliced or torn into smaller chunks
  • 250 g mixed small tomatoes, sliced in half or in smaller slices
  • 1 yellow pepper, seeds and pith removed, sliced
  • 50 g capers (drained)
  • 1/4 cup of finely sliced red onion (optional)
  • a handful of fresh basil leaves


  1. For the croutons: In a large pan over medium-high heat, add the oil and then toast the bread chunks until they are golden brown on all sides. Toss often until ready, then remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  2. For the dressing: mix all ingredients together in a cup, using a fork to whisk. Set aside.
  3. For the salad: in a large mixing bowl, add the croutons, chicken breast chunks, sliced tomatoes, sliced pepper, capers, red onion and basil. Pour half the dressing over the salad, then mix well. Add more dressing according to taste – I like it when the bread absorbs a lot of the dressing, resulting in a softer tangy chew. Transfer the mixed salad to a beautiful salad bowl, and serve immediately.

Note: If your loaf of stale bread has a very hard crust on the outside, cut it off before tearing the bread into chunks.


This post was originally written for The Pretty Blog by Ilse van der Merwe from The Food Fox.

Recipe, food preparation and text: Ilse van der Merwe

Photography: Tasha Seccombe

Styling: Nicola Pretorius

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Ricotta gnudi with pomodoro sauce

22 Mar

Ricotta gnudi with pomodoro sauce (photography by Tasha Seccombe)

My new business partner, Francille van Tiddens, recently sent me a recipe for ricotta gnudi via Bon Appetit’s online magazine. I’ll reveal more about our exciting new venture soon – Francille is an absolute food fanatic and she is constantly trawling the international online food scene for great recipes and interesting reads. “Gnudi”? I asked. It’s like gnocchi, she said, but larger, and made with lots and lots of ricotta cheese. And you pronounce it “nu-dee”.

It sounded like something right up my street. Italian comfort food, made with ricotta, Parmesan, eggs and a touch of flour, smothered in a bright red tomato sauce. I had to try it.

So I made it for my husband on Valentines Day as part of our wedding anniversary dinner. It was simply out of this world! Just a few basic ingredients, yet so striking on a plate and just meltingly delicious. It contains very little flour, so the trick is to shape the large gnudi balls with 2 large spoons. You place all of them on a big floured tray, then boil them like gnocchi in a large pot of salted water for just a few minutes.

This is probably my best food find of the past year. Gnudi. Nu-dee. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

Note: Use the best quality ricotta and Parmesan that you can get your hands on.

Ingredients for pomodoro sauce: (Tip: make the sauce first, then the gnudi)

(recipe adapted from www.bonappetit.com)

  • 2 cans whole peeled Italian tomatoes
  • 60 ml olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt


  1. Process tomatoes to a smooth pulp.
  2. Heat oil in a saucepan on the stove top. Add garlic and fry for 1-2 minutes over low heat – don’t let it become too brown, because it will be bitter.
  3. Add the smooth tomatoes, sugar, and salt, then simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, and set aside.

Ingredients for gnudi:

(recipe from www.bonappetit.com)

  • 450-500g ricotta cheese (about 2 cups)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) finely grated Parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano Reggiano, or Grana Padano) plus more for serving
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) all-purpose flour plus more


  1. Mix ricotta, egg, egg yolk, salt, pepper, and parmesan in a large bowl until well combined. Add flour and stir just until combined and mixture forms a ball (mixture will be soft and moist with some bits of ricotta remaining; add a tablespoonful or 2 more if it feels too wet).
  2. Dust a rimmed baking tray generously with flour. Using 2 large dessert spoons, shape heaped tablespoonfuls of dough into football shapes, then place on the floured tray and dust with more flour (you should have about 30).
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.
  4. Carefully add the gnudi, then cook for 4-5 minutes until cooked through and tender (gnudi will quickly float to the surface; continue cooking or they will be gummy in the center).
  5. Using a slotted spoon, remove gnudi from water and divide among bowls. Top with pomodoro sauce and more parmesan cheese.


This post was especially written for The Pretty Blog by Ilse van der Merwe from The Food Fox.

Food: Ilse van der Merwe from The Food Fox.

Photography: Tasha Seccombe.

Styling: Nicola Pretorius, Tasha Seccombe and Ilse van der Merwe.


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Grilled, marinated aubergines

14 May

Grilled aubergines, marinated in olive oil, lemon, garlic and mint, on bruschetta.

There are few things I love more than lazy, extended, tapas-style eating. Although the term “tapas” was coined by the Spaniards, I still prefer my snacks mostly Italian, very simple, and served on bruschetta.

I got the most beautiful organic aubergines from Genesis Farm outside Stellenbosch – so richly purple they almost looked painted. I sliced them thinly, grilled them until they softened slightly, then drenched them in a marinade made from good quality olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, crushed garlic, fresh and dried mint, and some salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper. They soak up a lot of the marinade, and are simply exquisite served at room temperature on crusty toasted bruschetta. Add a glass of good red wine and I’m in Mediterranean heaven.


  • 2 large organic aubergines, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup good quality cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of  1 lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 t dried mint (optional)
  • handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
  • salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper to taste


  1. Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and mint. Add salt and pepper and test seasoning. Add more salt and pepper if necessary – the flavour should be quite intense.
  2. Heat a griddle pan on medium-high heat on the stove top. Fry slices of aubergine in batches untill lightly charred and softened. Remove from grill and arrange in a porcelain dish, covering each batch with a few spoons of marinade.
  3. Add more layers of grilled aubergines, drizzling each layer generously with marinade. If there is any marinade left, spoon it all over the top layer.
  4. Cover the porcelain dish and cool to room temperature. Serve on toasted bruschetta.

This dish keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days, covered. Return to room temperature before serving.

Contact John House from Genesis Farm: 082-215 6968.

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Romeinse gnocchi met ‘n Gruyere roomsous vir Pasella

29 Feb

Gebakte semolina gnocchi in 'n Gruyere roomsous

Ek het die voorreg gehad om onlangs saam met die Pasella-span van SABC2 ‘n kook-insetsel te skiet oor ongewone kaas. Dit word vanaand om 19h30 uitgesaai.

Ek, Ishay en Fritz

Ek en twee mede-bloggers, Ishay Govender-Ypma van www.foodandthefabulous.com en Fritz Brand van www.realmencancook.com het die kameras aangedurf saam met die gewilde Crystal-Donna as aanbieder. Dit was ‘n onvergeetlike ervaring om te sien hoe dinge agter die skerms gedoen word!

Die kaas wat ek gekies het om mee te kook, is Gruyere – ‘n kaas van Switzerse oorsprong. Gruyere se smaak hang baie af van sy ouderdom, maar wissel vanaf romerig en neutagtig tot baie pikant en sterk. Dis ‘n goeie alternatief tot parmesan of grana padano, en is ‘n uitstekende kaas vir smelt- en kookdoeleindes. In Suid Afrika is daar net een vervaardiger van plaaslike Gruyere: Klein River Boerdery in Stanford. Omdat Gruyere kaas onlangs dieselfde ekslusiewe status as Champagne ontvang het (slegs kaas wat gemaak word in die Switzerse dorpie Gruyere, mag amptelik Gruyere genoem word), word Klein Rivier Boerdery se produk nou “Suid Afrikaanse Gruyere” genoem. Ek het Klein Rivier se verouderde Suid Afrikaanse Gruyere in hierdie resep gebruik.

Fritz in aksie, besig om sy kaaskoek te maak.

Gnocchi is ‘n Italiaanse pastagereg, en kan van verskeie bestanddele gemaak word om ‘n effens ander smaak en tekstuur tot gevolg te hê: aartappels, semolina en ricotta is gewilde keuses. My gnocchi-resep maak gebruik van semolina, wat gestol word en dan met ‘n koekiedrukker in vorms gedruk word voor dit in ‘n roomsous gebak word. Dis ‘n heerlike bygereg vir ‘n lamsboud, of selfs net vir ‘n braai: heerlik dekadent! Ek het dit ook al met bloukaas gemaak, en dit smaak vorentoe!

Hier volg die resep wat al voorheen op thefoodfox.com verskyn het. Geniet dit!

Roman gnocchi:

As mentioned before on this blog, I love gnocchi: light, fluffy, potato dumplings smothered in my favourite gorgonzola sauce. But a few days ago I discovered a new culinary gem: ROMAN gnocchi.

Never heard of it before? Me neither! It featured in one of my favourite cookbooks “The Food of the Mediterranean” by Murdoch Books (it’s a really thick book and I haven’t even scratched the surface of more than 250 fantastic recipes): not made with potatoes at all, but rather with semolina, milk, egg yolks and mature hard cheese, then smothered in a butter and cream sauce, topped with more cheese, and baked untill golden and bubbly. Sounds almost like a potato gratin. But believe me, this is something you have got to try!

The texture is very similar to regular potato gnocchi, except that the shape is different, and I think it is much easier to make. The results are almost infallible.

I must admit that a picture cannot do justice to the taste and smell of this wonderfully rich and fluffy side dish. But once you try it, you’ll be hooked. Use you favourite strong/sharp cheese, I’ve tried it with parmesan, pecorino, grana padano, gruyère and even an extra mature cheddar – all of them work really well!

Ingredients for gnocchi:

45 g butter, melted

1/3 cup (35 g) grated Gruyere cheese (or pecorino/grana padano/parmesan/extra mature cheddar)

3 egg yolks

1 litre milk

pinch of ground nutmeg

200 g (1 and 2/3 cup) semolina flour

salt and freshly ground pepper for seasoning

  • Line a 30 x 25 cm baking tin (or Swiss roll tin) with baking paper.
  • Beat together butter, parmesan and egg yolks and season lightly. Set aside.
  • Heat the milk in a large saucepan. Add the nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper. When the milk is just boiling, pour in semolina while stirring. Reduce heat and continue to cook while stirring untill mixture pulls away from the side of the pan (takes about 5-10 minutes).
  • Remove from heat, beat in egg yolk mixture untill smooth, then pour into baking tin. Smooth the surface to an even thickness, using a knife dipped in cold water. Set aside to cool.
  • Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease a shallow 25 x 18 cm baking dish.
  • Lift the semolina slab out of the tin and peel off the baking paper. Cut semolina into circles, using a 4 cm cookie cutter or small cup dipped in cold water. Arrange the circles, slightly overlapping, in the greased casserole.

Ingredients for sauce and topping:

45 g butter, melted

80 ml (1/3 cup) cream or double cream

1/3 cup grated Gruyere cheese (at least)

  • Blend together the butter and cream and pour over the gnocchi. Sprinkle with cheese and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden. Serve at once.

Tip: The gnocchi can be prepared a day or 2 in advance, wrapped and stored in the fridge in the slab form or in circles. Assembling and baking to be done just before serving. Enjoy!

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Garlic pita with caprese salad

31 Jan

Freshly baked garlic pita topped with caprese salad

If there is one country’s food that I love above all else, it has to be Italy. Simple food, using the best ingredients, to be enjoyed without fuss or pretense. One of my ultimate favourite simple Italian dishes is a caprese salad: a combination of ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese (fior di latte) and basil leaves. Add a splash of your best extra virgin olive oil with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and I am in food heaven.

When we traveled in Greece during 2010, we discovered the genius Greek way of eating meats and salads inside a rolled up pita bread (souvlaki). It inspired me to try my caprese salad on a garlic pita bread, one that you can fold over and dip into balsamic vinegar before taking a huge bite while the juices of the tomatoes would run down your chin. It is so simple, yet one of the most enjoyable meals I’ve ever had.

Another way to eat it would be to cover the caprese pita with another garlic pita, almost like a pita sandwich, and slice wedges for everyone to share. Whichever way you prefer, this is a winner combination, and one that I will surely be making for my grandkids in years to come.

Tip: Always use fresh, perfectly ripe, organic tomatoes, preferably ones that have not seen the inside of a refrigerator yet. They taste 100 times better than other tomatoes!

Ingredients for garlic pita: (makes 2 large pita’s)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour or white bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • topping: 6 large cloves or garlic, finely chopped or crushed, mixed with 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • dried oregano for sprinkling

Method for the garlic pita:

  1. In a large bowl, mix flour, yeast, sugar and salt together. Add water and olive oil and mix untill a sticky dough forms. Knead untill the dough becomes soft and pliable. Cover and let it rise in a warm area for about 15-30 minutes until doubled in size.
  2. On the middle rack of your oven, insert an untreated terracotta tile (mine is 40 x 40 cm). Pre-heat oven to 240 degrees Celsius for at least 20 minutes.
  3. Divide dough in 2. On a well floured surface, roll out one piece at a time ion circular shapes, adding more flour to make sure the dough doesn’t stick. Transfer to a wooden board that is covered with a sheet of baking paper (this is key, because it will enable you to slide the dough with paper into the oven directly onto the hot tile, which acts as a pizza oven). Cover the rolled out dough with half of the garlic and olive oil mixture, spread out evenly to cover the whole surface, then sprinkle lightly with oregano.
  4. Slide the rolled out dough from the wooden board onto the heated tile in the oven. Bake for about 5-7 minutes or untill golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Ingredients for caprese salad:

  • 1 large ripe organic tomato, sliced
  • 250 g ripe organic cherry tomatoes, sliced (or use any other smaller tomatoes that are in season)
  • 150 g fresh mozzarella (fior di latte), teared into chunky shreds
  • handful of fresh basil leaves
  • salt flakes and freshly ground pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar


Arrange the tomatoes, mozzarella and basil leaves on the garlic pita. Season with salt and pepper, then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Serve with balsamic vinegar to dip in.

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Spinach and ricotta cannelloni: a step by step guide

29 Jul


I’ve always been a huge fan of Italian food. It is the way that Italians value food, the way they celebrate life with food, the simple way they cook with great ingredients. Colourful, full of flavour, calorific, rich and indulgent. Just the way I like it.

Making cannelloni at home is not difficult, but I would admit it takes a bit of time to prepare and to assemble. So if you have the time to cook something really worth while, give it a shot. You need to make the tomato sauce, make the spinach and ricotta mix, roll out your pasta dough, and then assemble the little rolled pasta pockets before you bake them in the oven. You can also use store-bought dried cannelloni tubes, but they take more time to bake. I always prefer the soft freshly rolled version, but use whatever you feel like!

This is a step by step guide to making your own cannelloni. My recipe is enough for around 20 cannelloni rolls (I bake them in individual pasta dishes, 5 rolls in a dish) or 4 main portions.

Ingredients for tomato sauce:

1 x spicy tomato sauce (or use a store-bought pasta sauce like arrabiata, at least 750 ml)

Ingredients for spinach & ricotta stuffing:

2 tablespoons olive oil

400 g baby spinach or soft spinach leaves (don’t use swiss chard, because you need to remove the hard white inners, and then you’ll lose half of your spinach in weight)

400 g ricotta cheese

pinch of ground nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

half a cup grated parmesan/pecorino cheese

Method for spinach and ricotta stuffing:

In a very large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat, add spinach leaves and fry lightly untill spinach begins to wilt. Turn/toss leaves regularly while frying. Remove from heat when all the leaves just wilted and still green. Do not overcook. Add cooked leaves to a food processor, along with the ricotta, salt and pepper, nutmeg, and grated parmesan. Process to a smooth paste. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Set aside. (You can also just mix this roughly by hand – the texture will be different but it will taste exactly the same!)

Ingredients for pasta dough:

250 g flour

2 whole eggs plus 1 egg yolk

Method for pasta dough:

Put the flour, eggs and egg yolk in a food processor and mix untill it resembles cooked couscous grains. Turn out onto a surface and knead lightly into a ball. Cover with plastic and rest for at least 30 min. Roll out sheets of pasta in your pasta roller/machine, cut into squares of roughly 10 x 10 cm, and set aside (single layer, otherwise they’ll stick to one another).

Extra ingredients for final assembly:

1-2 cups grated mozzarella

1/2 cup grated parmesan/pecorino

Method for assembly:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. On a big surface, lay out the freshly rolled pasta squares. With a small spoon, fill each pasta square with a horisontal layer of spinach and ricotta stuffing. Roll the square into a tube.
  2. In a shallow ovenproof dish, spoon a thin layer of tomato sauce to just cover the base. Arrange the rolled pasta tubes in the prepared oven dish next to each other.
  3. Cover the rolled pasta tubes with another layer of tomato sauce, just covering it. Do not use too much sauce.
  4. Cover the top of the assembled canneloni with mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
  5. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes or untill golden brown. Serve immediately.
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Porcini risotto: real winter fare

30 May

Porcini Risotto

I grew up in  Stellenbosch and just love everything about winter in the Boland. That includes the never-ending rain, the dark and icy mornings, and of course the comforting, steamy winter food. To me, that includes pancakes with cinnamon sugar, oxtail stew, meaty bean soup, malva pudding with warm custard, and porcini risotto. […]

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