Tag Archives: fine dining

Tomato and Saffron Risotto with Basil, Pine Nuts and Parmesan

24 Aug

It’s been a while since I posted a recipe inspired by our trip to Cape Town. This one is a version of the Tomato Risotto I had at Sand at The Plettenberg Hotel in Plettenberg Bay.

Sand is one of the restaurants in the Liz Mcgrath Collection of three hotels overseen by the Grand Chef, Peter Tempelhoff. I have been lucky enough to have eaten at all three. I had an unforgettable passionfruit souffle at The Marine, Hermanus a few years ago that I must remember to have a go at with my next  lot of passionfruit.

I had one of the best meals of my life, a 7 Course Vegetarian Tasting Menu at The Greenhouse , Cellars Hohenort, awarded restaurant of the year and number 1 in South Africa, this year. More of that in a future post, I am still trying to get close to replicating one of the recipes from that memorable meal, but failing miserably at the moment. I can see why he is a multi award-winning Grand Chef.

Above are some pictures of the beautiful meal I had at Sand prepared by the very capable sous-chef , Tronnette. We were presented first of all with some Baked Rosemary & Sea Salt Lavash with Aubergine Puree and a Melon Shot with Cucumber Salsa Bruschetta. For a starter I chose the Double Baked Underberg Cheese Souffle with Chive & Parmesan Veloute which was light, fluffy and creamy, the best  savoury souffle I have ever had. A Tomato & Artichoke Risotto was prepared especially for me (being vegetarian). It had an intense tomato flavour (from the stock I think) that made it particularly special. The dessert was a Madagascan Vanilla Creme Brulee, Coconut Foam, Marshmallow Compresse and Pineapple Almond Biscotti, this was totally amazing!

They very kindly sent me the recipes for both the souffle and the risotto. So, with it being summer here now and with tomatoes being at their cheapest and best at the moment, I had to make the risotto first.  I added some saffron for colour and for that extra Spanish touch and topped it with my favourite tomato friends: basil, pine nuts and parmesan. They were meant for each other.

The first part of this recipe is making a tomato fondue (or sauce) to add into the risotto when it is cooked. You could skip this part if short on time and replace it with some shop-bought tomato pasta/marinara sauce.

Tomato & Saffron Risotto with Basil Pine Nuts & Parmesan

Serves 4, vegetarian, gluten-free. Adapted from Sand at The Plettenberg recipe

For the tomato fondue (sauce)

  • 2-4 ripe tomatoes, I used 2 huge Spanish ones that hardly have any seeds
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • salt & pepper

Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for about 20 seconds, drain and remove the skins, seeds and chop the tomato flesh. Cook the onion in olive oil for a few minutes with a pinch of salt then add the garlic & oregano and cook for another minute. add the tomatoes and cook until softened. Add the ketchup, sugar and season with salt & black pepper. Cook until reduced and thickened. Taste and adjust sugar/salt as required. Set aside.

For the Risotto:

  • 350 g risotto rice
  • 1 litre vegetable stock (I made my own recipe here using lots of tomato to intensify the tomato flavour)
  • a big pinch of saffron
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • a pinch of dried chilli flakes
  • 150 ml sherry or white wine
  • about 120 ml (1/2 cup) tomato fondue/pasta sauce (see recipe above)
  • 200 g cherry/baby tomatoes (on the vine if possible)
  • olive oil
  • salt & black pepper
  • 30 gr grated parmesan or manchego (vegetarian) plus shaved for garnish
  •  a hand ful of basil leaves juliennned, plus leaves to garnish
  •  a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • 40 gr toasted pine nuts

Put the veg stock and saffron in pan over a medium low heat to warm up but not boil.

Meanwhile, cook the onion in the olive oil with a pinch of salt over a medium heat for 3 minutes then add the garlic, oregano & chilli flakes and cook for another 2 mins.  Add in the rice stirring to coat in the oil and cook for 2 minutes before adding the sherry/wine and cook until it is dry.

Start by adding 2 ladles of the hot stock to the rice and swirl the pan until all the liquid has been absorbed. Add another ladle of stock, wait for it to be absorbed, swirling  and continue like this until the rice is cooked and you have used all of the stock. If you run out of stock you can add hot water. Then stir in the tomato fondue/sauce.

Stir in the grated parmesan, sliced basil, lemon juice and season with salt & pepper. Remove from the heat and put the lid on.

Preheat a griddle pan (or frying pan if you don’t have one), season the cherry tomatoes in a bowl with salt, pepper and drizzle with olive oil, toss to coat. Cook them on the griddle pan until you get black marks and they start to soften.

Taste the risotto for seasoning and serve topped with a pile of  cherry tomatoes, shaved parmesan, toasted pine nuts and basil leaves.

Buen Provecho!

 Sand at The Plettenberg

Look-out Rocks, 40 Church Street
P. O. Box 719
Plettenberg Bay 6600
South Africa

+27 44 533 2030

Spring Pea & Thyme Risotto with Manchego and Olive Tapenade

18 Jun

When we were in South Africa, one of the most memorable meals, for me was at Makaron at Majeka House in Stellenbosch. Having visited, and eaten in, about thirty restaurants in nineteen days it takes something quite special to stand out from the crowd.

In a sea of  mainly white, minimal, distressed wood interiors (which I love, by the way), this was a welcome diversion.  The bar has an opulent gentleman’s club/hunting lodge feel, with dark navy and gold upholstery and lighting. It manages to be eccentric and elegant at the same time. It is quirky and doesn’t take itself too seriously which is very refreshing.

 The Washer Up was very pleased (understatement) with the fact that they have a beer pairing with each of the dishes as well as wine pairings. This is the first time that I have come across this and think it is genius, especially as they are promoting local microbreweries at the same time. I have read in numerous publications recently that Beer is the New Wine and that some restaurants have started hiring beer sommeliers but this is the only place I have seen it in action.

 There is a sense of humour in the food that compliments the quirkyness of the restaurant perfectly.

The bread was brought out on a slate (my favourite thing) and included a beautiful braid, crispy lavash, homemade butter, anchovy mayonnaise, olives, figs, lavender & rosemary. The Amuse Bouche was a Peppadew Popper in beer batter with guacamole & sour cream.

For a starter we ordered the Caprese Terrine, tomato cloud, basil gelee, semi dried tomatoes, olive oil powder which was beautiful and delicious. And the Garden Pea Risotto, garlic espuma, smoked olive tapenade.

The main courses we had were an Open Duck Egg Ravioli, young artichoke, asparagus, truffle caviar, which was amazing, I loved the little beads of truffle caviar. And a Mushroom & Roasted Corn Open Lasagne that the chef Tanja prepared especially for us.

All the food was excellent but the stand out dish was the pea risotto with olive tapenade, it was stunning, and I don’t even like olives. This dish changed my mind. The pea risotto tasted like the best mushy peas you have ever had, the flavour intense & the texture comforting. There was a deliciously creamy garlic & parmesan veloute with it and the olive tapenade just took it to another level taste wise. Such a surprisingly good combination, even if you think you don’t like olives, like me.

Unfortunately I couldn’t get the original recipe from Tanja because she is a very busy lady working in Paris at the moment sharpening her skills even further at Alain Passard’s restaurant L’Aperge. But when I picked up some of these beautiful fresh garden peas in my organic veg box I couldn’t wait any longer and I had a go at it myself anyway.

I love the mixed mauve colours of these olives, so pretty with the bright green peas. A match made in heaven, believe me.

I used a mixture of fresh and frozen peas. I made a puree with the frozen and kept the fresh ones whole. You can use all fresh if you have that many, or indeed all frozen if you have no fresh. I used brown short grain rice to make my risotto but you can substitute arborio for a creamier finish and a lot shorter cooking time. It will also make the finished risotto look more green than mine.

Summer Pea & Thyme Risotto with Manchego and Olive Tapenade

Serves 3, vegetarian, gluten-free

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 150 gr frozen peas (or fresh if you have that many)
  • 50 gr fresh peas (podded weight)
  • a handful of fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  •  a few sprigs of fresh thyme leaves removed & chopped plus extra for garnish
  • 1 litre (up to a litre & a half for brown rice) veg stock
  • a little freshly grated nutmeg
  • 50 gr manchego (or parmesan) grated plus 1 tbsp to finish
  • salt & black pepper
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 250 gr arborio (or brown) rice
  • 200 ml white wine
  • 1 tbsp cream cheese
  • a squeeze of fresh lemon juice

For the tapenade:

  • 75 gr good quality olives, buy with stones in, then remove them if possible (better flavour)
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped (or to taste)
  • fresh thyme leaves
  • a squeeze of lemon juice
  • salt & black pepper
  • extra virgen olive oil

To make the tapenade, put all the ingredients except the oil in a blender and blitz to a smoothish puree. Drizzle in the oil a bit at a time, blending until you get the desired consistency. Taste and adjust salt, lemon or garlic as required.

Cook the 150 gr frozen peas in two ladles full (just enough to cover the peas) of boiling veg stock with the parsley & thyme for about 5 minutes until soft. Puree this (stock & peas) with the grated cheese and season with salt, pepper & nutmeg. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Put the veg stock in a small pan over a medium low heat to keep warm but do not boil. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat then cook the onions for 4 minutes with a pinch of salt, add the garlic and cook for another minute. Do not brown. Stir in the rice and coat in the oil, add in the wine and cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Add the hot stock a one ladle at a time waiting for each ladle to be absorbed before adding the next. Keep doing this until the rice is cooked and you have a soft soupy risotto. This should take about 20-25 mins for arborio, longer for brown rice. If you run out of stock add hot water.

After about 15 minutes add the uncooked fresh peas, then when the rice is nearly cooked stir in the pea puree. When the rice is cooked add the cream cheese, tablespoon of grated cheese and squeeze of lemon. Put on the lid, remove from the heat and leave for 2 minutes.

Taste for seasoning before serving with a quenelle (or dollop) of the tapenade, a few fresh thyme leaves and some shaved Manchego.

Things That Made Me Smile Today…….

Jacarandas, I love their pretty purple flowers, like a tree full of droopy bluebells…..

And Oleanders in soft apricot…..

Or electric pink against the bright blue sky….

Overture’s Mushroom Vol au Vent, Cream Sherry, Shaved Truffle and Parsley

17 May

This is my interpretation of the Mushroom Vol au Vent main course I had in Overture restaurant at the Hidden Valley Wine Estate in Stellenbosch.

I must point out first of all that this Vol au Vent is as far removed from the Seventies buffet staple filled with some dubious looking prawn cocktail as it is possible to be.

The Chef at Overture, Bertus Basson, has elevated the humble pre-bought classic to fine dining status and I managed to get the recipe. Result.

As you drive into Hidden Valley you are surrounded by stunning scenery that is the contrasting backdrop to an architectural, modern building that houses the wine tasting area and Overture restaurant with its beautiful dining terrace taking full advantage of those spectacular views.

We opted for the 4 course Chef’s Menu with wine pairings, there are also 5 and 8 course options and the menu changes daily.

After ordering our food the professional waitress (who also had a personality, very rare) brought us the bread (below bottom). Not just any bread basket though, the ciabatta and bricohe were accompanied by a smoked aubergine puree, red salt, confit garlic, aioli and a selection of olives all served on a slate tile, my new favourite thing. Everything looks good on a slate tile.

My starter (above top) was Variations of Beetroot, Buffalo Ridge feta, balsamic onion. The contrast of the sweet roasted and pureed beets with the sharp salty feta was wonderful along with the finely sliced lacey, crisp toasts. The Washer Up had the Chicken liver parfait, smoked raisin, verjus jelly, raisin jus (below) which was light and creamy. It was followed by a Peach Sorbet palate cleanser.

My main course: Vol au Vent, mushroom, brandy cream, celeriac, Brussel sprouts was the standout dish for me.  Beautifully crisp and light pastry with an intensely rich and creamy mushroom sauce that was perfectly seasoned and totally moreish. The roasted Brussel sprouts and celeriac gave the dish amazing flavour and I don’t usually like them at all. All topped off with some slivered truffle, you can’t go wrong with truffle and mushrooms can you. This dish was heavenly.

The Washer Up ordered the Pickled Ox Tongue, gnocchi, mustard, roots (below) and really enjoyed it. He was trying to overcome his fear of eating tongue and did. Something about being made to eat tongue out of a tin when he was little apparently. The palate cleanser was a Berry Thyme Sorbet, fresh raspberries, milk jelly.

The desserts were huge, surprisingly so, but we managed to force them down. Coffee Souffle, vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce served with a Chocolate Grappa shot. And a Deconstructed Lemon Meringue Pie, cinnamon crumble, lemon ice cream.

Overture restaurant is consistently awarded and in the Top 10 restaurants in South Africa which is a lot to live up to. I’m pleased to say that this place doesn’t disappoint, the excellent food and service is definitely up there with the best.

The secret to a light and very well risen Vol au Vent is (I now know) piling three layers of puff pastry on top of each other, glazing with egg wash in between each layer, cutting a circle in the middle of the square half way through the pastry and, very importantly, trimming the edges so that it can rise evenly.

 Following these steps, and making sure you chill your pastry before you put it in the oven, should result in perfectly puffed up pastry. Well if it worked for me….

You then leave them to cool before removing the circle from the top of the vol au vents.

And then hollowing out the inside so you can fill it with gorgeous creamy mushrooms.

In my version I used Greek yoghurt rather than cream (those chefs love a bit of butter and cream) and I used a sweet sherry rather than brandy because that’s what I had. Mushrooms and sherry are a classic combination anyway, oh and I added a bit of fresh parsley.

*Remember to defrost your puff pastry in the fridge overnight before you need it*

Mushroom Vol au Vent Recipe

Makes 3, vegetarian. Adapted from Bertus Basson

Prep time: 30 mins (not including defrosting) Cooking time: 20-25 mins

  • 1 roll/block puff pastry (defrosted in the fridge overnight)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 100 ml milk
  • 500 gr mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • a big splosh or 2 of sweet sherry or brandy
  • 3 sml pots (375 ml) Greek yoghurt
  • salt & black pepper
  • 3 tbsp cream cheese
  •  a big handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped plus leaves for garnish
  • milk to thin sauce if necessary
  • a couple of thin slices of black truffle, finely julienned (optional)

Whisk together, the egg, sugar and milk with a fork for the glaze and set aside. Roll out the puff pastry on a floured board to a 12 x 12 inch square about 2-3 mm thick. With a sharp knife cut into 9 equal squares 4 x 4 inches each. Three rows of three (see picture above).

Stack three squares on top of each other, brushing with glaze in between each layer. Repeat so you have three stacks of three.  Put these in the fridge for about 15 minutes to chill. Preheat oven to 180 C and line a baking sheet with baking paper.

Remove from the fridge and trim the edges with a sharp knife. Brush the top with the glaze (if you haven’t already) and use a round cutter or glass to cut a circle in the centre of each square about half way through the pastry. Place on the lined baking tray and bake for 20-25 minutes until puffed and golden brown.

Leave to cool then remove the circle from the top of each one. I kept mine  to top each one off, like a little hat. Now hollow them out by removing as much of the pastry as possible from inside.

For the filling, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan over a medium high heat and cook the onion and a pinch of salt for about 4 minutes until softened and starting to brown, then add the garlic & thyme and cook for a further minute. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until nicely browned.

Add a couple of sploshes of sherry and cook out for a minute then add the yoghurt, stirring to combine. Season well with salt & black pepper and cook to reduce the sauce slightly and intensify the flavour. Turn off the heat and stir through the cream cheese and chopped parsley.  Taste for seasoning.

I wanted my filling quite thick and creamy, if you would like it more like a sauce, just add some milk at the end until you are happy with the consistency.

To serve: Heat the vol au vent for a few minutes in a warm oven, place on  your serving plate, fill with the mushrooms, top with the pastry circle and garnish with the slivered truffle and parsley leaves. I served this with a simple green salad dressed with olive oil & lemon juice. Roasted Brussel sprouts and celeriac are lovely too if they are in season where you are.

For more information about Hidden Valley wines and Overture Restaurant visit their website here.

Mushroom Risotto Spring Rolls, Manchego Thyme Crisps, Roasted Garlic Watercress Mayonnaise

22 Mar

This recipe is inspired by an amazing meal we had at La Colombe in Contantia Uitsig. La Colombe has always been very special to us ever since the first time we visited about five years ago. We had such a great time that we both agreed that it was the best restaurant we had ever been to.

The thing is that it had reached such an iconic status in our memory that I was secretly worried that it wasn’t going to live up to our very high expectations this time. I was actually preparing myself for disappointment.  Silly me, this time actually exceeded my expectations by quite a long way.

The food is, well you can work it out for yourself. This was how it went….

Amuse Bouche: caramelised onion tart with goat cheese, parsnip soup (in an egg-shell), pea salsa

Starter: Beetroot Cannelloni, beetroot mousse wrapped in pickled beetroot, toasted olive brioche, roasted golden baby beets, fromage blanc, poached raisins, 12 yr old balsamic drizzle

Palate Cleanser: Granny Smith Sorbet, pimms foam, cucumber, mint

Main Course: Wild Mushroom Risotto Spring Roll, butternut puree, sous vide butternut, caramelised onion, smoked garlic veloute, thyme foam.

Desserts: Coconut & Rosewater Panna Cotta, rose meringue, rose foam, turkish delight, cashew nut streusel  

Chocolate Peanut Butter Terrine, candied cranberries, apricots, peanuts, chocolate, pistachio nut dust

And if that is not enough for you, they bring around a wooden trough filled with petits fours. Okay it’s not a trough but that’s what we called it. Bring me the trough!!!

Petits Fours: Rose Turkish Delight, mini citrus madeleines, maple meringues, cinnamon marshmallows and espresso pistachio dusted chocolate truffles filled with salted caramel.

Yes, that was espresso pistachio dusted chocolate truffles filled with salted caramel. They didn’t last very long, someone at our table may have stuffed his face with them before I could stuff mine. Not mentioning any names but you know who you are…

I don’t think I need to say that the food was outstanding do I? The beetroot cannelloni was light, elegant, sweet and exquisitely made. The mushroom spring rolls were rich with truffle butter and earthy morels, the pastry was perfectly crisp, I didn’t want it to end.

The desserts were a complete triumph. Everything a dessert should be, playful, sweet and nostalgic with a grown up twist.  The attention to detail is what makes this an unforgettable dining experience. From the amuse bouche (very amusing), the palate cleanser (I mean Pimms!!), all the way through to the petits fours (bring me the trough and leave it please).

Speaking of attention to detail I have to mention that the level of service we received was actually on another level to anything I have ever experienced before. Jennifer and her highly knowledgable team made our evening a complete joy from start to finish. The waiter actually explained each dish on the menu FROM MEMORY! All those foams, purees and veloutes without reading from a notepad. That deserves a mention by itself.  And it is not at all stuffy, that’s what makes it so enjoyable, it is proper fine dining without the squeaky chairs and pretension.

Can you tell that I loved it?

I managed to acquire the recipe for the Mushroom Risotto Spring Rolls from the very talented chef, Scot Kirton. Mine is a simplified version as you can see from the description. I don’t have  a syphon thingy to make foams but I wouldn’t mind if anyone out there wants to send me one. I made some Manchego Thyme Crisps instead.

You could use spring roll wrappers to make these, I used a double layer of filo and Scot uses a special Asian pastry that I am desperate to get hold of. Either way you roll them like this:

I couldn’t get any truffle butter or morels so I used a mix of dried mushrooms, soaked in boiling water for about 20 minutes and some fresh chestnut or cremini mushrooms. The advantage of using dried mushrooms is that you can use the mushroomy soaking liquid with the stock to give the risotto a deeper colour and flavour.

Mushroom Risotto Spring Rolls

Makes about 12 rolls, vegetarian. Adapted from the La Colombe recipe

The risotto needs to be chilled before you roll it so it is best to make it the night before and refrigerate overnight.

Prep time: 45 -60 mins (not including chilling time) Cooking time: 15-25 mins

  • 150-200 gr fresh mushrooms, chestnut/cremini/portobello/morels roughly diced
  • 25 gr dried mushrooms, soaked in boiling water for 20 mins (reserve soaking liquid) then chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • salt & black pepper
  • 30 gr white truffle butter (optional)
  • a bunch sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
  • 250 gr risotto rice
  • 250 ml white wine
  • about 1 litre veg stock plus the mushroom soaking liquid
  • 50 gr parmesan/manchego, finely grated
  • 1 packet filo pastry/spring roll wrappers defrosted
  • olive oil for brushing

In a large pan, fry the chopped fresh mushrooms and thyme in a tablespoon of hot oil until nicely browned. Tip them into a bowl. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan over a medium heat and cook the onions for about 4 mins until translucent then add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the rice and stir to coat in the onions for a minute.

Put the stock and mushroom soaking liquid in a small pan over a medium heat and keep hot but not boiling.

Add the wine and soaked mushrooms and cook until most of the liquid has disappeared. Add a ladle full of the hot stock to the rice and swirl the pan until all the liquid is absorbed. Add another ladle full swirl until it is absorbed and continue on like this until the rice is cooked.

Stir through the cooked mushrooms and truffle butter (if using). Taste and adjust seasoning. Stir through the grated cheese, remove from the heat. Leave to cool then chill in the fridge, overnight if possible. What I did was make the risotto for dinner, reserved about half for spring rolls for lunch the next day.

Cut a double layer 20 cm square of filo pastry (or use spring roll wrappers) and lay in a diamond shape on a board in front of you. Mound 2 or 3 tbsp of risotto onto the pastry and roll up following the pictures above brushing with olive oil to make them stick.

Preheat the oven to 190 C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper, place the spring rolls on the tray, brush the tops with olive oil and bake for 15 -25 minutes depending on size. You can also deep-fry them.

Roasted Garlic, Watercress Mayonnaise

Enough for 2 people, vegetarian

  • 2 tbsp good mayonnaise
  •  a squeeze of lemon juice
  • a handful of fresh watercress (or parsley)
  • 1 large garlic clove (unpeeled)
  • 1/2 tsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper

Roast the garlic clove in its skin in a hot oven for about 15 minutes (I did it with the spring rolls). Put the peeled roasted clove with the rest of the ingredients in a measuring jug and puree with a stick (immersion) blender until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning/lemon.

Manchego Thyme Crisps

Makes about 6, vegetarian

  • 50 gr manchego or parmesan, finely grated
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped

Preheat the oven to 200C and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Mix together the cheese & thyme. Put a heaped tablespoon of the cheese on to the baking tray and flatten & spread out slightly. Leave about 1/2 inch between each circle.

Cook for 3-5 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. Leave to cool if you want flat discs and remove carefully with a metal spatula.

If you want you can mould them gently around a rolling-pin while still hot to make them curved.


 For more information on La Colombe and Constantia Uitsig visit their website here.

Thanks to everyone at La Colombe who made our evening so special. Hopefully it won’t be too long before the next time…..



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