Getting Drunk in a Tent

The Johannesburg Summer Food and Wine Festival

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The Big Top was up, the monkeys were ready to perform.

People who live in Joburg are often accused of being shallow. You know… the sort of crassness that means if that it were dressed up in a nice low-cut top and came with a fancy gold-leaf invitation, we’d probably go to the opening of a door.

I think this is unfair. I’d only go to the opening of a door if there were free drinks.

I honestly think that we in Gauteng are so starved of entertainment opportunities, that we’ve genuinely fallen into a weird schizophrenic state when people actually try and organize an event that doesn’t involve armed robbery.  We either a) totally ignore it, because we’re convinced that it’ll be crap anyway (as happened with the “Spring Day Festival” a little while back where approximately 30 people showed up. Yikes), or b) flock in droves to something that’s mostly rubbish, but we’re going to damn well go and simultaneously convince ourselves that it’s “just as good as if it was in Cape Town”.

The recent “Summer Food and Wine Festival” at Zoo Lake was somewhere in between. Two big tents (one for food and beer, the other for wine) around a jumping castle and bizarrely enough, a mobile fast-food van from Spur, which it has to be said set a fairly odd tone.

So, I’d been exposed to quite a bit of the advertising in the runup to the event itself and they all went something like this:

“Come to the Summer Food & Wine Festival. It’ll be great. There’ll be an oyster bar. Don’t forget fun for the kids and the oyster bar. Lot’s of wine and oyster bar. Oyster bar food oyster bar tent oyster bar stalls oyster bar oyster bar. Oyster. R80”

With that sort of introduction you’d expect the oyster bar to be lit up with trained performing elephants, naked imported dancing girls and Barack Obama dressed as an oyster reading excerpts from “I heart Oysters: an oyster-lover’s guide”.

Nope. In fact, the oyster bar was so low-key that I missed it completely. It may even have been mythical.

When you pack a huge tent with food, stalls and croc-wearing red-faced 40-somethings, it’s almost impossible not to get swept up in the excitement of it all. The guy next to me was excited enough to immediately get on the phone and have the following conversation: ‘Bru it’s lekker here, kif food, weather’s great and Chippie and I are about to get fokken leathered.’ I wanted to be his friend.

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Gypsywurst and the Nottingham Road Brewer's excellent Pickled Pig (porter) with a Whistling Weasel (ale) lurking behind.

But, once you’d walked around for five minutes you realized that it was a small case of same-old same-old: suppliers I’ve seen just about everywhere and the usual assortment of cheese, mini-tarts and Polish salami that you can get at the Rosebank Market or Blubird on a Sunday. I guess it was a classic example of good intentions, but just not executed as well as you’d like. Don’t get me wrong – people were wolfing down cheese, wine and beer like tomorrow was tax day, but almost out of a sense of “oh well, we’re here, might as well make the most of it.”

The afternoon’s purchases went as follows:

1)    marsmallow fudge: so sweet you’d think bambi had thrown up in your mouth.

2)   Caramel coffee-dipped nuts (excellent).

3)   Cheap wine. Really…very cheap. I totally expect it was made in a bathtub, but it was delicious. Because it was R25.

4)   Beer. Lots of it.

5)    German sausage.

Without a doubt the saving grace of the day was that all of the prominent microbrewers had arrived and they’d brought enough beer for EVERYONE. Twice. So, armed with a gypsywurst with mustard and sauerkraut, there was only thing to do, and that was try and drink the Nottingham Road stand into closing early.  You know….get leathered, bru.

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The Best Friends Are the Ones That Give You Free Stuff.

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No it's not the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey

I’ll never forget an investigative piece I once saw on TV which suggested that something ridiculous like 45% of olive oil sold in supermarkets was actually made of a combination of paint stripper, engine oil and crushed barbie dolls.  Okay not exactly, but the gist was that a certain amount of nefarious Italians and Spaniards were basically spitting in a bottle, labeling it “extra virgin” and sending it off to people like you and me who don’t know any better.  Either way, I never forgot that – and it made me super paranoid as to what exactly I was forking my R80-120 over for each time I bought a bottle of the olive grove’s ‘finest’. To the extent that I tracked down an FDA study from some time in the 90s that found that a whopping 4% of olive oils on supermarket shelves were actually pure olive oil, most being cut with sunflower oil.

This is a pity, because olive oil is one of the great gifts bestowed on mankind. At least once a week some plastic-faced CNN reporter is interviewing a 178 year-old Italian nonna, asking “the secret of her longevity”, the answer to which inevitably involves a tablespoon of olive oil every day (and the equally inevitable air of disappointment on the part of the reporter when the answer doesn’t involve bathing in the blood of innocents by the light of a waxing moon, rubbing your face with goat’s testicles or something equally exotic that might get them an award at some point).

All this led to me being incredibly happy when a good winemaker friend (the infinitely gracious Andre Liebenberg of the Romond wine farm in the Cape) sent me a bottle of the new olive oil that he’s started producing. I say I was happy because I know the trees from which this oil comes, I’ve walked amongst them (okay – drunkenly stumbled, but who’s counting?) and so equally I know that it’s not a bottle of tap water mixed with cheap face cream from Diskem.

Quite the opposite.

I have a thing about ingredients, because stupidly simple recipes can be elevated (wank alert) to the sublime purely by using the best components – and I know no better way of honouring a top quality bottle of olive oil (which this is; beautifully fresh and zingy without being overbearing) than by making an enormous bowl of pasta, whipping up a huge batch of pesto and getting some people around on a Sunday afternoon to eat it all.

Which is what I did.

By the way, if you’re interested in getting a bottle of Romond Olive Oil, or indeed any of his array of wines (including a new Rosé which is particularly good) email sales@romond.co.za

Oh! And lest I forget, thank you to the towering Ryan Metcalfe for taking all the pictures.

Walnut pesto with bacon and linguini

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Behold my bowl of pasta and tremble before me.


Ingredients (serves 4)

1 small handful of walnuts

1 large bunch of basil

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

olive oil

salt

pepper

a couple of rashers of good streaky bacon

1 small dried chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped

half a cup of pouring cream

a good quantity of grated parmesan (no fucking awful pre-grated stuff!! I’ll find you…)

1 pack of linguini pasta

What to do

As you may have noticed, I’m using walnuts for this pesto. This is mostly because of the fact that I don’t actually like pine nuts that much – I’ve always found them slightly too … champy (chew chew chew bits stuck in teeth chew chew), if that makes sense. And after mucking around with various substitutes I’ve settled on walnuts as being my preferred alternative.

In a dry pan toast the walnuts until they’re starting to go golden brown, and then in a blender or with a pestle and mortar combine the basil, chopped garlic, nuts, a pinch of salt and a generous glug of olive oil and bash/pulse until it’s a smooth green liquid paste. I prefer my pesto to be on the wetter side (adding more olive oil as I go) but feel free to keep it slightly thicker if that’s what you like.

Chop up the bacon and then in the same pan you toasted the nuts, fry it up with the chopped chilli and then at the last moment add the cream and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer so that it doesn’t split.

Throw the linguine to a pot of boiling, salted water and cook until al dente (throw some on the roof – if it sticks, it’s done) – drain and empty into a serving bowl. Then mix in the pesto and make sure the pasta is properly coated, then pour in the bacon/cream/chilli and finally finish it off with the parmesan and a couple of twists of black pepper.

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Luckily you can't see the ropes tied to all my friends so that they can't run away...

Kitchen virginity. And how to lose it.

 

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The theme for this picture seriously needs to be Also Spracht Zarathustra. Look it up.

…and I did it the only way it should be done – by drinking most of a bottle of really cheap red wine first.

On my (ever-growing) shelf of cookbooks, I have the Granddaddy Bible Cookbook Of Them All – the incredibly unassumingly titled The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery by Georges Auguste Escoffier (sarcasm sarcasm).

It’s fucking huge, it has no pictures and there are something like a bajillion recipes in it. Obviously, with a name like Escoffier, the rules are all French, which means everything comes with a sauce made from cow’s feet that’s been reduced in a goat’s bladder for seven years over a temperature of exactly 72.32°F. Even the salad. As a result I honestly hardly ever look at it because frankly, I’d rather stab myself in the face with a spaniel. And besides, I’m a child of the modern world, to keep me engaged I need a large type-face, graphic design that someone has obviously paid vast sums of money for and massive oversaturated pictures to go with everything.

But the problem is that you can’t escape the French, they’re freaking everywhere – and their techniques have become entrenched. Hollandaise sauces, béchamel, rendered goose fat, reductions of everything – we have the French to blame for all of these things, and learning them is Required. And so when I finally wanted to pop one of my long-standing culinary cherries – I had to turn to bloody annoying Escoffier.

You see, somehow I have managed to never make a soufflé. Mostly because any conversation that involves soufflés inevitably includes how the bastard things never actually work, because they’re either flopping, catching on fire, leaving you for another man or stealing your money at gunpoint. If the collective myth-making of cooks around the world were to believed they’re nigh unto impossible to actually make, and so you wonder why anyone actually bothers to try.  Well, I decided that I should add my legend to the collective and give it a bash, which is why I got  liquored first, so that the shame of my failure wouldn’t sting quite as sharply.

Except for the fact that they bloody came out perfectly, maybe because of the drunkenness. And possibly because of the same principal that governs why first-time poker players Always. Fucking. Win.

I’m not boasting. I was shocked. And I now also know why everyone continues to try and make them: they’re more delicious than dunking your head in a bucket of …something really delicious that I can’t think of right now.

Savoury Baby Marrow and Cheese Soufflé

Ingredients

olive oil

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

half a brown onion

2 tspn thyme

1 pack of small baby marrows, finely sliced

55g butter

55g plain flour

250ml heated milk

4 eggs separated into 3 yolks and 4 whites

a handful of grated pecorino cheese (but you can actually use cheddar or whatever you have in the fridge really)

black pepper

salt

extra butter, to grease

 

What to do

Get the oven pre-heated to 180°C. Find a couple of what could be considered a ‘ramekin’, essentially a round, shallow cup of some kind – then grease them up good and proper with butter. Make sure you get it into the bottom and the lip of the cup as well, because that’s usually where the soufflé will stick, which is bad news for everyone

Finely chop the onion and the clove of garlic, slice up the baby marrows and heat some olive oil in a pan, then fry it together with the thyme. Keep the heat at a medium level and once they’ve browned and softened nicely, remove from the stove. Then, using a potato masher – smash it all up into a paste and put it aside.

Melt the butter in a pot, then stir in the flour and then slowly add the milk (hooray, you’ve just made a béchamel  – congratulations).  Stir vigorously while it bubbles for about 2 minutes or so, then remove from the heat and carry on whisking until it’s smooth and creamy. If it’s too thick, just keep adding milk until you’ve got a yellowish creamy sauce.

Then, toss that in with the mashed baby marrow, along with the cheese and egg yolks. Grind some black pepper over it all, add some salt to taste and gently beat it into a thickish sauce.

At this point you need to find a flat-based and oven-proof dish and fill it about three quarters full with boiled water and keep it at the ready.

Now, this is the crucial bit – everything you do will hinge on this next step, so maybe drink some more quickly. Whisk the egg whites until they’re stiff and properly aerated (it should look like stiff sea-foam), then gently pour it over the sauce you’ve just made, and carefully carefully fold it in.

Once this is done, pour it into your greased ramekins and the put those ramekins into the dish of water, and then put that whole thing into the oven.

Turn on the oven light and keep an eye on the soufflé from about 20 minutes of cooking onwards, because this should mostly be judged by the look. The tops should raise about 2-3cm above the lip of your ramekin and start to turn a lovely golden brown – that’s the signal to get them out of there.

Once they have, remove from the heat (desperately praying that they won’t flop like a miserable poetry-reciting teenager) and serve immediately.