I’ve been wanting to buy this cookery book for ages, as it’s not only likely to become a South African classic, but is a beautiful and timeless memento of the Eastern Cape, a province part home to the vast and magical Great Karoo which Salvelio and I adore so much. And who could not fall in love with the title of it? Prickly pears and pomegranates are two of my favourite fruits, after all! Writers Bernadette le Roux and Marianne Palmer are descendants of the legendary Palmer clan, who have been farming on the Plains of the Cambeboo, near the Eastern Cape town of Graaff-Reinet, for more than a hundred years. I came across the book last weekend while Salvelio and I were doing a travel feature at Samara Private Game Reserve, an impressive 28 000 hectare expanse of reclaimed farm land which has been magnificently rehabilitated and is now stocked with an abundance of game which would historically all have occurred naturally in the area. It’s clearly been a labour of love for the Tomkinses, the British/South African couple behind the initiative, and interestingly their game reserve adjoins Cranemere, the Palmer family farm made famous by Eve Palmer’s classic book, ‘The Plains of Camdeboo’, and where Marianne and her husband Alex have been living for the past 35 years. But back to the Bernadette and Marianne’s book… there it was, in the gift shop at Samara, and I could absolutely not resist getting my own copy at last! I would love to meet Bernadette and Marianne so they can sign it for me – their dishes are truly inspiring and are an amazing testament to the Karoo farmers’ reliance on the land, and their ability to find innovative ways of putting its bounty to the best possible use. – Louise Liebenberg
Roasted Butternut with Onion Marmalade, Crispy Bacon and Toasted Almonds
I was given this recipe long before I ever got my own copy of ‘Pricky Pears and Pomegranates’. It’s been one of my friend Gail Charalambous’s top party dishes for ages, and I still remember the first time she made it and brought it to our house for a dinner party. The dish was such a hit that the guests were quibbling over who would get the last portion! Gail, a kitchen whiz in her own right, had seen the recipe in a South African food magazine which had done a feature on ‘Prickly Pears and Pomegranates’, and had tried it straight after buying the magazine. So it’s been from a by now well-stained photocopy of the magazine spread that I’ve been making this dish myself for the past year or so. Thanks Gail, for introducing me to such a wonderful recipe!
Bernadette and Marianne in their intro to this recipe describe it as a great party dish that will have “guests coming back for more” – which certainly has been my experience whenever I’ve prepared it! “It’s a good alternative to tired old butternut soup when you have butternuts that need to be used.” They also say the dressing is essential – “a real crowd pleaser”.
5 large butternuts, peeled, deseeded and cubed; salt and freshly-ground black pepper; olive oil for roasting; 500g streaky bacon, chopped; 1 cup slivered almonds, toasted, to serve.
For the onion marmalade: 4 onions, thinly sliced; 2 Tbsp butter; 1 Tbsp oil; 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar; 2 Tbsp sugar.
For the dressing: 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar; 3 Tbsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice; 1 clove garlic, finely chopped; thumb fresh ginger, grated; 1 Tbsp brown sugar; 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil.
For the butternut: Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Season the butternut cubes, place in a large roasting tray (or two) and drizzle with olive oil. Toss to coat evenly and roast for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the butternut is cooked through with crispy edges.
For the bacon: In a large nonstick pan, saute the bacon until crispy.
For the onion marmalade: Gently saute the onion in the butter and oil over a low heat. When translucent, add vinegar and sugar, turn the heat right down to low, and leave to cook gently for 30 – 35 minutes or until the onions are golden and sticky.
For the dressing: Place all the ingredients, except the olive oil, in a blender or food processor and blend to combine. Pour into a bowl and whisk in the oil.
To serve: Arrange the butternut, bacon and onion marmalade alternately in layers. Dress and top with toasted almonds. Best served warm, but equally good at room temperature.
The Global Table Verdict
This is one of those recipes I can genuinely see myself making for years and years to come. In fact I’ve already made it so many times that I’ve lost track! I’ve never yet had the need to make such a big quantity of it though, as my lunch or dinner parties tend to be mostly for around six or eight people. I’ve always just halved the recipe and that has been ample for up to six people as one of two side-dishes to a main course. I have mainly served it at room temperature, topped with lots of crunchy wild rocket, an addition not mentioned in the recipe although the picture in the book does show the presence of rocket. The rocket does make for a beautiful contrast of colour – and makes the dish seem more like a salad than simply a vegetable side-dish.