This beautiful picture is the work of Michael Le Grange, who is responsible for the images in my cookbook. I’m in awe of his skills as a specialist food photographer, especially as I’ve recently spent many hours sifting through the older posts on my blog in a frenzied outburst of housekeepery.
|Hot Caprese Tart on Phyllo Pastry. Image by Michael Le Grange,
© Random House Struik
This hasn’t been a pleasant exercise: I’ve cringed seeing the amateurish quality of the fuzzy photographs I posted when I started this blog six years ago. At the time, I could afford only the cheapest little point-and-click, and I really didn’t appreciate the importance of a good image when it comes to food bloggery. In fact, I was so wet behind the ears in 2007, when I started this blog, that I posted many recipes without any photographs at all. A good example is the recipe for my mum’s legendary Asparagus Tart.
My first impulse, as I started my clean-up, was to delete all my earlier blogposts on the grounds that they are severely embarrassing. (This humiliation is amplified when someone finds a recipe and eagerly staples a dreadful photograph of mine to their ‘Favourite Recipes’ board on Pinterest.)
However, as I worked through the posts, I discovered many favourite recipes I’d entirely forgotten about: my late mother-in-law’s lovely Almond Tart, for instance, and my mum’s gorgeous Ginger-Glazed Shortbread. Then there are those older recipes written in great detail that I’d never attempt these days because I don’t have the time: Old-Fashioned Quince Paste is one example.
After some hand-wringing, I decided to let the older blogposts stand. Not only have I rediscovered recipes that gave me enormous pleasure at the time I wrote about them, but I’ve also revisited happy times in my life.
I’ve never kept a written diary (mostly because my handwriting as a left-hander is so appalling that I can’t decipher a word) but I’m an ardent fan of diaries, coming as I do from a long line of South African women diarists.
|My great-great grandmother, Charlotte
Moor (née Moodie), was a prolific diarist
My ancestor Sophia Pigot, for example, wrote a famous diary when she arrived in South Africa as a wide-eyed girl in a family party of 1820 settlers. Charlotte Mary St. Clair Moodie, my great-great grandmother (left), was a poet and novelist whose extensive journals about the Boer War and her travails as a mother and farmer were privately published by my family a few years ago Her daughter, my great-aunt Shirley Moor, kept a wonderfully fierce and endearing diary (now in the Campbell Collections), which I spent many months transcribing and annotating in the mid-Nineties.
My mum, novelist Jenny Hobbs, also has a stash of hand-written diaries from her teen years, written in exercise books stuffed with tickets, postcards, ribbons and similar 1950s ephemera.
As the daughter of these indefatigable women, I’m a bit ashamed that I’ve never kept a pen-and-paper diary to pass on. All I can offer is this food blog, warts and all.
Perhaps some time in the future – in 30 years’ time, for example, when I’m sitting drooling in a wheelchair and sucking cauliflower cheese through a tube – I’ll read fondly through my blogposts, marvelling at a time when my children still wanted to live at home, and I had the time and inclination to make Half-Candied Kumquats Dipped in Dark Chocolate.
If you’ve read this far down, you surely must want the recipe.
This is an effortless and delicious dish for brunch or lunch, and one of my favourite recipes for feeding a crowd. You can read more about this dish here, if you can bear the embarrassing photographs.
Hot Caprese Tart
A classic Italian salad transformed into a ‘pizza’, albeit one with a base of crisp phyllo pastry. Children who might turn up their noses at a Caprese salad, that sublime combination of ripe tomatoes, milky mozzarella and peppery fresh basil, are surprisingly enthusiastic when they see it presented in a form they know and love. Double this recipe if there are children at the table.
6 sheets phyllo pastry
8 Tbsp (120 ml/120 g) butter
5 Tbsp (75 ml) finely grated Parmesan cheese
8 ripe tomatoes
600 g mozzarella
flaky sea salt and milled black pepper
a small bunch of fresh basil, leaves picked
3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil
Heat the oven to 170°C. Unroll the phyllo pastry on a board and keep covered with a damp cloth. Melt the butter in a saucepan or the microwave. Start by brushing the bottom and sides of a non-stick baking sheet, then line it with a sheet of phyllo pastry, allowing the edges to drape over the rim. Brush the phyllo layer generously with butter and sprinkle with a tablespoon of Parmesan. Add another sheet of phyllo and continue layering, brushing and sprinkling until you have used up all 6 sheets. Trim any ragged edges and round off the corners with a pair of scissors.
Thinly slice the tomatoes and the mozzarella and arrange the slices, alternately, in overlapping rows on the pastry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 170° C for 10-15 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and golden, and the cheese melted. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with basil leaves and drizzle with the olive oil. Cut into eight squares and serve immediately.
Serves 8 as a starter or side dish.
Cook’s Notes: Make the phyllo pastry base up to 6 hours in advance, but cover it tightly with several sheets of clingfilm so it doesn’t dry out. Slice the cheese and keep covered. The tomatoes should be sliced at the last minute.