Friday, 30 October 2009

Salad of Green Beans with Lemon, Garlic, Toasted Hazelnuts and Peppered Cream Cheese

That's a long-winded title for a plain little dish, but this salad is so quick to make, and so tasty, that I think it deserves a grand  headline.

Lemon, beans and hazelnuts may sound like an unusual combination of ingredients but the whole thing is bought together by the addition of a little soy sauce to the garlicky dressing. I am mad about the combination of soy sauce and lemon juice.

I've used a peppered, crumbly Jersey milk cream cheese from Fairview (available at Woolies in South Africa), but you could use any peppered feta or goat's milk cheese in this recipe.

Salad of Green Beans with Lemon, Garlic, Toasted Hazelnuts and Pepper Cream Cheese

450 g young green beans, topped and tailed
3 Tbsp (45 ml) hazelnuts
1 fat glove garlic, peeled
the juice of a lemon
a pinch of mustard powder
1 tsp (5 ml) soy sauce
1/3 cup (80 ml) olive oil
peppered cream cheese or feta

Cook the green beans in plenty of boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes, or until just tender-crisp. Or microwave them on high for 3-4 minutes in a covered glass dish to which you have added a splash of water.  Plunge immediately into a bowl of iced water to set the colour.  Drain in a colander. Toast the hazelnuts in a hot dry frying pan for minute or so, watching like a hawk that they don't burn.  Chop roughly and set aside.

Crush the garlic and whisk in the lemon juice, mustard powder, soy sauce and olive oil.  Pour the dressing over the beans, toss well and season to taste. Allow to stand for 10 minutes.  Just before serving, crumble the cheese into the salad and sprinkle with hazelnuts. Serve immediately, at room temperature.

Delicious with pan-fried salmon.

Serves 6 as a side salad. 
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Saturday, 24 October 2009

Moroccan-style Tomato and Preserved-Lemon Salad with a Tomato & Paprika 'Broth'

Made with red onion, preserved lemons, capers, radishes and green olives, this Moroccan-style salad is not for shrinking palates. But I love these boisterous flavours, and would be happy to eat a bucketful. The picture below, taken in fading light, doesn't do justice to the brilliant colours of this salad.

If you're not sure your family will go for this, treat it like a rough-cut salsa and serve each person just a dollop to pep up grilled chicken, spicy fish or steak. Cubes of mild creamy feta cheese (look, Greece is not that far from Morocco) might entice kids and teens to try it. If you're presenting it on its own as a starter or snack, provide plenty of hot pita bread to soak up the juices.

Perfectly red, ripe tomatoes and fresh paprika and cumin are essential if the dressing is to taste like the knees of the bees (and there should be lots of dressing; it should be like - without wanting to sound poncy - a cold broth). The pips and pulp are scooped out, but they are squished through a sieve to make the dressing (British chef Heston Blumenthal recently proved that the wobbly inside bits of tomatoes are packed with the elusive fifth flavour, umami; see my notes about this here.) If you don't have preserved lemons to hand, leave them out.

Tomato, Onion and Preserved-Lemon Salad with Tomato & Paprika Dressing

6 ripe, very red, but not mushy tomatoes
1 red onion, peeled
half a preserved lemon (or more, to taste)
6 radishes
12 green olives
a small bunch each of fresh coriander, mint and flat-leaf parsley
3 T (45 ml) capers

For the dressing:
2 red, ripe tomatoes
about 4 T (60 ml) olive oil
the juice of half a lemon
one and a half tsp (7.5ml) fresh paprika
1 tsp (5 ml) freshly ground cumin

First make the salad. Cut a cross on the stalk end of each tomato and cover with boiling water. Leave for a minute or two, and then, as soon as you see their skins begin to furl and loosen, scoop them out of the hot water and slip off their skins. Set a sieve over a separate bowl.

Cut the tomatoes in half, scoop out the pulp and pips with a teaspoon, and place the pulp in the sieve to drain. Cut each tomato half in half again, or into thirds, if you are using big tomatoes. Halve the onion lengthways, place the halves cut-side down onto a board, and slice finely into crescent-moon shapes. Rinse the preserved lemons under running water to remove any excess salt. Using a sharp knife, held parallel to the chopping board, slice away any pulp and white pith. Cut into fine slivers. Slice the radish into thin discs. Depip the olives and cut them in half.

Finely chop the coriander, mint and parsley. Put the tomatoes, onion, lemon slivers, radish, olives and chopped herbs in a salad bowl, add the capers and toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make the dressing, quarter the two tomatoes, place in a liquidizer or food processer and whizz to a chunky pulp. Pour the pulp into the sieve containing the reserved tomato pulp and pips. Using the back of a soup ladle, press down on the mixture to extract the juice. Discard the pulp. To the tomato juice, add all the remaining dressing ingredients. (You may need to add more olive oil, depending on the size of the tomatoes you've used.) Whisk well and pour over the salad. Toss well, cover, and set aside for 30 minutes for the flavours to mingle.

Serves 6.

This recipe was inspired by a salad from Moroccan: A Culinary Journey of Discovery by Ghillie Basan. Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Friday, 23 October 2009

Teen fodder: War-time Meat Pies with Mashed-Potato Pastry

War-time Meat Pies with Mashed-Potato Pastry. These ivy-patterned
plates from the 1930s or 40s belonged to my grandmother Cecilie Walters
I'm always on the look-out for rib-sticking dishes to feed the army of young people who use my house as a base-camp, and I was intrigued by this war-time recipe for a pie made of potato pastry filled with minced beef.

'Do Try These Inviting Patties!' says the recipe, and I did, adding several extra ingredients.

The recipe comes from a 1941 issue of Woman's Weekly, which I picked up in my local charity shop, along with a pile of quite wonderful knitting patterns from the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
This pie is sort of a cross between a pasty and a cottage pie. The pastry holds its shape very well, is easy to handle and cooks to a lovely golden brown.

I expected the pastry to be somewhat stodgy,  but it wasn't - although it's not what I would call feather-light.

'Do Try These Inviting Patties!'
You can make these up to a day in advance and store them in the fridge until you're ready to bake them. I made individual pies using small flan tins, but you could quite easily use ceramic ramekins, deep muffin pans or a single large pie dish.

Best served hot, with plenty of tomato sauce.

The savoury mince filling below is a lot sexier than that given in the original recipe (see pic below). You can use any savoury pie filling you like, as long as it's not too sloppy. Next time I make these, I'll try them with  strips of beef in a peppery gravy; they would also be good with a filling of asparagus in a cheesy white sauce (recipe here).

War-Time Meat Pies with Potato Pastry

For the filling:
2 Tbsp (30 ml) vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 large carrots, coarsely grated
1.5 kg lean minced beef (ground beef)
350 ml wine, white or red
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
a few sprigs of thyme, leaves stripped
1 Tbsp (15 ml) good dried oregano, or a few fresh rosemary needles, finely chopped
2 Tbsp (30 ml) tomato paste
2 Tbsp (30 ml) dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp (30 ml) Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper

For the pastry:
450 g floury potatoes (about 6 large potatoes), peeled and quartered
125 g butter, melted
about 2 cups (500 ml) white flour, sifted (see recipe)
2 tsp (10 ml) baking powder
1 tsp (5 ml) hot English mustard powder
1 tsp (5 ml) salt, or more to taste
white pepper
1 cup (250 ml) grated cheddar [optional]
a beaten egg

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onion and grated carrot until just softened. Turn up the heat to its maximum and crumble in the minced beef, in batches, stirring well as it browns.  Drain away any excess fat (a good way to do this is to tip the whole lot into a large sieve set over a bowl). Add the wine and the garlic and cook briskly until most of the wine has evaporated.  Now stir in all the remaining filling  ingredients. Turn down the heat and simmer gently for an hour, or until the mixture is slightly thickened. If it looks a little dry, add some water or chicken stock.

To make the pastry, boil the potatoes in plenty of salted water until quite tender.  Drain.  Pour in the melted butter and mash until smooth.   Sift the flour, mustard powder, baking powder, salt and pepper into a separate bowl.

Now add the flour, in increments, to the mashed potato, stirring well to form a pliable soft dough. You may not need all of it - this will depend on the size and flouriness of the potatoes you used. Add the cheese, if you are using it.  Flour a pastry board well and lightly roll the pastry out to a thickness of about 7 mm.

Cut out circles the same size as your muffin tins or flan case (use a cookie cutter, or cut around the base of an upturned bowl). Gently press the pastry onto the base and sides of the tins. Brush the rims with a little beaten egg and fill the cases with the mince.

Gather up all the pastry, roll it out again, and cut out enough lids to cover all the pies. Drape the lids over the pies and, using your fingers, gently seal the edges.  Brush all over with beaten egg. Cut a small slit in the top of each pie.  Place in a hot oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown.

Makes 8 individual pies; serves 8.

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Friday, 16 October 2009

Easy Chicken, Feta and Bacon Roll-Ups in a Tomato & Rosemary Sauce

Stuffed with feta, garlic and sage, rolled in bacon, crisped in a hot pan and then finished off in a buttery tomato sauce, these chicken-breast rolls make a delicious family meal. Okay, they do involve a little fiddling, but I reckon it's worth the effort. This is a low-carb recipe suitable for diabetics, or for anyone on a #LCHF regime. 

Chicken breasts, being so lean and light, feature on our family menu at least twice a week, but  I have to say that a single deboned chicken breast is not nearly enough to satisfy the appetite of a teen who has grown so tall I have to stand on a ladder to lecture him.

What he really needs is several thick ropes of fillet steak - heck, a whole cow - every week, but as these are beyond our family budget, I'm always looking for ways to stretch the common-or-garden (and shockingly expensive) breast of a chicken.

You can use ordinary tinned tomatoes for this sauce, but good, deep-red plummy Italian ones will make the difference. I buy tinned tomatoes in bulk (along with superb olive oil, vinegar, olives, pasta and polenta) from the excellent Italian supermarket Super Sconto, in Norwood, Johannesburg.

Leave the cream out if you are watching your weight.  No, on second thoughts, leave the cream in.  The combination of cream and tomatoes is  sublime.

Easy Chicken, Feta and Bacon Roll-Ups in a Tomato & Rosemary Sauce

6 deboned, skinned chicken breasts
3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil, plus extra for frying
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 'wheels' (about 200 g) feta cheese
12 slices streaky bacon
salt and milled black pepper
18 fresh sage leaves
chopped parsley, to garnish

For the tomato sauce:
4 Tbsp (60 ml) butter
1 large onion, peeled and very finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2  x 210 g tins good Italian canned tomatoes, chopped, plus their liquid
1 x  8 cm sprig fresh rosemary
½ cup (125 ml) dry white wine
salt and milled black pepper
½ cup (125 ml) cream
a little water, to thin

First make the tomato sauce. Melt the butter over a medium flame, add the onion and cook gently for 4-5 minutes, or until it's soft and just beginning to turn golden. Stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute, without allowing it to brown. Add the chopped tomatoes, rosemary and wine, season to taste with salt and pepper, and simmer gently for 30-45 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Fish out the sprig of rosemary, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream, a tablespoon or two at a time to prevent the sauce from curdling.  If the mixture seems too thick and gloopy, thin it with a little water. At this point, you can liquidise the mixture using a food processor or stick blender, but I prefer it slightly chunky. Set aside.

While the sauce is cooking, prepare the chicken. Place a breast between two large sheets of clingfilm [saran wrap]. Using a rolling pin (or an empty wine bottle), gently bash it so it flattens out to about 5 mm thick.  Don't smack it too hard, or it will break apart into strings: a gentle, persistent pounding, starting from the middle and working outwards, is the way to go. Repeat with the remaining breasts.

In a little bowl, mix together the olive oil and crushed garlic.  Cut the feta cheese into batons that are about as thick as your ring finger, and three-quarters its length.  Toss the feta pieces in the olive oil and garlic mixture. Place two strips of streaky bacon on a chopping board, about 1 cm apart. Lay a flattened chicken breast crossways on top of the bacon strips.  Place a baton of oil-and-garlic coated feta on the breast, add two sage leaves, and season with salt and pepper.  Starting from the side closest to you, pick up the edge of the breast and the bacon strips and roll into a neat, tight bundle. Tie two lengths of kitchen string crossways around each bundle, tuck a large sage leave under the strings, and trim away the excess string. Repeat with the remaining breasts.

Heat a big pan over a medium-high heat and add a splash of olive oil.  When the oil is very hot - but not smoking - add the chicken rolls and brown them - about a minute and a half a side - until the bacon is crisp.  Drain any excess fat from the pan. Now pour the reserved tomato sauce over the chicken rolls, turn down the heat, cover the pan with a tilted lid and simmer very gently for 7-10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked right through but still very tender.  If you're not certain it's cooked, make a sneaky cut on the underside of the thickest breast: if there is no trace of pink, it's done.

Serve hot, topped with chopped parsley and a swirl of olive oil.  Lovely with crunchy potato wedges and a green salad.

Serves 6.

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Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Ugly 50s food made yummy: Non-Slip Two-Tone Half-Devilled Stuffed Eggs

My two-tone devilled eggs, looking
just a little lurid.
If you're 40 or over, you may remember stuffed eggs - those ubiquitous canapés of the fifties and sixties - with joy.

Or your stomach may tremble at the childhood memory of rubbery egg-white halves packed with lumpy yellow paste, made doubly vile by the addition of pimento-stuffed olives and hairy whorls of anchovy.

It is certainly off-putting looking at photographs of stuffed and devilled eggs in mid-century cookbooks.There is scarcely a recipe book of that era in my collection that doesn't feature them in all their lurid egginess; in fact, I would go so far as to say that the stuffed egg - along with the tuft of curly parsley - was the number-one subject choice among food photographers at the time.

Ugly Fifties stuffed eggs
Fifties Food.
I reckon that stuffed eggs - in all their curried, caviared, capered, devilled, parsleyed and anchovy-draped forms - were on the wane as a party food by the early seventies, and that by the 1980s they had faded away with barely an eggy squeak to mark their departure.

Still, I think a proper stuffed egg is a most superior and delicious snack, and I am frustrated that this gentle comfort food has fallen so far out of fashion in the last 30 years or so. I'm not alone in feeling sentimental. My late mother-in-law used to get a bit misty-eyed when she described her mother's devilled eggs, with their delicate criss-crossing of anchovies, while my own mum hooted with laughter when I told her I was writing about stuffed eggs: 'At teen parties in the Fifties, younger brothers used nick a few stuffed eggs off the buffet table and push them up car exhaust-pipes,' she told me. 'When the cars started, there'd be a muffled rumbling and the eggs would shoot out of the exhausts. Everyone fell around laughing.'

 There are a few drawbacks to the classic stuffed egg, though: one, there's always too much egg white. Two, they are slippery underneath, so they skate around the platter and spring out of your fingers as you grab them.

If made carelessly, the filling will be lumpy and - oh, horror - there will be a greeny-black ring around the yolk hole. And there's always too much for a mouthful (not necessarily bad; half the fun of eating a stuffed egg is having a bulging cheek on one side and, on the other, creamed egg yolk toothpasting onto your shirt front)

I have tried to fix some of these problems in the following recipe. Look, I know these eggs look twee. Such fussinessness involving piping bags and dainty bits of non-slip toast is not my usual style. But do give this recipe a try next time you have a party.

This is a ridiculously long post for such a simple delicacy but, if you like stuffed eggs,  I hope you will indulge me and read it to the end.

There are two important points: one, please sieve the egg yolks so there is not a trace of a lump. Two, use a little good, real mayonnaise, not nasty salad cream: the egg should taste of egg, not vinegar. You can, of course, add any other flavouring you like to the yolk - mashed sardines, for example, are retrolicious. If you want the full fifties experience, steer clear of any newfangled 'garnishings' (chillis, sundried tomatoes and coriander spring to mind) and stick to anchovies, caviar, capers, green olives and parsley. Please don't mix the yolks with tomato ketchup. Or avocado, unless you're planning to serve them to kids (with obligatory ham).

If you can't be bothered to make two-toned eggs, divide the plain mixture and the devilled one between the boiled egg whites.

Oh, one more thing: an essential ingredient is white pepper. This spice has also fallen out of favour over the past decades, as cookery writers have doggedly insisted on only freshly milled black pepper. But fresh white pepper has a distinctive and lovely flavour all of its own and, besides, it doesn't freckle your lovely yolks with black dots.

Non-Slip Two-Tone Half-Devilled Stuffed Eggs

six large eggs
2 Tbsp (30 ml) softened salted butter
a dash of  home-made (or Hellman's) mayonnaise, or a little olive oil
salt and white pepper
½ tsp (2.5 ml) hot English mustard powder
1½ (7.5 ml) fresh, mild red curry powder of your choice
a pinch of turmeric
a pinch of paprika
6 slices of white bread
vegetable oil for frying

To garnish:
cayenne pepper

First boil the eggs. It doesn't matter how you do this (every cook has their own theory about how to make and peel a perfect hard-boiled egg; if you don't, please refer to the excellent instructions of St. Delia).  What does matter is that the white is firm, and that the yolks are just cooked through, with not a sign of glassiness.  Drain off the boiling water and run cold tap water over the eggs until they are cool to the touch.  Set them aside for an hour to cool completely.

Peel the eggs. Cut the tip (about 5 mm) off each end of the egg so that you have a barrel shape, and then slice the barrel in half, crossways. Using a teaspoon, carefully remove the egg yolks.  (Don't worry if the egg yolks weren't perfectly centred on the white as they cooked: all this will be hidden under artful piping).

Push the egg yolks through a metal sieve, or a potato ricer if you have one, into a bowl. Using a fork, whip in the softened butter and just enough mayonnaise to make a smooth, thick paste that will just hold its shape.  Add the mustard powder and season to taste with salt and white pepper.

Divide the mixture in half, and to one half add the curry powder, turmeric and paprika. Taste the mixture. If it seems too pale or mild for you, add a dot of tomato paste, a glug of Tabasco, some cayenne pepper, or any spice you like.

Fit a piping bag with a large star nozzle. Hold the bag loosely, halfway up, in one hand and fold the top of it down and over your fist.  Spoon the plain egg mixture into the bag, placing it only on one vertical half of the bag (as if you were packing pencils into the left side of a cardboard tube).  Now spoon the devilled mixture into the gap, so that you you have two vertical 'pipes' of different-coloured mixture.  Pull up the sides of the piping bag, twist the top of the bag, and set aside while you make the toast.

Using a cookie cutter or wine glass, cut out 12 small circles - or stars - out of the bread. Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and fry until golden and crispy on both sides.  Drain on a piece of kitchen paper.

Arrange the toast on a platter.  Put the prepared egg slices, broad side up, on the toast bits. Carefully pipe a big, billowing mound of filling onto each egg half.

Add any toppings you like - I've used mustard flowers and parsley in the photograph -  and serve immediately.

Serves 6, as a snack. 

Cook's Notes

- don't use very fresh eggs, as you won't be able to peel them neatly.  Your eggs should be four to five days old.  Eggs should be stored in a cool place, and not in the fridge (unless the weather is exceedingly hot).

- these eggs will keep at room temperature for two or three hours after they've been filled, provided that they're covered to prevent any crustiness setting in.  Put them in a deep dish and seal it with cling film.

- don't put them in the fridge after filling them. A cold stuffed egg is shuddery.

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Sunday, 11 October 2009

Beetroot Hummous with Wilted Greens, Feta and Lemon

Blood, iron, rubies and cold water running over pebbles come to mind as I fall like a deprived vampire on this earthy feast. Sorry to come over all po-hetical, but the mysterious deliciousness of brilliant-cerise beetroot hummous piled on dark, lemony greens sends my brain-buds into rhapsodies.

Beetroot Hummous with Wilted Greens, Feta and Lemon
And do you like this gorgeous red-glass plate? (Er, it might actually be yours, because I can't remember ever having bought it, and found it in my cupboards during a turf-out. If it is yours, may I keep it?) The red of this dish was so intense that my cheapie camera couldn't cope with it, which is why this picture looks rather redly surreal.

I developed this recipe by combining two dishes I  have so enjoyed this year: Mike Karamanof's fresh beetroot greens with olive oil dressing, and the lovely beetroot, cumin and garlic dip my sister Sophie made me last time I was in Cape Town.

I've added chickpeas and tahina to the beetroot to make a more substantial dip, and feta cheese to the greens for a lovely, creamy and salty contrast.  Any sort of dark, leafy green will do for this recipe: I used a combination of Swiss chard and beetroot greens, but it would also be good with baby spinach leaves, pak choy, or similar.

If you don't feel like eating wilted greens, make up a batch of beetroot hummous, anoint with a good slick of olive oil and cover with cling film. It will last up to four days in the fridge, and is just heavenly spread on toast, piled on a baked potato or spooned directly from the dish into your mouth, for breakfast.

I  haven't given exact quantities here: taste the dish as you go along. This dish is best served warm.

Beetroot Hummous with Wilted Greens, Feta and Lemon

For the hummous:
6 medium-sized beetroot bulbs, untrimmed
6 fat cloves fresh garlic, unpeeled
salt and milled black pepper
a little olive oil for baking
1 Tbsp (15 ml) tahina (sesame-seed paste)
a can of chickpeas, drained of their liquid
1 and 1/2 tsp (7.5 ml) freshly ground cumin
the juice of a lemon
about 125 ml (half a cup) olive oil

For the greens:
a large bunch of young Swiss chard, baby spinach, beetroot greens or similar
the juice of a lemon
olive oil
salt and milled black pepper
feta cheese

First make the hummous. Preheat the oven to 180° C. Lightly scrub the beetroot bulbs to remove any grit, but don't trim or peel them. Put them, and five cloves of unpeeled garlic, on a large sheet of tin foil. Add a pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper, and drizzle over a little olive oil. Fold up the edges of the foil and seal tightly to make a loose parcel. Place the parcel in the hot oven and bake for an hour or two (the time will depend on the age of your beetroot) or until the beetroot is quite soft when pierced with a sharp knife.

Trim off the tails and stalks of the beetroot. Cut into cubes and place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade (if you're making  the hummous on its own, reserve half a beetroot, and a few chickpeas, for garnishing).  Squeeze the softened garlic cloves out of their papery casings and add to the food processor bowl along with the tahina, chickpeas, cumin, lemon juice and half  (about 60 ml) of the olive oil. Blitz the mixture, at high speed, to a purée, adding just enough extra olive oil to create a smooth, thick paste.   Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  If the hummous needs a little more zing, add another squeeze of lemon juice. Decant into a bowl. (If you're serving this as a dip on its own, top with the finely diced reserved beetroot, a few whole chickpeas, a dusting of cumin and/or cayenne pepper and olive oil.) Cover with clingfilm and set aside.

Now prepare the greens. Heat a big saucepan, wok or frying pan. Trim away any very thick stalks (but leave all the slender remaining stalks on). Rinse the leaves well under cold running water, give them a good shake, and put them, with water still clinging to their leaves, in the hot pan. Cook for seven to ten minutes, tossing frequently, or until the stalks are tender ( but have a little crunch remaining) and most of the liquid has evaporated. Don't worry if the greens begin to lose their fresh green colour as the stalks cook: this is vegetable dish, not a salad!  Remove from the heat, drain off any remaining liquid and dress with lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss well.

Swirl the the greens onto a warmed platter and crumble over the feta cheese.  Pile the warm beetroot hummous on top.

Lovely with fresh bread for mopping up the juices.

Serves 6 as a starter or 8 as a side salad.

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Sunday, 4 October 2009

Puffy 'Focaccia' with Baby Sausages, Herbs, Feta, Garlic and Olive Oil

Puffy focaccia with baby sausagesI have put the word 'puffy' in the name of this recipe not only because it's a most lovely word, but also because this quick bread billows up beautifully in the oven, creating a salty golden crust enclosing little snappy sausages, fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil: perfect for a gang of hungry teens.

I like this recipe because frankly (ha ha), I adore pork sausages in every form. Also, it reminds me of those wonderful childhood comfort foods: Toad-in-the Hole (pork sausages baked in a Yorkshire-pudding batter), and Pigs in Blankets (see Jamie Oliver demonstrate this recipe here).

If you don't eat meat, or pork, omit the sausages and add a few imaginative ingredients: cubes of hard cheese, finely snipped anchovies, caramelised onions, oil-soaked sundried tomatoes, and so on.

For this to be a quick meal, you will need to buy a ball of fresh white bread dough from your local supermarket or bakery. Most supermarkets in South Africa that have in-house bakeries (Spar and Pick 'n Pay spring to mind) will sell you ready-to-bake dough, for a pittance, but you do need to ask at the counter for it. You can also buy dough from any commercial bakery. The dough for the dish photographed here cost me just R6 (that's less than a dollar).

Of course, if you have the energy, you can make the dough yourself: here's a recipe for a basic white bread dough.

Quick meal: Puffy 'Focaccia' with Sausages, Herbs, Garlic and Olive Oil

A ball (about 600 grams) of prepared white bread dough
12 pork cocktail sausages (chipolatas) or any similar cocktail sausage
2 t (10 ml) cooking oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
half a cup (125 ml ) good olive oil
5 sprigs of fresh rosemary, stripped from their stems and finely chopped, plus a few extra sprigs
5 sprigs of fresh oregano, finely chopped
5 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves stripped from their stalks
2 'wheels' of feta cheese (about 200 grams)
flaky sea salt
freshly milled black pepper

Heat the oven to 200°C.   Heat a frying pan over a brisk heat, add the cooking oil and the sausages, and cook for six to ten minutes, turning the sausages frequently, so that they are nicely browned on all sides (but still a little pink in the middle).   While the sausages are browning, prepare the dough:  using your fingers, rub a light film of oil all over a shallow baking tray or cookie sheet. Place the ball of dough on the sheet and gently press and stretch it out so that it covers the entire base of the cooking sheet.  You will find that that dough tends to creep back a bit, but persevere with pushing and stretching until the base of the baking tray  is evenly covered.

Using your bunched fingers, make deep indentations all over the dough. In a separate bowl, mix together the crushed garlic, olive oil and chopped herbs.  Pour this mixture over the dough surface and use your fingers to poke and prod it into the indentations. Crumble the feta cheese into chunks and press into the dough surface.  Remove the sausages from the pan, drain off any fat, and press them deep into the surface of the dough, randomly, or in strict lines, as you please.  Sprinkle the surface of the dough with flaky sea salt and a showering of black pepper. Press in the remaining sprigs of rosemary.

Place in the hot oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until puffy, golden and cooked right through. Halfway through the baking time, open the oven door and press the sausages deep into the dough. Loosen the bottom of the bread with a metal spatula, slide onto a bread board and serve piping hot.

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