Some nights I get home and all I can face cooking is a pot of pasta with olive oil and Parmesan. Or frozen fish and chips, oven-baked while I lie, semi-catatonic, in front of the TV. Or a can of soup. But then there are nights like last night when I spend most of the day thinking about dinner and get home in a state of anticipation, and all I want to do is cook! It all started when I went to Waitrose this weekend as opposed to our more usual grocery haunts of Tesco or Sainsbury’s. The main reason was to get a nice piece of fillet for our IMBB barbecue – usually I don’t go as they are always that much more expensive than the other two and also that much further from home, but they certainly are the place for finding specific items. The very helpful butcher even cut me a fillet to order and trimmed it – bonus! Anyway, while I was wandering around the fruit and veg waiting for the fillet to be cut, I found some fresh figs. I remember my mother going completely ga-ga over fresh figs in Vienna a few years ago as you almost never used to see them on the shelves in SA, and I also remembering not knowing what all the fuss was about – squashy fruit full of pips – ugh! In the 9 years or so since then, I have come round to her way of thinking but don’t see fresh figs (as opposed to dried ones) that often. So the sight of these figs brought to mind a fabulous starter I had about a year ago at Terminus. It was my last day at my previous job and my boss had kindly offered to take me out for lunch to Terminus. This was all fine and well but for the fact that: – I was stressed about getting everything done before I finished up; – I was flying home for 3 weeks and had been stressed with all the preparations that expedition that involved; – I was leaving for the airport directly from the office!! So by the time we got to lunch I was a quivering ball of hysteria and remember very little about what I had for mains (fish of some description) or dessert (cheeseboard?). But what stands out, clear as a bell is the starter. I must admit, I am a starter kind of girl. I find the portion size of a starter to be perfect; you can be more adventurous with the tastes and textures than you would with a main course; and of course, your palate is still clear and fresh, and your hunger intact when you encounter the starter.
I loved this starter so much that I made extensive mental notes and vowed to make it again, but until last night I had never got round to it. I wish I could say I thought it up because the combination of tastes and textures is simply perfect, but sadly, I have to admit that this is as close to a carbon copy as I could get of the one I had at Terminus. In any event, last night I made it as an experiment with Nick and I being the only test subjects, but given the success, I will definitely be making this for a dinner party in the near future. The tastes work perfectly together – the honeyed sweetness of the figs and the smoky flavours of the ham combined with the creamy feta, but with a sharp taste of the peppery rocket to cut through the richness. Heaven. The main course is nothing nearly as elaborate, but was also was inspired by a chance encounter with a piece of imported South African Kingklip in Sainsbury’s – something I’d never seen there before. So here you go – two recipes for a light summery dinner party!
CURED HAM AND ROAST FIG SALAD (serves 2)
4 slices of Parma ham or similar (I used Waitrose Black Forest ham which was lovely)
1 packet washed rocket (arugula)
2 fresh, ripe figs, quartered
a few cubes of feta cheese
good quality honey
good quality soy sauce
Place the fig quarters in an oven-proof dish and drizzle with the soy sauce and honey. Roast in an oven preheated to 190 Celsius for about 15 minutes, or until they soften. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Halve the packet of rocket leaves. Shape the leaves in a mound in the centre of each plate – I tried stuffing the leaves into a small ramekin and upending the ramekin on the plate, which worked fine.
Wrap 2 pieces of ham around each mound. I wrapped mine in a cross, but this is up to your personal preference.
Place the roast fig quarters around the rim of the plate, alternating each fig quarter with a block of feta. Drizzle the glaze from the figs onto the plate as desired and serve with a generous grind of black pepper.
KINGKLIP FILLET WITH A CRISPY HERB CRUST (serves 2)
1 Kingklip fillet per person (or use any firm white fish)
Breadcrumbs (as much as you can make from 1 slice of bread)
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
3 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
3 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
Rinse the fish and pat dry. Lightly spray an oven-proof dish with olive oil and lay the fish fillets flat in the bottom of the dish. Preheat the oven to 180 Celsius.
Mix the garlic, breadcrumbs and herbs together with enough olive oil so that the mixture forms a crumbly paste. Brush the fillets with olive oil (to make the paste stick) and press the paste firmly and evenly onto the exposed surface of the fillets.
Bake uncovered for 15 minutes, or until the fish is done to your liking. I served it with brown rice and drizzled the cooking liquid over the rice.