One of the many things I love about McGregor is the Saturday market. It’s nothing fancy – but the stallholders are all locals and they make or grow their wares and sell them very plainly on a couple of trestle tables, set in the parking lot of the local NG Kerk. For many of the traders, their market sales help keep their own cupboards filled, so I try to buy my weekend’s provisions close to home.
This week was particularly good – everyone was back from holiday: the lady with the empanadas was there, the new Italian couple had made vegan bolognaise sauce, the woman with the dog treats had samples for the mutts and they were sitting attentively three deep at her table, Judy had salad and crackers, a new baker had bought kitke and ciabatta and Monica had a table full of goodies. She is my go-to for olive oil, pesto and preserves – and, on Saturday, she had small plastic containers full of white creamy stuff drizzled with green olive oil. “Labneh” she said, apparently great with all kinds of middle Eastern food – “the kind of things you like”. I’m not a huge fan of creamy cheese, but I was alone for dinner and curious to find out what this one tasted like. Plus I was impressed that someone had gone through the process of making it from scratch – taking the chance that her friends and neighbours would try it out. So a container went into my basket.
I scooped up a punnet of small tomatoes, grown at the local farm, a couple of peppers and a ripe butternut squash. Along with the empanadas, I figured, I had the makings of a great dinner. I roasted off the veggies – tomatoes and peppers with capers and some hitherto unused (and as it turned out – delicious) Italian anchovy paste, butternut with a good sprinkle of brown sugar and peppery olive oil. When the butternut cooled down I dolloped on some of the labneh. Then I warmed up the empanadas, threw together a lettuce salad, opened a bottle of crisp fruity rose, set the iPod to Jack Johnson and dinner was served.
The butternut was delicious, its sweet luxuriousness perfectly offset by the yoghurty sour of the Labneh. Very more-ish. Made me want to learn how to make the cheese – and then doctor it with additions. It’s so rich and tangy, it would make a great alternative to hummus, served with crisps. Or spooned over sautéed spinach with a sprinkle of dukkah. And it’s not that hard to make.
My Jack and I sat and ate our meal outside on the porch, watching as birds swooped in and out of the swimming pool – picking up their insect dinner. The sun was only just setting and I counted as the bell on the church struck five to nine (yep, a bit early that bell). It was exactly 12 hours since I had been at the market that morning. Slow food indeed. All grown within a few blocks of where we were sitting. Farm to table at its absolute best.
- First – buy a butternut in its original state, not one that has been chopped up before it ripened.
- Quarter it, remove the pith and pips, and then halve it again. If the skin seems very thin, leave it on. If not, now’s the time to take the skin off.
- Cut the flesh into good bite size pieces. Now toss them in good quality olive oil and set them out on a baking tray. It must be metal – you’ll need the transferred heat to caramelise the butternut.
- Sprinkle generously with brown or demerara sugar.
- Put into a hot 200 degree celsius oven (400F) – on the middle shelf
- When you start to smell the hot sugary butternut, give the pan a shake and flip the pieces over. The whole roasting process should take around 30 mins.
- When it is ready – and you have a crunchy sweet crust – remove from oven and allow to cool in pan.
To serve – stack the butternut in a pretty bowl, spoon labneh on top and add a gentle drizzle of olive oil. If you fancy a bit more crunch, toast off some pumpkin seeds and sprinkle on top.
Left-overs will keep beautifully for lunch the next day – eaten along with toasted ciabatta and whatever’s left of the wine.