When Libby Doyle of Quivertree Publications asked if I’d be interested in writing Reuben Riffel‘s new book, needless to say I jumped at the opportunity. It had the makings of a great book and all the elements I hold closest to my heart – local, seasonal, handmade with passion (lots of it), the odd heirloom ingredient, and packed with flavour.
Now I know what you’re all thinking… ‘what about those Robertson’s spice ads?’ Yes, perhaps they weren’t executed in the best fashion. I mean, even though EVERYBODY uses dried herbs – and so you should – who really makes mashed potatoes with them? But, I’ll tell you what came out of those ads: every South African now knows who Reuben is. Libby was sitting with Reuben in some obscure location discussing the design of the book when a street sweeper came up to them and said: ‘Hey, aren’t you that chef, Reuben? I’ve seen you on the Robertson’s adverts on TV.’ And Reuben deserves that – to be known by every South African as the talent that he is.
But back to the book: I made weekly trips to Franschhoek to sit for hours with Reuben in his home and at his restaurant, hearing his stories and breaking down the recipes. Our meetings usually took place the day after a shoot, so we’d pour over the polaroids and discuss each element of every dish.
With all that insider information how could I not try one or two of the recipes prior to print? This is one of the dishes I tried. Partly because the image, taken by Craig Fraser, is so incredibly striking and partly because the recipe is SO simple and allows the ingredients to speak for themselves: naartjies, vanilla sugar, rosemary. That’s it!
Naartjies macerated in vanilla and rosemary sugar
15cm rosemary sprig with flowers
Seeds from 2 vanilla pods (retain the pods)
70g caster sugar
10 small naartjies
A ripe new-season naartjie is perfect just as it is: this dessert is a delicious celebration of a truly South African ingredient. The vanilla and rosemary sugar is quick to make and makes a very nice staple to keep in the pantry, as the taste intensifies with time.
Break off the rosemary leaves, retaining the flowers to garnish. Mix almost all the rosemary leaves (retain a few to garnish) with the vanilla seeds, pods and sugar. Ideally the flavours should infuse through the sugar over a couple of days but if not, leave it to infuse for a few hours at least. Peel the naartjies, halve them widthwise and place, cut sides up, on a plate or tray. Cover the naartjie halves with the infused sugar. Allow to stand, at room temperature, for about 20 minutes. The sugar will start to dissolve and create a glaze for the naartjies. To serve, share the naartjies equally between 2 serving plates and garnish with reserved rosemary leaves and flowers.
Reuben Cooks Local will be on sale from the end of October at R390 per copy. Pricy? Wait until you see the size of it – it’s worth every South African cent.