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A Day in the Country

With Camilla Comins’ move to the tiny Karoo town of Prince Albert, local produce is back on the menu

By | November 8, 2017 | Travel Leisure

The produce. It’s all about the produce. You can’t make good food without great ingredients, which is why Camilla Comins has made it her mission to meet as many local producers as possible since moving to the Karoo town of Prince Albert. And in doing so she’s gotten to know the locals really well.

If you’re one of these lucky folk, like Bokkie and Mary Anne Botha, you’ll get an invitation to Camilla’s harvest table held at her eatery Camilla’s Kitchen, located at renowned recreational cooking school African Relish. Here, the conversations about food are long and fruitful and there’s always a supplier or two at the table. The start of the olive harvest at Kredouw Olive Estate was reason enough for an autumn harvest lunch where Camilla’s star ingredients included the single-varietal favolosa olive oil from Kredouw, figs from Weltevrede Farm as well as local lamb from the Meat Room, launched in 2016 by Jordi van Hasselt, son of local cheese maker and farmer Gay van Hasselt of Gay’s Dairy. Jordi sources lamb and beef from a network of farmers in the area, and raises his own pigs fed on the whey from his mom’s dairy. 

‘We live in the desert; I see what I can make from what’s available in the local gardens’ Camilla Comins

Sourcing vegetables proves more of a challenge. At least that’s what Camilla thought when she first moved here in June last year. ‘We live in the desert,’ says Camilla. ‘I look at what’s around and see what I can make from what’s available in the local gardens.’ One such garden belongs to the town’s famous and recently retired GP, Pete Reinders, who grows any variety of heirlooms he can get his hands on. These are important, as Camilla’s starters include delicious things made with veggies, nuts and fruit. Peas and chickpeas become a spread, carrots and cauliflower are roasted with cumin and whizzed into a dip, while beetroot and cream cheese turn to pâté served with fresh baked bread. The African Relish garden provides pomegranates, bay leaves and fresh herbs. It also provides the picturesque setting amongst olive trees for guests to enjoy the flavours and inspirations set before them.

When Camilla’s not entertaining around a harvest table, she can be found most weekdays and Saturdays in the tiny kitchen bashing and chopping and whizzing as she crafts dinner for her restaurant from whatever she can source on a daily basis. ‘We do a sort of plat du jour for each service,’ she says. ‘Getting fresh ingredients for an extensive a la carte menu is a huge mission here.’ Camilla’s cooking is all about abundance and sustainability, the key principles on which she and husband Russel founded award-winning The Table at De Meye in Stellenbosch some years back. These same principles will no doubt gain her many accolades at her new abode in Prince Albert. 

Olive-and-Almond Tapenade

Camilla makes her own roasted-almond butter with soft-shell almonds from Kredouw Olive Estate. You can of course use almond butter off the shelf. It’s more and more widely available these days at select supermarkets and health stores countrywide.
Serves 6

400g chickpeas in brine
250g roasted-almond butter
250g pitted black olives
50ml olive oil 
50g raw almonds
cracked black pepper, to taste

1. Pour the chickpeas, with the brine, into a blender. Add the olives, olive oil, almond butter and almonds. (The order is important to get it to come together well. It will form layers.) Add in some cracked black pepper (but no salt) and whizz to a thick paste. Serve with lots of crusty bread.

Olive-Oil-Macerated Grapefruit Salad

Louisa Punt-Fouche of Kredouw shared this recipe with Camilla, which she then put her own spin on. It’s now a harvest-table favourite. Be sure to use lashings of the best extra-virgin olive oil you can find – the citrus should float in it.
Serves 6

1 red onion, finely sliced
4 grapefruit
15 to 20 whole olives
10ml sugar
lashings of extra-virgin olive oil
Maldon salt
freshly ground black pepper

1. Soak the sliced onion in water for an hour before use to sweeten it somewhat.
2. Peel and slice the grapefruit, arranging it in layered circles on a platter. Top with the onion and olives, then sprinkle the sugar over. Now pour generous amounts of olive oil over everything. It is best to leave this for at least 2 hours before serving. Season with salt and pepper before serving.

Buttermilk-Marinated Roast Leg of Lamb

Ask your butcher to debone and butterfly the leg of lamb. You are looking for about 1,2kg bone-out weight. Remind him to remove the little gland from the fleshy bit on top of the leg, as this imparts an unpleasant flavour to the meat.
Serves 6

1 deboned leg of lamb, butterflied 
45ml cumin seeds
500ml buttermilk
1 lemon

1. Dry roast the cumin in a hot pan until it starts to brown slightly and releases a rich cumin aroma. Cool, then run through a spice grinder or crush with a pestle and mortar.
2. Mix with the buttermilk and stir well to combine.
3. Place the lamb in a large dish and pour the buttermilk over it. Get your hands in and massage it into the meat. Leave to marinate overnight.
4. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Transfer the lamb to a roasting dish. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice all over the lamb, put the empty lemon husks in the dish and place it in the oven to roast for 35 minutes to just pink. Rest and slice at room temperature to serve.
5. Serve with a roast garlic aioli and a purée of figs and aubergines. 

Roast Pumpkin Salad
Serves 6

1kg pumpkin 
4 naartjies
150ml olive oil
15ml mixed spice
50g chopped almonds
50g mixed sprouts
sea salt and freshly ground
black pepper

1. Preheat your oven to 200°C. Slice the pumpkin into crescents with the skin on. Place in a roasting pan.
2. Halve the naartjies, then squeeze the juice all over the pumpkin, and place the empty husks in the dish with the vegetable. Pour in the olive oil, sprinkle the mixed spice over and cover the dish with tin foil. Pop in the oven for about an hour. The pumpkin will steam and soften.
3. When it is done, arrange the pumpkin in layers on a platter and reserve the pan juice. Sprinkle with almonds, sprouts and salt and pepper. Dress with the cooking juices and serve.

Pearl Barley and Couscous Salad
Serves 6 

Makings of the Pearl Barley and Couscous Salad

250ml pearl barley
250g couscous
30ml butter
salt and pepper
400g snap peas
200g baby tomatoes
200g olives
juice and zest of 2 lemons
100ml extra-virgin olive oil

1. Cover the pearl barley with 600ml water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer until tender – about 45 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to wash off the starch. Set aside.
2. Place the couscous in a large bowl with the butter. Pour 250ml boiling water over it and agitate with a fork until it is fluffy and all the water has been absorbed. Break up any lumps as you go.
3. Stir in the pearl barley and season with salt and pepper. 4. Julienne the snap peas, halve the tomatoes and squash the olives, removing the pits. Add these with the lemon juice and zest and stir through. Drizzle in the olive oil just before serving, and if you have them, add pomegranate jewels. 

Baked Quince with Blue Cheese

Choose quinces of roughly equal size, so they cook at the same pace. You will find that these things take a really long time to bake, so be cool. They are very rich done like this, so half a big quince is enough for one person.
Serves 6

4 fresh quinces
60g butter
100ml sugar
75g blue cheese

1. Preheat your oven to 180°C. Wash the quinces to remove the fluff from them. Place them in an oven dish and roast whole for up to 90 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the oven and cool. The skin may look a bit crackly and blackened in parts. That’s fine.
2. When they have cooled enough to handle, halve each quince, scoop out the seed cores. Put a blob of butter in each depression and scatter evenly with sugar. Pop them under the grill so the sugar can caramelise and the edges blacken a bit. A little chunk of blue cheese makes them perfect for serving either cold or hot from the oven. For a sweeter touch, you can serve with vanilla ice cream, but we like the blue cheese.

Camilla shelling almonds with Rachel Pretorius

Roast pumpkin and garlic

Camilla Comins juggling flowers and produce in her restaurant in Prince Albert

Around the table, clockwise from Amelia, sits Zara Wouters, Eugene Maritz, Rachel Pretorius, Mary Anne and Bokkie Botha

Pomegranate gin and tonic

Amelia Wasserfall dancing as if no one’s watching

Photographs and production Russel Wasserfall

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