An evergreen cook for all seasons!
There are chefs and
then there are cooks.
After many years of lauding and applauding the cult of ‘the chef’, it does appear timely that there is the return of ‘the cook’. That undervalued angel of the kitchen that cooks divinely and whose dishes, prepared with loving hands, we wish to return to again and again. Charlotte Hunt is one of those angels!
Her enthusiasm is infectious, Charlotte’s passion for food and her pleasure in preparing dishes, using only the freshest and most seasonal ingredients, is tangible. She has a simple, straightforward but sophisticated approach, drawing her inspiration from French and Italian country kitchens, where the tradition of superlative home cooking prevails. East does not necessarily meet west; rather there is purity in Charlotte’s style.There is never a sense of déjà vu in her kitchen.
Charlotte cooked, taught, catered and headed up superbly successful restaurants in Johannesburg, Cornuti as well as their restaurant at the Cradle of Mankind. Here her honest and colourful style gathered masses of admiring fans and garnered many accolades. Her menus are legendary ranging from intimate occasions to grand celebrations. Recently she created a stir at Hertford Hotel, traditionally known as a delightful wedding venue, with her gorgeous al fresco Sunday lunches, appealing and utterly delicious.
FOCACCIA BREAD WITH ROSEMARY
1/2 tsp caster sugar
2 tsp dried yeast or 15 g fresh yeast
800 ml lukewarm water
1 kg plain flour
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
flour or cornmeal for dusting
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling
1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary
(Makes 2 loaves)
Place sugar and yeast in a small bowl and stir in 60 ml water. Leave in a draught-free spot until thick and frothy.
Mix flour and salt in a bowl or in a food processor. Add olive oil, yeast mixture and three-quarters of the remaining water. Mix, then add remaining water, gradually, until the dough forms a loose ball.
Place on a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 minutes until smooth, or until a finger impression springs back immediately. Rub the inside of a large bowl with olive oil. Roll the ball of dough around in the bowl to coat with oil and then cut a shallow cross on the top of the ball with a sharp knife. Leave the dough in the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave in a draught free spot for 1-1½ hours until doubled in size (or leave in the refrigerator for 8 hours to rise slowly).
Punch down the dough. Divide into two portions. (At this stage the dough can be stored in the refrigerator for 4 hours, or frozen. Bring back to room temperature before continuing). Roll each portion of dough out to +- 28 x 20 cm rectangle and then use the heels of your hands, working from the centre of the dough outwards, to make a 38 x 38 cm rectangle.
Lightly oil two baking trays and dust with flour or cornmeal. Place a portion of dough in the centre of each tray and press out gently to fill the tray. Slide the trays inside a plastic bag. Seal and leave in a draught-free spot for two hours to rise again.
Sprinkle the bread with salt and rosemary before baking in the centre of the oven at 200ºC for 15-20 minutes. When done remove and cool on a wire rack.
CHÈVRE & BRINJAL
1 tsp ground cummin
1 tsp tumeric
1 red chilli crushed
2 cloves garlic
Basic tomato sauce: (See recipe below*)
4 firm brinjals, sliced to 1 cm
olive oil, to brush
2 tsp origanum, coarsely chopped, or dried
12 slices creamy goats’ milk cheese
Add cumin, turmeric, chilli and garlic to homemade tomato sauce and heat through.
Brush brinjals lavishly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and origanum then sauté in a pan or bake covered at 180ºC for 10 minutes, remove foil and continue baking until softened.
Layer brinjal together with tomato sauce and goats’ milk cheese in stacks of four. Top with sauce then scatter dressed watercress around the plate and serve at room temperature.
BAKED POLENTA WITH THREE CHEESES
2 tbsp coarse grain salt
75 g butter
4 tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp rosemary or thyme, roughly chopped
800 g can Italian tomatoes
Sea salt and milled black pepper
2 tbsp sugar
200 g gorgonzola, cubed
250 g mascarpone
125 g parmesan, grated
Bring 1,5 litres water to the boil in a heavy-based saucepan and add salt. Add polenta to the water in a gentle stream, whisking vigorously as you pour it in. Reduce the heat immediately so that the water is simmering. Stir continuously for the first 30 seconds to avoid any lumps appearing - the more you stir, the better the texture will be. Once you have stirred well at the beginning you can leave the polenta to mildly bubble away, stirring it every few minutes to prevent it sticking. Cook for 40 minutes. Add the butter and mix well.
Pour the polenta into a shallow casserole or baking tray about 5 cm deep (you want the polenta to come no more than halfway up the side of the dish). Leave to cool completely.
To make the tomato sauce, heat olive oil in a saucepan and cook garlic gently until light brown. Add half the rosemary or thyme and then the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until reduced to a thick tomato sauce.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Turn the polenta out of the dish and onto a board, then slice it horizontally in two. Pour half the tomato sauce into the bottom of the empty dish. Place the bottom slice of the polenta on top of the sauce, sprinkle with half the parmesan and herbs. Add remaining layer of polenta. Scatter the gorgonzola over the top. Dot the mascarpone over the polenta with a teaspoon and sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes. Leave to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
CITRUS STUFFED CHICKEN
2 kg free-range chicken
Garlic Butter Stuffing for Chicken Breasts:
120 g butter
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
crushed fresh garlic to taste
1 cup cooked rice
1 onion, finely chopped
2 crushed garlic cloves
100 g toasted pine nuts
50 g finely chopped rosemary
50 g finely chopped thyme
1 cup fresh white bread crumbs
1 egg beaten
Breast Stuffing: Combine all the ingredients and divide into two equal portions. Using your fingers, carefully lift and create a gap between the skin and breast of both breasts. Gently push the stuffing into these gaps, taking care not to tear the skins.
Chicken Stuffing: Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, gently folding them until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Spoon mixture into the chicken cavity.
Pat chicken with sea salt, freshly milled pepper, a little extra lemon and orange zest, and sprinkle with mustard powder and gently pat with olive oil. Roast at 200ºC for 40-50 minutes. It is a good idea to cover the chicken for the first 20 minutes with light weight aluminium foil (shiny side in).
CRÈME CARAMEL WITH COINTREAU
200 g sugar
60 ml boiling water
pinch cream of tartar
5 egg yolks
45 g sugar
5 ml vanilla essence
500 ml milk
500 ml cream
125 ml Cointreau liqueur
mixed berries of your choice
125 ml fresh orange juice
fresh cream for serving
Pour sugar and water into a heavy based saucepan. Melt over high heat, without stirring. Add cream of tartar. The sugar will slowly begin to change colour. When golden brown pour carefully to coat base of mould. Use a 1 kg non stick loaf pan. Allow coated moulds to stand for 10-12 minutes to cool.
Whisk together eggs, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla essence until light and frothy. Add milk, cream and liqueur. Pour into saucepan and heat until tepid. Pour into mould. Meanwhile pour boiling water into a baking dish. Place filled mould in the water, which should reach just over, halfway up the sides. Bake at 150 C for about 30-40 minutes. When custard seems fairly firm to the touch, test with a fine skewer.
To turn out, carefully run a sharp knife around the sides of each caramel. Dip base briefly into boiling water to melt caramel slightly. Wipe dry. Place a chilled serving dish on top of caramel and grasping both sides firmly flip over. Pour any extra caramel sauce around the custard.
Blend a quarter of the berries together with fresh orange juice to taste. To serve slice caramel, spoon berry sauce around the base of each serving, sprinkle each with remaining berries and serve with chilled thick cream.
Photography Franz Lauinger