Plate by Marlene van der Westhuizen: a reader’s impression

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Marlene van der Westhuizen
Publisher: Struik Lifestyle, an imprint of Penguin Random House
ISBN: 9781432309374

This reader impression was written and sent to LitNet on the writer's own initiative.

Plate features a truly sublime collection of 86 appetising main courses with a continental influence. Divided into three chapters – on meat, poultry and seafood – the hand-picked recipes look every bit as scrumptious as they taste. The beautiful full-page coloured photos by talented photographer Robbert Koene do the food justice. The attractive hard-cover publication of 192 pages, which is dedicated to Van der Westhuisen’s sister, Maria, boasts a selection of fine recipes ranging from popular classics to contemporary dishes that will inspire readers to cook hearty and healthy meals for family and friends.

Van der Westhuizen set out to write “[t]hat one cookbook that you can take off the shelf every day of the year with the assurance that you will always be able to find a simple yet original recipe to point the way to a delectable experience around your table”. She aptly calls it “An everyday kind of love story on a plate” – that is, “A gentle cookbook featuring only main courses, covering a vast array of delectable recipes – from a scrumptious steak with Gorgonzola cream to a creamy mac and cheese. A book that points the way to a fiery chili con carne as well as a rich and soothing oxtail soup.”

Mouth-watering dishes that feature meat include tasty beef bourguignon, beef fillet with a Roquefort and port sauce, kidney and mushroom pot pies, osso buco, slow-cooked veal shank, venison carpaccio, leg of lamb with garlic and onions, pork and cannellini beans, pork belly with apple cider, Italian vegetable minestrone, and a truly awesome goat’s-milk cheese tart.

Some of the recipes that contain poultry include the best chicken curry, bastilla with shredded chicken, chicken pie, chicken with pancetta and sage, chicken with a sherry and cream sauce, oven-baked chicken with ginger, spicy poussin with couscous, roast chicken with saffron, hazelnuts and honey, duck with red wine, and deboned, stuffed quail.

The impressive assortment of recipes that feature seafood includes haddock gratin, hake with tomatoes and green olives, kingklip with capers, steamed trout with ginger, poached kabeljou with vegetables and anchovy cream, squid with red pepper, garlic and chilli, salmon with black tapenade and basil, and a squid salad with mozzarella and parsley mayonnaise.

My much treasured copy of Plate now lives happily on a shelf in my kitchen where I can easily reach it. I will often consult and cook from it because I believe in serving proper meals for my loved ones. Van der Westhuizen’s cooking tips and comments are very helpful and informative. For instance, her recipe for asparagus risotto with toasted prosciutto comes with the instruction, “I keep the flowers of the asparagus tips whole and apart. Right at the end, fry them quickly in a little butter and spoon them into the plates of risotto as a delicious garnish just before serving.” She also insists that “If you are looking for a recipe that can feed a crowd, this [a flavoursome mushroom chicken with port] is the one.” My personal favourite recipe in the book is the great-looking chicken pie on page 116. Served with a crispy green salad it will have no one leave your table unsatisfied. The oven temperature and conversion tables on page 192 are also quite handy.

More about the author: Marlene van der Westhuizen loves to cook for family and friends in both their family home in Green Point, Cape Town, and their second home in Charroux, France. With two food shows for television and several cookbooks under her belt, she is truly an inspiration for everyone who loves food and kitchens. Her motto for Plate is “Earthy, honest, hearty and seductive”. This is exactly what I experienced the main courses to be.

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