Jo, my best friend, is a woman who knows an awful lot about literature. Babs is our affectionate, Australian-ized nickname for Barbara Trapido, a South African born novelist whose small output is as impressive and enjoyable as it is addictive. Quite simply, both women are stellar.
Trapido’s characters are sexy, clever and literate, often artistic. Set in and around universities and academia, she revels, absolutely, in the romance of bohemian life. In fractured families and unlikely pairings; the ugliness and beauty of language itself. ‘Reading her,’ Anthony Thwaite wrote in the Observer, ‘is rather like being bombarded by sequins’.
Juggling draws together four people: Sparky Christina and her brilliant but melancholy adopted sister Pam; the beautiful, powerful Jago and otherworldly, grey Peter. All are bright, gifted students, each in possession of their own share of demons. A chance meeting of parents on a railway platform binds them, inextricably, to one another. There is love, unexpected and wondrous in its scope, woven with ill-conceived mayhem and devastating consequences; family breakdowns intertwine with Shakespeare, jugglers and even a smattering of mathematics. Unlikely pairings done with considerable wit and skill.
Food offers insightful portraits. Doesn’t it always? Christina and Pam’s father, the extravagant, brash Joe, wooed their gentle mother Alice on a picnic of truly epicurean tastes. Both daughters are repulsed by their father’s choice of aphrodisiac on that fated day – squid and calves sweetbreads – and delight in recoiling with mock-horror as Alice obligingly recounts the tale. Christina’s subsequent, feisty vegetarianism throws down a direct challenge to her father’s impressive, carnivorous culinary skills.
Cooking is a little like juggling. It’s about concentration, balance and practice - small feats of culinary dexterity. It’s also, sometimes, about pleasing the people you feed, taking into account their particular needs and wants. So, drawing an admittedly very long bow, these little tarts, a juggling act themselves of sweet and savoury, are just right for an offal-free seduction. Portable picnic fare to tempt even the staunchest carnivore.
Roasted pear and rocket tarts – makes 4 individual tarts
For Jo. The pastry is based on a recipe in a favourite book, Nourish by Sydney-based macrobiotic chef Holly Davis. Iku, her iconic kitchen, is legendary among my friends.
For the pastry:
50g (1 ¾ oz) of sesame seeds
150g (4 ½ oz) of spelt flour
50ml (scant ¼ cup) pale sesame oil (not the dark stuff)
75ml (scant 1/3 cup) of boiling water
1 tablespoon of tamari or soy sauce
Toast the seeds to a pale shade of gold in a dry pan. Cool on a plate.
Sift the flour into a roomy bowl and mix though the toasted seeds. Whisk the wet ingredients together, ensuring they are well combined. Using a fork, gradually add the wet mixture to the dry. Turn out onto a clean, dry surface and knead for a minute.
Cover the dough and rest for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200 C (400 F).
Roll pastry out thinly on a lightly floured surface to fit 4 tart tins, each with a removable base. This is a very forgiving dough – take your scraps, scrunch them into a ball and re-roll if necessary. Trim edges and bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Cool before filling.
4 ripe but firm pears
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely grated
2 teaspoons of olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
Honey, for drizzling
3 handfuls of rocket (arugula)
¼ cup of almonds, roughly chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon of sea salt
1/3 cup of olive oil
4 tart shells (see above)
4 tablespoons of soft goat’s curd cheese or labneh
Preheat the oven to 180 C (375 F). Quarter the pears lengthways, cutting away the cores. Place in a small baking tin.
Squeeze the ginger hard to extract the juice, as much as you can get, into a small bowl. Add the oil to the ginger juice, along with a little salt and pepper. Whisk. Pour this over the pears and toss them well. Roast for 45 minutes, turning each piece at least once to caramelise. Drizzle with a little honey.
Whiz the rocket, almonds, garlic and sea salt to an emerald green slush in a food processor or blender then, with the motor running, slowly trickle in the oil.
Cover the base of each tart shell with a spoonful of pesto. Break up a little goat’s curd and dollop as artfully as you like on top, no more than a generous tablespoon per tart, though. You don’t want to completely overdo it here. Arrange 4 pieces of roasted pear on top of each and dab with a little more pesto. Serve cold.