There is something very special about cooking with and eating fruits and vegetables that you’ve grown yourself. Each mouthful is heightened by the knowledge that this tomato or this aubergine has only been made possible through the toil and care you’ve invested in ensuring it’s health. Often those who call the city and suburbs home can’t always tend a vegetable patch or fruit tree but fortunately there are places where greens that are just as special as the ones you could grow yourself can be found.

At Terra Madre in the Elgin Valley, Nicole Precoudis and her family farms produce that is organically grown, ethically harvested and prepared with love. Hailing from Johannesburg where she ran two successful restaurants – Cilantro and Icon – Nicole fell in love with the Elgin Valley and decided to make the move a little over a decade ago. Having set up her beautiful farmstead and a handful of hectares of arable land, Nicole was then joined by her parents – mom Koula from Cyprus and dad, Chris from Greece. Having previously worked as a team in her restaurant days, Nicole’s love and appreciation for her parent’s input is evident in everything from how Terra Madre is run to the presence of Koula’s delicious Cypriot recipes in the farm kitchen.

Sitting on an apple orchard, an olive grove and a rambling field of vegetables, Nicole also runs a farm deli as well as a popular online store that ensures fresh produce is delivered weekly to customers. Visitors to the farm are also welcome to head off into the fields and pick their own vegetables. All of the produce farmed on Terra Madre is done so organically and Nicole employs a wonderful team that aids with the daily harvest.  I had the opportunity to gather my own crop with Freddy, Nicole’s right-hand man and chief gardener.

Choosing from bushels of Mediterranean rosemary, glossy spinach, enormous bulbs of fennel, bay leaves, leeks, ruby red beets, fistfuls of thyme, basil, savoury soup celery and flowering rocket, my crate was soon filled. Freddy then kindly rinsed my haul for me and bundled it all up in a cardboard box. Not content to let me stop with veggies, Nicole then plied me (not a difficult thing to do) with a selection of her enticing array of preserves, dips, spreads and bakes she makes in the Terra Madre kitchen. Creamy taramasalata, hummus, chicken liver pâté and tzatziki shared space with garlicky aioli, smoky aubergine dip and my personal favourite – the “Rockin’ Chilli” – an addictively spicy blend of fresh chillies grown on the farm, garlic, coriander and olive oil. A culinary talent to be reckoned with, Nicole also processes and bottles olive oil from the olives she cultivates at Terra Madre as well as offering a range of pure organic apple and pear juices. Not only content with making mezze, she also creates pies, soups, curries and broths all made with ethically-reared and antibiotic-free pasture beef, chicken and pork. Her spanakopita with spinach, haloumi and feta is also one of the best I’ve ever sampled – all wonderfully flaky pastry and notes of fresh dill.

It was with this impressive spread in mind that I ventured home laden down with Terra Madre produce and an idea for a recipe. Thus, in order to keep alive my unique experience in the Elgin Valley, I put together a simple, Mediterranean-inspired dish that showcases Nicole’s exquisite produce as well as her love for her farm and everyone that visits it. My spicy thyme-stuffed roast chicken with a creamy fennel and Langbaken Karoo Crumble cheese bake takes minimal amount of effort to prepare and makes an ideal relaxed weekend lunch. Here I’ve paired my recipe with a bottle of chilled Paul Cluver Sauvignon Blanc.

Spicy Chicken stuffed with thyme

Prep time: 15 mins /Cook time: 1 hour /Serves: 4 – 6

You will need:

  • 1 large organic chicken
  • 25ml extra virgin olive oil
  • a generous handful of fresh thyme, washed
  • 2 large lemons
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • Coarse ground sea salt and black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of Terra Madre “Rockin’ Chilli” sauce or two large red chillies, finely chopped
  • 250ml Blanc de Noir or dry white wine

Preheat your oven to 220°C. Wash off the chicken and pat it dry with paper towel. Crush or grate the garlic cloves and zest both lemons before extracting their juice. Keep the juiced lemon halves to stuff the chicken with.

In a mixing jug or bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, crushed garlic and chilli sauce and season to taste. Using a sharp knife, remove the preening glands (the two small yellowish nodules) from the chicken’s tail and loosen the skin over the breasts to create small pockets. Stuff the cavity of the chicken with the thyme and as many lemon halves as you can make fit. Place the chicken in a roasting dish and spoon over the marinade, being careful to poke the garlic and chilli into the pockets between breast and skin. Set the chicken breast-side down in the dish and pour the Blanc de Noir around the bird. Cover the entire dish with foil and roast in a preheated 220°C oven for 20 minutes before removing the foil and turning the oven down to 180°C for the remaining 40 minutes. The wine in the bottom of the dish will thicken with the roasting juices and get syrupy – perfect for mopping up with fresh bread. If halfway through cooking the dish requires more liquid, simply add in more wine or a little water and continue to roast.

Creamy Fennel Bake

You can cook the fennel bake at the same time as the roast chicken.

Prep time: 15 mins /Cook time: 1 hour /Serves: 4 – 6

You will need:

  • 3 to 4 large fennel bulbs, washed
  • 5 to 6 large cloves of garlic, unpeeled
  • 100ml fresh cream
  • 50ml dry white wine
  • Coarse ground sea salt and black pepper
  • 15ml olive oil
  • 200ml grated Langbaken Karoo Crumble cheese (Parmesan, Pecorino or an aged cheddar works well too)

Preheat your oven to 220°C. Using a mandolin or very sharp knife, carefully slice the fennel bulbs thinly and layer in a roasting dish. Scatter over the unpeeled garlic cloves (they will cook in their skins and give a lovely caramelised flavour to the dish). Pour over the cream and the wine and drizzle the fennel with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and scatter the Karoo Crumble over the top of the dish. Cover with foil for the first half-hour of baking then remove the foil so that the dish can brown.

Serve the fennel bake alongside the roast chicken with a simple dressed salad of greens and fresh crusty bread.

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