Castled in her Duinhuis home, Isabella Niehaus is indisputably the reigning queen of West Coast cuisine. I’d often been regaled with stories of her langtafel lunches, tureens of fresh oysters, local wines and tables groaning under dishes of Isabella’s excellent cooking. I finally had the opportunity to experience one of her lunches for myself, as well as celebrate the launch of her latest cookbook – the aptly titled Duinhuis.
It was a bright and blustery afternoon in Langebaan, with the infamous Southeaster whipping the waves into herds of white horses when I arrived at the famed beach house. Matching its name in every detail, the Duinhuis sits perched atop a dune, with an uninterrupted view out over the azure waters of the lagoon. Enter through a terraced garden filled with the grey-green shade of olive trees and up the steps to where a shaded balcony brings guests out from Isabella’s open-plan dining room and one is truly able to appreciate the Duinhuis’ enviable location. Books, cooking paraphernalia and sculpture adorn every surface whilst the walls – painted a dramatic deep grey to complement the muted shades of the West Coast – are hung with paintings, portraits and photographs; many of Isabella herself or her son Taro, to whom her book is dedicated.
The woman in question is a mirror to her beautiful home. A genuinely warm personality welcomes me into her kitchen – which although filled with friends and helpers preparing lunch – she still encourages me to explore. Watching Isabella and her team cook is fascinating – all steam and scent and synergy. This energy coupled with the holiday atmosphere of the Duinhuis is testament to why guests of her langtafel lunches speak so highly of the experience. Outside on the deck a large platter of Saldanha Bay oysters is enjoyed alongside glasses of chilled Methode Cap Classique Blanc de Blanc by Tokara – the wine partner for today’s event. The vibe is relaxed, convivial and expectant as we are seated for lunch, with the first dish of the day a delicately curried medley of mussels and farmed crayfish with warm naan bread to mop up the sauce. Served with a crisp Tokara Reserve Collection Elgin Sauvignon Blanc 2018 which perfectly offset the creaminess of coconut milk in the dish, it was heavenly to enjoy seafood whilst overlooking the ocean on a sunlit afternoon. What followed was a veritable feast of recipes taken from Isabella’s book with my personal favourite being her wild kob marinated in soy, garlic and lemon before being cooked over the coals and served alongside a crisp green salad.
Simple pleasures at their best and Duinhuis is no exception – the book itself is a superb collection of welcoming, unpretentious fare – a true reflection of Isabella’s warm personality on every page.
Naturally I had to get my paws on a copy and cook one of her recipes back home. I’m a sucker for an onion tart and Isabella’s take on the classic French recipe for pissaladière had my mouth watering! While I’ve followed her recipe for the most part, I did opt to replace the black olives with chunks of Brie as I just so happened to have a wodge of the stuff that was already past it’s best and so in dire need of using. So without further ado, here’s my (almost) exact version of Isabella’s Pissaladière.
Prep time: 45 mins (incl. onion cooking) /Cook time: 25 mins /Serves: 6 – 8
You will need:
– a healthy amount of olive oil
– 6 brown onions or about 15 to 20 shallots, peeled and sliced
– 2 teaspoons of fresh garlic, finely chopped
– 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
– 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
– 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
– 1 400g roll of readymade puff pastry
– Coarse ground sea salt and black pepper
– 60g pitted Kalamata olives or 125g of Brie, roughly chopped
– Extra olive oil or a beaten egg to brush the pastry with
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Add a good glug of olive oil to a hot pan and sauté the onion slices, garlic, sugar, balsamic vinegar and thyme. As soon as the onions start to brown, reduce the heat and leave to simmer for 20 – 25 minutes. The aim is for the onions to caramelise and go syrupy in the sugar and balsamic. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry – making sure that its slightly larger than your baking sheet. About 1 – 2 cm should hang over the edges. Use a knife to run a light border around the pastry as this will form the tart’s crust. Spoon the onion mixture across the centre of the pastry and brush the tart’s edges with the beaten egg or olive oil. Scatter the olives or Brie over the top of the tart and bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.
As Isabella recommends, the pissaladière is best served with an icy Sauvignon Blanc. Oh and perhaps a seaside view!
Keen on having a copy of Duinhuis of your very own? You can shop Isabella’s beautiful book here.