In 2004 fresh out of University with an Honours Degree in Drama, and unemployed, I followed in the footsteps of so many other young South Africans and went to London. Yeah, lucky them. To start off with I had some serious misconceptions:
1. The men in London don’t speak like Colin Firth in BBC’s Pride and Prejudice. In fact, where I was living, most people had simply gotten rid of the letter ‘t’.
2. People don’t give a rat’s ass that you come from Africa. You are not a novelty.
3. There is no crime. This was disproved within 5 minutes of sitting down in a Costa’s coffee shop – a man ran in from the street, went to the fridge, took a sandwich and a coca cola and ran back out. No, he did not work there.
4. Making friends is easy. Yes, especially if you smile at people on the tube. DON’T smile at people on the tube.
5. You will find a great job. I started off as a waitress in a hotel, my job was to serve people dinner rolls using a knife and spoon as a pair of tongs. I was useless and ended up flicking the rolls onto the plates.
Despite some difficulties there were many things to love about living in such a vibrant city: Book shops everywhere, Topshop on Oxford street, Oxfam shops, Tate Modern, Stella Artois, Belgian waffles, Covent Garden, Fuel Restaurant, Camden Market, Walking home late at night, unafraid, writing bad poetry in Green Park, The Thames, Waitrose, Theatre…I could go on.
I first made this dish during my time in the UK and I feel tremendous nostalgia for London whenever I make it. It is immensely comforting food, especially when the weather is cold and grey. The bright orange of the butternut sauce that is all at once sweet and savoury, combined with the creamy, salty feta and the delicious buttery, rosemary perfumed crunch of the pan gratata makes this dish so incredibly moreish.
Roasted Butternut and Feta Penne with Garlic and Rosemary Pan Gratata
1kg butternut, cut into chunks
1 sprig rosemary
2 onions, peeled and quartered
sea salt and pepper
1 tsp sugar
For the Pan Gratata:
1 cup fresh white breadcrumbs
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
leaves from 2 sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 200C. Place the butternut and onion, along with the sprig of rosemary in a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and sprinkle over the sugar. Combine everything with your hands and then roast in the oven for about 4o minutes until the butternut is cooked and the onion is slightly charred and meltingly soft. Remove the onion and place in the bowl of a food processor, process until chopped or alternatively chop the onion finely by hand. Mash the roasted butternut, stir in the onion and crumble in the feta. Spoon the mixture into a medium saucepan and heat gently, once the feta has started to melt add the cream. Allow to heat through and taste for seasoning. The sauce will be quite thick, don’t panic. Boil the pasta in plenty of salted water until cooked. Drain, reserving about half a cup of the cooking water. Stir the sauce into the drained pasta and add the reserved cooking water to loosen. Check seasoning and serve sprinkled with pan gratata. To make the pan gratata, combine the breadcrumbs, garlic and rosemary in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and stir. Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan, pour in the bread crumbs and stir from time to time with a wooden spoon until the breadcrumbs are golden and crunchy.