Book review/interview: Delish tales of tiramisu, spinach ricotta gnocchi and other dishes in A Sprig of Rosemarie, by Rosemarie Saunders

Cooking boffin Rosemarie Saunders has released a delightful new cookbook, A Sprig of Rosemarie, in time for the festive season Cape Town Summer 2021/22. Saunders divides her time between homes in Cape Town and in Cotignac, France. Each recipe has a story or anecdote- spiced with charming asides and notes on how each dish was birthed and/or developed. There are “no new ingredients”, muses Saunders, “only new combinations” and those combos have been shaped by her interactions with people. I think what makes this book so enjoyable, for me, is that it is focused on people in Saunders’ life. Now retired as a caterer, it is clear that she cared deeply about delivering -to her clients, guests and friends- no matter the circumstances. She is obviously an accomplished raconteur and this comes across in the book. Saunders delivers bite size stories- pared down to the essence of the tale. It makes for fun reading. I am enjoying dipping into the recipes such as her tiramisu – which she is famous for – and spinach and ricotta gnocchi- a tantalising alternative to potato gnocchi. I also fancy the idea of her tomato (pasta) sauce – made in a microwave, with onions, tinned tomatoes and smoothed with a stick-blender – quick and easy – my kind of recipe. Scroll down for my recipe picks.

International cuisine

Saunders presents insights into her travels and encounters in her career of over three decades as caterer, cookery school operator and food tourism guide. Would she say that her food is “French inspired”? Saunders: “It is very much international cuisine due to my travels and world experience.”

Family food background- fresh is best

Saunders who was born in the UK, settled in South Africa on a whim. She was en-route to Australia, in the 70s, fell in love with the Cape – and its weather -and stayed. She had studied cooking, extensively in the UK and had a bundle of hotel and catering qualifications. In addition, she grew up, surrounded by good cooking, in a family of restaurateurs. “My grandfather and mother had restaurants in Birmingham, England during World War II. Living in the countryside after the war, my mother would cook from the vegetable garden. I would be sent up to the raspberry canes to gather the berries for tea; pick peas and beans and rhubarb for crumble. This established the importance of fresh is best.” Saunders was not named Rosemarie because the family was a foodie clan. “No my parents used to dance to the song, Rose Marieby Slim Whitman [1954]. The lyrics go ‘… Oh Rose Marie, I love you’.”

Food memory – crop green asparagus, prawns, raspberries and champagne

As to her first memory of food, a stand-out dish, she muses: “Gosh so many, wow tastes. It’s hard to say- like your first crème Brule; first fish and chips- but my Dessert Island Foods would be: First crop green asparagus, prawns, raspberries and champagne”.

Living between South Africa and France

Saunders has homes in Cape Town and in Cotignac, France and with her partner they move between the two. “We spend six months in each-from October to April in Cape Town -and the rest in Cotignac, France. I don’t do cold weather so a temperature of 20 -25 plus suits me.  Really, the reason I moved away from England is that I didn’t like the weather. My parents were quite upset as I had such a good job at the Strand Palace Hotel, in London. But, it then gave them the opportunity to visit South Africa and board a plane for the first time.”

A decade living in Monaco

Saunders cooks up totalising stories of living in Monaco for a decade. How did that come about- living in Monaco? Sounds exotic. “I met my partner, Nick, 20 years ago just after my business premises had burnt down. He worked offshore as a trust banker, so I thought why not sell up and have a change. His last posting was in Monaco where we lived for 10 years. Prior to that we were in Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey. Monaco was an amazing experience. It was lovely to share with the family and friends but not to live out one’s days. It very concrete, high rise, noisy and tight living. Almost false. Fortunately, through playing bridge and the International Women’s club of the Riviera I met wonderful like-minded people and we had fun. We are still staying in touch and sharing our lives. We’re planning a book launch at the Monte Carlo Country Club next April or May [2022].

Current culinary status

Saunders is taking time out from the grind of catering, but there is another cookbook in the works.  “I am totally retired. Hurray! Catering is for the young. It is a demanding and stressful occupation.” When the pandemic hit, it was an opportunity to compile her book. “I settled down to write, A Sprig of Rosemarie. I loved remembering all the stories; the family enjoying all the food after I had cooked and then I took photos of what I was making. What could have been better than that?” Saunders enjoys playing bridge, leisure activities and spending time with her family. Mention is made in the book of the cooking skills of her daughter, but she has not followed mum. “She is a fabulous cook but has chosen a medical career and works with a plastic surgeon. Her time at Ballymaloe Cooking School, in Ireland was at the beginning of her gap year, after matriculating from Herschel in Cape Town. She then went onto work with Antony Worrall Thompson in London before returning to South Africa and taking a three year beauty therapy course. None of my three children have chosen a catering career. I think they saw as a single mother how hard I worked keeping the businesses going. They all, at one time or another, worked in the business to earn money but definitely didn’t want it as a career. The twins have also chosen a health and medical career.”

Food karma- live to eat

Does Saunders envisage a demand for food/cooking travel as the pandemic eases and people want to travel and perhaps up-skill in the gastronomic department? “Good food is essential for good health and well-being…Together with learning new skills, we naturally want to move forward, to keep discovering. However there are those that eat to live and those that live to eat. I am definitely of the latter. It’s a wiser choice.”

The next Rosemarie Saunders book

There is another book brewing. When can we expect that? “I have already put together 40 more stories but need the time now to sit and ponder, reflect and type: Rosemarie for Remembrance. For now I am learning how to sell A Sprig of Rosemarie as I have self-funded this publication.” The link to buy the book:  Related coverage on TheCapeRobyn:

Tiramisu – recipe by Rosemarie Saunders, A Sprig of Rosemarie
Serves 4 to 8  

■ Whisk together 4 egg yolks, 100g caster sugar and 5ml vanilla powder.
■ Whisk in 500g mascarpone and 250g smooth cottage cheese, which will thicken the mixture.
■ Stir in 50ml brandy or whisky.
■ Fold in 2 stiffly whisked egg whites, add a little sugar while whisking and fold into the cheese mixture.
■ Either make sponge fingers or buy almond sponge fingers. Soak the biscuits in a mixture of equal quantities of very strong black coffee and brandy or whisky.
■ Layer ramekins, whisky glasses or a large glass bowl with the soaked biscuits and the creamy mixture, dusting each layer with cocoa powder.
■ Place in the fridge over night before serving with a dusting of cocoa powder.    

Live to eat: Rosemarie Saunders, with her book, A Sprig of Rosemarie. Buy the book online:
Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi – recipe by Rosemarie Saunders, A Sprig of Rosemarie

S E R V E S 6

■ In a deep frying pan melt 60g butter, add 300g chopped cooked spinach and cook until quite dry.
■ Take off the heat and stir in 250g ricotta, 45g plain flour and 2 beaten eggs.
■ Return to the heat and gently cook through for 3 minutes.
■ Remove from the heat and stir in 40g parmesan and seasoning.
■ Leave the mixture to cool completely. ■ Shape into 16–18 balls.
■ Pop in the fridge overnight.
■ Poach in salted simmering water for 6–7 minutes.

Serve with my famous tomato sauce.  


■ Place in a glass bowl 2 large sliced onions, 2 cloves of crushed garlic and 30ml olive oil. Cover and microwave for 4 minutes on high.
■ Add one 450g canned whole peeled tomatoes chopped, 120g tomato paste, seasoning.
■ Microwave for 4 minutes.
■ Stick blend until smooth.    

✳This interview has been marginally edited for length and clarity. Images supplied.