Perfecting Tradition

Perfecting Tradition

Winter means only one thing: comfort food! We speak to the mama of home-cooked meals, A Bica Coffee Shop’s Petru Pretorius, about her love of cooking… and how to dish up the world’s favourite comfort food: lasagne.

Arnaldo Paulo and Petru Pretorius

Petru Pretorius is not an Italian mama, but she certainly can cook like one. The driving force behind the food at Mbombela’s A Bica Coffee Shop, she has been cooking for years, having learnt at her mother’s knee. Although determined not to follow in these illustrious footsteps, she has ended up doing just that. “It’s what I do best,” she shrugs.

“The truth is that I know that my food is among the best there is, and I believe that is because I put everything into it, especially my love of good food, and of feeding people good food.


I never skimp on ingredients, and the old adage of cooking with love applies to everything I make. I would much rather have been riding around on my dad’s tractor growing up, instead of being in the kitchen, but as it happens, I inherited my mother’s talents and here I am.”


Petru believes that one of the most important things in her business is to make sure that she only serves what people have come to expect from her, good, home-cooked food. Her lasagne falls into this category, and is rich and hearty, laden with golden, bubbling cheeses and an enticing aroma reminiscent of roaring fires, loved ones and comfort.
“My customers know immediately if one of my dishes wasn’t cooked by me,” she smiles. “I have a fantastic team of people who help me, who have been with me for years, but I still do all my own cooking. That’s the difference.”

Petru’s business partner, Arnaldo Paulo, concerns himself with the financial side of things, and laughingly shakes his head. “How we make money is a mystery!” he smiles.

“Only the best ingredients, and always a bit extra, are what she believes in. There are no cutting corners, and we always go the extra mile.”

Petru’s food is traditional, hearty fare, and reminds you very much of home, Sunday lunches spent with the family, and the warming delicious meals that only a mother can make.

A Bica has a Sunday buffet, which is well-loved by those in the know. There is a large variety to choose from, including gammon, roast chicken, lamb, and either a lasagne or bobotie, as well as a number of side dishes which will have your mouth watering.

“We do creamed spinach, pumpkin fritters, herb-roasted potatoes, baby marrow, rice or cous cous, an open salad bar, and of course desserts.

“The true stars of the show though, are my caramelised sweet potatoes.They have to be there, or people complain,” Petru laughs proudly.“They are truly delicious.”

A Bica also has a plate of the day, whereby you order the meal prepared on a specific day and it will be packaged for you, ready to collect, or you can bring along your own plate or bowl.

The meals vary, and can be crumbed pork chops, roast chicken, curry and rice, lasagne or fish and chips, for a very reasonable R50 per plate. The Sunday buffet is R130.

Tradition is an important element in every family’s recipe repertoire, and many of Petro’s methods have been passed down from her mother. A delicious traditional pomodoro sauce and pasta recipe from scratch is sure to warm the cockles of your heart. Following the guidelines of a much-loved favourite, adapt and tweak to create your own hearty lasagne.

Spinach-and-Ricotta Lasagne


• 100g unsalted butter
• 100g plain flour
• 800ml milk
• 1 fresh bay leaf
• Salt and pepper
• 800g spinach
• 400g ricotta cheese
• 300g fresh lasagne sheets
• 100g Parmesan, grated
• 200g cheddar, grated
• 2 cups home-made tomato sauce.

1. Preheat the oven to 190ºC.
2. Make a roux by melting the butter in a pan and whisking in the flour. Cook for a minute or two, then whisk in the milk, stirring until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, add the bay leaf, and allow to simmer for
5 minutes.
3. Turn off the heat.
4. Place the spinach in a large pan over medium heat and drizzle with olive oil. Cover and wilt. Drain and squeeze out excess liquid when sufficiently cooled.
5. Roughly chop the spinach and mix with the ricotta, Parmesan and two cups of béchamel sauce. Season well.
6. In a baking dish, layer the lasagne sheets, half the tomato sauce, half the spinach mixture, half the remaining white sauce, and half the cheddar. Repeat with another layer of pasta and remaining ingredients, finishing off with a layer of cheddar.
7. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.
8. Serve with a crisp garden salad.

How to make your own lasagne sheets
Lasagne dough (with egg)
• 1½ cups bread flour
• ¼ tsp salt
• 2 whole eggs.

1. Add the flour and salt,
stir together
2. Add the eggs and mix well to combine
3. Knead the dough for 10 minutes
4. If your dough is too dry or sticky, you may need to add either more flour or water
5. Place dough in a bowl and cover with a clean tea towel, leave to rest for
30 minutes
6. Using a rolling pin or pasta machine, roll the dough out as thin as possible, between 2 and 4ml thick
7. Cut into your desired sheet size or shape
8. You can also use this dough to make spaghetti, tortellini, ravioli and so on
9. Leave the sheets to rest for half an hour
10. When you are ready to use them, add salt to enough water to cover the sheets and bring to the boil
11. Add the sheets and cook for 5 minutes
12. Drain and use as desired.

Makes 8 sheets.

Eggless lasagne dough
• 1½ cups bread flour
• ½ tsp salt
• ½ cup water.

1. Method is as above, with water instead of egg. Add more water or flour accordingly if the dough is too sticky or dry.
2. To make fettucine, roll the flattened dough up as you would a carpet, and cut strips off the sides, then unroll the noodles and dust lightly with flour to prevent them from sticking together.
3. You can dry them out on a drying rack, hang them or lay them over clean tea towels draped over chair backs.

Basic Italian Pomodoro Sauce

The ubiquitous tomato sauce is a base for almost anything – curries, pizza, soup or stew.

• ¼ cup olive oil
• 3 garlic cloves
• 2 cans peeled and chopped tomatoes
• ¼ tsp brown sugar
• 2 tsp dried Italian herbs
• ½ tsp sea salt.

1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and add the chopped garlic cloves
2. Add the chopped tomatoes, sugar, herbs and salt
3. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and allow to simmer gently for 20 minutes
4. Use as desired.

Makes approximately 2 ½ cups.

Note: This sauce can be made in advance and frozen for up to 3 months.

Get in touch
A Bica Coffee Shop on 073-329-9238

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