Monday, 7 September 2009

Glut gluttony

So, the rentrée has rentréed, The Perfectionist and Pink Van Man (aka the builders) are back, the sun still shines, and we're still barrowing loads of hardcore around the garden. (Was there ever a time when I didn't? Will there ever be one? Sigh). We're in the process of creating what we intended to be a car parking area. Note the past tense there, because once we'd cleared it of the inevitable toot and rubbish and old tree roots and nettles and rocks and half a metre thickness of moss and ivy, we suddenly saw it with new eyes: a lovely leafy, shady space with an equally lovely view south towards Col de la Crouzette. Much too good for a car park, methinks. So in a rare display of swift non-Libran decisiveness, I've converted it into a 'zone Zen'. More about that in due course - watch this space, as they say. Or rather, that one.

And in spite of - or maybe because of - the long, hot and dry summer we've been having here, our garden continues to throw food at us: glutting courgettes (yes, still) have been joined by aubergines and tomatoes and peppers and potimarron. The potimarron have been put to bed tucked up in straw, ready to feed us through the winter, while I exhaust every crevice of my creative brain (or at least what's left of it after yet another day shi - er, hardcore shovelling) to come up with Interesting Things To Do with all the rest.

Two stars of the dinner show have emerged this summer. We've enjoyed them both so much that we've eaten them again and again, and so thought you might like them too. Here they are.


A courgette soup ...

Actually, it's not really a soup - more like a lightweight broth, in the Italian style, which means that with some good bread it's good enough to eat for dinner and not as an entrée. For two people, you'll need:

Two or three new potatoes, in small cubes; 500 grams or so of courgette, ditto; a biggish onion, finely chopped; 2 cloves of garlic and a couple of sprigs of thyme, ditto; half a glass of white wine; 300ml vegetable stock; 200ml milk; and - erm - 4 pieces of La Vache qui Rit (Laughing Cow) cheese (I know, I know, but humour me here).

Fry the onion in butter until it's soft, then add the garlic, potato, thyme and a bit of black pepper and cook very gently, with the lid on, for a good 15 minutes or so. This is what the Italians call the soffrito stage: often skipped or skimped, it's what really draws the flavour out of the base ingredients, so don't rush it. Then add the wine, bring to the boil, reduce the heat again and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the stock and the courgette, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for around 15 minutes. Add the milk, then the cheese, stirring until it melts. Season. Don't ask how I came to have a few bits of Vache qui Rit lurking at the back of the fridge, but trust me: there's something about the lactic flavour of the cheese in this soup which is so seriously addictive that I unfailingly eat more of it than is good for me ....


... and an aubergine tart

This, for me, is pure, unadulterated summer comfort food; it contains just about every one of my to-die-for summer ingredients - olives, aubergines, tomatoes, anchovies, basil, mozzarella. And it's easy enough to put together after a hot day's shovelling. To make four good portions you'll need:

A ready-rolled flaky pastry case; 2 very fresh aubergines; 2 large tomatoes, a tablespoon of tapenade, some shavings of gruyère, a ball of mozzarella; and a dozen anchovies in oil. I'm addicted to Collioure anchovies, which are my summer treat, but anything that comes in a jar will be fine.

Cut the aubergines down their length into half-centimetre thick slices. You can, if you feel inclined and have the time, do the salting-and-rinsing thing, but to be honest I usually don't, because I haven't, and I'm not convinced it would make a blind bit of difference. Then fry them until they're golden on both sides. I suppose you could grill them if you have a thing about frying, but nice though grilled aubergines might be, they never acquire that lovely silky texture that a really good fried aubergine has and which for me is the essence of this tart. So I fry them in a mixture of olive and rape seed oil, which is the best combination I've come up with after years of experimenting (during most of which I pooh-poohed rape seed oil. Wrong).

Then simply put the tart together: lay out the pastry in a large metal flan tin - I use the type with the removable bottom, prick the base lightly, then spread the tapenade over it. Cut the aubergine slices in half across the (short) middle, and lay out half of them in circles. Slice the tomatoes thinly and lay half of them over the aubergines. Throw on some shaved gruyère and some torn up basil leaves. Then repeat the whole thing so you have another, identical, layer. Lay out the anchovies in a clock formation, then cover the whole thing with slices of the mozzarella. Bake at 220 degrees Celsius (200 degrees in a fan oven) for around 25 minutes, until the mozzarella is golden.
Here it is before ...


and after ...



And that, gentle reader, was my 100th post on Blogger! Thank you to all of you for your presence, your support, your comments, your emails, your humour. None of which I expected when I set out eighteen months ago just to write for the sheer pleasure of writing, whether anyone read it or not. So here's raising a glass of Minervois with you all to the next 100 ...

2 comments:

Rispa Frances said...

Congratulations! Cheers to the next 100!

Kalba Meadows said...

Welcome, Rispa Frances and thanks.
A bientot ....
Kalba