Our shed looms reproachfully at the end of the garden, a shiny, unused pitchfork propped against the wall, and bags of pea straw and manure wait, unopened, inside. Seeds that should now be thriving summer plants lie dormant, sealed in yellow envelopes, third shelf down in the fridge. A spicy stench of blood and bone is carried on the wind on warmer days, and, like the dog, I find it oddly alluring. The garden’s been calling.Dark clouds are gathering this afternoon, and the tantalising promise of rain proper – thunder, so they say - hangs heavily in a still, expectant air. Waiting for the sky to rumble, then burst, on days of wading through humidity is something of a national obsession. My mother and I speak of rain in hushed, revered tones during phone calls. Rain is near religious. Rain is sheer bliss.
Tomatoes from the market have been spectacular this year, though my own are late to start. Nigel Slater says, ‘A tomato’s character is enhanced by a rough life, a certain negligence, a gasping thirst and the occasional drenching downpour’, most of which I’ve been able to supply in abundance as summer progresses. Unsure of Tender at first (though I think it photographer Jonathan Lovekin’s best work), thanks to two dishes, I’m coming ‘round.The first was a dish of frankly beautiful pale green banana-shaped peppers, halved and stuffed very simply with nothing more than stellar cherry tomatoes, quartered or halved according to their size. Drizzled with oil and roasted in a furnace of an oven until their edges were charred, they were drowned, at the table, with a sauce of emerald green; handfuls of basil, garlic and oil blitzed to pouring consistency.
(Ganga has a beautiful version, here)
The second was even easier. Perfectly ripe, red tomatoes cut into large chunks, a bunch of basil leaves and a handful of grated parmesan. Tossed gently in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, they get dumped in a gratin dish and baked at 200 C (400 F) for 25-30 minutes. It was stunning and stupidly simple to assemble, but somehow made the kitchen smell like heaven and me wonder why that particular combination, cooked in that particular way, had never occurred to, well, me.
Genius. And that, you see, is why we love him. However unwieldy the book.