It’s September. The kids are back at school, the holidaymakers have gone home and French is once again the predominant language in the market place. The sun is no longer burning quite so fiercely, the fiery heat of July and August has abated and everything seems to be a bit more mellow. Even though the summer has not yet altogether gone, there is a sense that autumn will soon be here and we’ll be putting our duvets back onto our beds.
Meanwhile, what can we do to prolong the tastes and smells of the summer months? It is with this in mind that I head off to the market, with my Scotty dog, Ralph.
I go to my usual favourite stalls. I talk to the man from St.Remy and he tells me that he still has plenty of tomatoes on the vine. They will be good until about November. I buy some of his large knobbly Tomates Russes. They are large and quite misshapen but absolutely delicious in a salad or even eaten on their own with a scattering of coarse Camargue sea salt, torn basil leaves and a good pouring of your best olive oil. It may be my imagination, but I feel as though I have never tasted tomatoes as sweet and juicy as these. I have become quite obsessed with them and serve them with just about every meal.
I also buy a large quantity of his more traditionally shaped tomatoes. I quite fancy making some tomato sauce and bottling it for the winter months. It takes me back to when I was a teenager and spent my summer holidays learning French with a family who had an organic fruit and vegetable farm just outside Grasse. Some time, towards the end of August, when they had a glut of tomatoes, they placed a huge black cauldron over a fire built in an open shed round the back of the house, next to the pig sty. They filled the cauldron with chopped tomatoes, basil, onions and garlic and let it slowly bubble for hours, if not days. The wood fire added smokiness to the final taste and when it was finally ready, it was ladled into Kilner jars and stored in rows in the larder, to be used in the winter months when fresh tomatoes (then) were not available. Even though tomatoes can now be bought all the year round, thanks to the acres of polytunnels all around us, I don’t believe they have as sweet or as full a flavour as those ripened by the sun.
Of course, I have neither a cauldron, nor a backyard, but decide I will make a quantity of tomato sauce to put in the freezer.
I buy my basil from another woman in the market who sells bunches of basil that she has grown herself. The flavour is far more intense than the basil pots that you can buy all the year round. The leaves are large and firm and the stalks straight and strong, they will last more than a week in a jug of water in the kitchen. I also buy courgettes from her, red and green peppers and small purple aubergines. Having written in a previous article, that I was looking for something to cook that was not ratatouille, I have discovered that cooking the same ingredients in the oven with plenty of olive oil and parsley creates a very useful standby dish. It can be served as a meal, eaten hot over couscous with added chickpeas and harissa, or served cold as a side dish with salad or cold meat.
I move on to the stall where the man is only selling figs. He has got two cartons left, and almost before I have agreed to buy them, he is tipping them into a bag onto a fig leaf. The artist has talked about wanting to make fig jam, but I am going to eat these just as they are, maybe with some Parma ham, but probably just on their own.
Another stall is selling locally grown grapes, they are small and green, tinged with yellow and taste very sweet. I am tempted to buy them just for the way they look, but instead I buy a paper bag full of Mirabelles, they look like perfectly formed yellow miniature plums, I decide that they will make up the top and final layer of my Rumtopf. Next to these are some apples, small, red and perfectly formed. The idea of biting into a crisp, tart apple after the past two months of eating soft, juicy peaches, apricots and melons, seems very tempting. Maybe I am, after all, ready to move on with the seasons.
Ralph, for sure is ready to move on, he has seen a bitch he fancies over the other side of the market and is straining at his lead. Carrying a large basket of food whilst trying to restrain a dog is not one of the easiest things to do and just as I am about to drop everything, I spot the Artist striding towards me. “Just in time,” I say as I hand over the bag and use both hands to reign in my dog.
The Artist is already carrying a small plastic bag with a baguette sticking out of it.
“What’s in there?” I ask.
“I bought some roast pork. I’m going to have sandwiches for lunch in the studio from now on. I’ve decided that lunch just takes up too much time.”
I nod in agreement and we make our way to the Rallye bar where he orders a beer.
FIGS WITH PARMA HAM
3 figs per person
2 slices Parma ham per person
This makes a tasty starter or a light lunch. The saltiness of the ham compliments the sweetness of the figs. Just serve together on a plate as you with a fresh crusty baguette.
ROASTED SUMMER VEGETABLES
2 large onions peeled and cut into thick wedges
1 large or two small aubergines, cut into cubes
1 large red pepper, deseeded and cut into cubes
3 courgettes cut into cubes
1 large handful of parsley leaves, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
6 tbsp olive oil
425g tinned tomato
Salt and pepper
These ingredients are really just a guide, I use whatever I have in the fridge that needs using up including fresh tomatoes.
Put all the vegetables onto a large baking dish, add the garlic and parsley and pour over the oil and tinned tomatoes. Combine all, making sure that the vegetables are all coated with oil – I do this with my hands.
Put into an oven at 160c/325f/gas mark 3 and bake until cooked, approx 2 hrs.
800g tomatoes, chopped
1/2 medium onion
1 garlic clove, crushed and chopped
1 small bunch of basil leaves, cut into strips
2 tablespoons of olive oil
salt and pepper
Heat the olive oil and add the garlic and onions.
Cook for a few minutes, until they are transparent, then add the tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook on a low heat for about 30 minutes. Stir in the basil and cook for another five minutes. Use immediately or leave it to cool and freeze in zip-lock bags or plastic containers.