In fact the photo – of a prickly sow thistle on the allotment today – has nothing whatever to do with my subject – except perhaps to say that just as weeds have their unique beauty. (this one looks to me like a dragon landing on the earth to me), so too can meals made from leftovers.
Or not exactly leftovers. Yesterday I mentioned that I was reducing four bottles of stored passata to a thick tomato sauce. With this year’s tomatoes ripening on the vines we really need to clear the cupboard, and we have a whole case of passata stored amongst the pencils and paper in Madame’s studio. If you’ve got a good memory you’ll remember that our favourite recipe is labelled Hazan number one. It’s the go-to recipe for tomato sauce at the Potwell Inn. It’s in Marcella Hazan’s book “The essentials of classic Italian Cooking”– as simple as could be, but devastatingly good. At its most basic it’s tomatoes passed three or four times through the passata machine, a dollop of butter and a few onions. We grow around 60 lbs of tomatoes a year and they’re all made into sauce and passata for stores. Last night I modified it a bit and threw in some of this season’s green garlic and – right at the end – a handful of basil.
When I first tasted it I thought I’d blown the sauce completely. It had a real acidity, and initially I thought I’d over salted it but it was done and we would eat it anyway. On with a large pan of water, then, and some linguini and then I united the sauce with the pasta and – well, it was stunningly rich; like a D Major chord played by a full symphony orchestra. We ate in silence and licked the bowl clean. Too rich off the spoon, it was extraordinary on the pasta.
So that was the first third of the pan of sauce. Today I made a goulash – just an ordinary one but instead of using the usual tinned tomatoes I added the second third of yesterday’s sauce. Once again the transformation was complete. The usual notes were modulated and there were sevenths, ninths and thirteenths, and so again we ate greedily- this lockdown is turning us into a pair of porkers! Sorry, by the way, for the musical metaphors but they’re the only ones that come close to flavours.
Tomorrow the last third is going into the zucchini al forno recipe from Patience Grey. I’ve never properly appreciated the tomatoes as functioning like a stock. We make stock all the time and we freeze blocks of it because running out is a bit of a catastrophe. When they work they’re there but not there – they liberate and accentuate all the other flavours without dominating themselves. The flat is stuffed with bottles, preserving jars and jam jars all waiting to be used over the next few weeks. Our sugar purchasing during these summer months is almost embarrassing, but the eating of it is spread out over a whole year and in any case quite a lot of the produce is given away.
I feel sad for people who don’t, or can’t cook. For me, the stove is a marvellous place and eating our own produce is almost sacramental in the way it binds together the collaboration with the natural world on the allotment and brings it to our table as we share and eat together. That’s been one of the worst aspects of the lockdown for us – we haven’t been able to share food with our family and friends. Slowly, though, we’re inching back towards a different kind of life where perhaps we’ll be able to address the pressing problems that we, as a whole worldwide culture, have created for ourselves and the earth.