As I’d promised myself when I woke up this morning, it could only be panzanella – Anna Del Conte’s recipe – for supper. It’s a trumpet voluntary, a salad in D Major, the whole brass section of flavours, the very food to make you joyful! Tomato, garlic, onion, basil, capers, good olive oil and red wine vinegar. It’s summer in a bowl, a last shout of sunshine and the kind of dish that I always make for four even though there will only be two of us at the table. It’s the salad that can transform a bad day into a good one – I’m going too far now, but you get the picture. We had the possibility of some pasta in hand, a frozen roll of pesto that would only have taken ten minutes to prepare, but the sourdough component of the salad is filling enough and apart from a pear we were done and smiling.
After supper we sat together reading through cookbooks – we are very greedy after all. Who’d have thought exploring a new vegetarian cuisine could be so much fun?
This is a family story, passed down to me and I’ve no means of verifying it, but it came to me from my mother who had inherited my grandfather’s habit of inventing names for dishes. As children, if we asked what was for pudding and she said it was ‘Asquith’ my sister and I would groan – “not rice pudding again!”
My grandfather and his three sons (my uncles) were all carpenters and builders and spent a good deal of time working away from home. They had apparently invented a dish called ‘clanger pudding’ which comprised anything – literally anything – that could be warmed up in a pan and dumped on a plate.
Any half experienced allotmenteer will know that clanger pudding feeling, because crops don’t ever ripen in recipe order. Gluts and failures invariably stand in the way of the fantasy that you can wander down to the garden and come back with a trug full of the exact vegetables needed for the recipe you had in mind. Pickling, preserving, freezing and bottling can take up some of the slack but at the Potwell Inn we have very limited space and there are only two of us so we are regularly invaded by masses of courgettes and – this week – broccoli.
When we packed up and drove to Lleyn on Wednesday the back seat of the car resembled a greengrocer’s market stall. We had harvested anything that was ripe on the allotment and brought it up full of good intentions to explore new vegetarian dishes while we were here. The first darkening on the horizon came when we discovered that many of the runner beans were a bit past it – well a bit kevlar to be honest and on the edge of becoming basket weaving material. Then there was the courgette that had become a marrow, a squash big enough for six and pounds of summer broccoli some of it on the brink of flowering. Cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, beetroot, peppers, aubergine, chillies, herbs in abundance – did we think we were going to spend 24 hours a day cooking and eating?
And there’s the allotmenteer’s torment. It’s hard work growing things and so we don’t like to waste them. Naturally the colour supplement gurus have this under control by planting single seeds at 4 day intervals thereby offering a perfect succession. In the real world we have better things to do than a one mile round trip to sow a seed, so as the week progresses we feel more and more guilty and the smell of the broccoli in the veg compartment begins to spread through the cottage every time we open the fridge. We’ve had one or two successes on the veggie front, but it requires a good deal of ingenuity and we’re noticing a certain sameness about many of the recipes. The temptation to add intense umami flavours to everything can make the vegetables – which should be the stars of the show – into mere carriers of the flavours.
Today was a C+ effort using the tomatoes we’d brought to make panzanella. I wrote the other day about the “sourdough” we’d bought and this being a pretty shop free area I was stuck with it for this evening. I added in a grilled pepper and our own basil to reduce the surplus a bit more but as soon as I added the dressing the bread quickly collapsed into pulp. Clanger pudding in fact. But it was good enough, as was the large quantity of broccoli and stilton soup I made yesterday. Jacket potatoes were OK too and we’ve eaten plainly but well. But I think the takeaway point is that if we’re going to eat as much as possible from whatever we can grow, we shall have to be content perhaps with less variety. The upside is that the treats when they come along – I’m thinking of our own asparagus and apples – are all the more exciting.
Our time here is half gone, but we’ve done some good walks and in the evenings we’ve entertained ourselves by reading to one another from our books. It’s very efficient because we each get to read one and hear the best bits from the other. Madame is reading William Feaver’s new book about Lucian Freud and I’m reading Richard Mabey’s “The Cabaret of Plants” – both of them excellent (and I wish I could read that last sentence as my eighteen year old self!)