Oh, that religious and political zealots were as sparse on the vine as good tomatoes were this August. Too much rain has taken its toll, leaving the scars of “maladie” on the marvellous misshapen fruit without which my cooking would be impoverished. How easy it is to relegate these cicatrised lumps to the compost. We spoiled inhabitants of peaceful lands , whose visual sensitivity has not as yet been depleted or exhausted by a daily confrontation with the horrors of men’s wickedness, are very sensitive to ugliness, mutilation and decay. Should the appearance of something displease us, our reaction is to turn away or to throw it away. A life as a studio photographer in London made me a standard bearer for such behaviour. A diet of perfection lacks any form of nourishment whilst simultaneously removing appetite although, on reflection, this might have had something to do with the drugs. My view has now changed and, having achieved my biblical quota, I am finding it easier to see beyond and beneath the skin which is opportune as these ugly buggers taste fantastic.
It is unusual, in our house, for a week to pass without a moment when a pot of tomato sauce is bubbling away on the hob. For a sauce as simple as this it should, by all rights, be wholly reliant on the quality of the ingredients used whereas, as long as tomatoes of some kind are employed, it will always be a success. Each tomato sauce that I make will differ in flavour, character and texture as I make it to the mood of the day and the available produce. Tomato sauce and measurements do not sit well together so the end result may depend on the heat of the chilies, that someone gifted me, the choice of olive oil, the amount and quality of red wine, ground black pepper or a shake of white, a few grains of sugar for added sweetness, which herbs and, of course, which tomatoes. Tinned tomatoes, cherry, greenhouse, vine, cornu, marmande, coeur de boeuf, tomates de crimée, old, new, ugly or pretty tomatoes will all contribute their own individual nuances to this most well known and loved of all sauces ( except to haters of tomatoes who will have stopped reading some time ago). Sometimes, when time is on my side on a dark winter’s day, I will carefully chop and prepare carrots, celery and onion which are put into the covered pot to gently soften in olive oil. releasing their aromatic flavours before the chopped tomatoes are poured over them with the addition of red wine and more olive oil. When time is scarce, because the sun is beckoning me to sit outside with a glass, I’ll just chop fresh tomatoes and throw them into a pan with olive oil, salt and black pepper and let them cook for a very short time before stirring them into some pasta or just eating them with good bread and cheese.
The pleasure lies in the continuum….in knowing that I’ll not tire of this simple food…..in looking forward to making it again, and again, and again.