Friday, September 2, 2011

Tomatoes are evil

People who live in the country should not go on holiday at the end of summer, especially not after such an erratic summer as we have just had in South-West France. All July and August the tomatoes have sulked, hanging greenly on their vines, grudgingly offering the odd red fruit that has to be eeked out with onions and mozzarella to make a salad; sometimes even with white beans and tunny. Then come September, you decide to go away for a few days – and there they are, glaring redly at you from their luxuriant vine foliage with the basil plants flowering madly underneath.
Prevarication suggests that you do something about the basil first. Cut it down to just a few leaves, cut off the flower heads, strip the leaves off the stalks and put into a blender with pine nuts, garlic and olive oil. Do not, on pain of the mixture turning rancid, put parmesan or any other cheese with it until you are ready to use.
But do, above all, store the jars in a shallow saucer as the oil will swell and overflow.
There is probably a scientific explanation of this – but I do not know it.
Just as there is probably a scientific explanation for exploding oil bottles. I carefully picked some basil, a few branches of thyme, chive stalks and put them into a pretty bottle. Then I added a couple of garlic cloves, some pepper corns and filled the bottle with best Ligurian olive oil and put on a screw top. So pretty, a future gift. This I put on the sill in the conservatory alongside a couple of other salad oil bottles I had prepared earlier. Unfortunately, unpredicted, temperatures rose to near 30 C and the new bottle exploded only a few hours later. Such a shame.
But there were still tomatoes looking at me from the vegetable garden. No-one, however parsimonious, really wants to make tomato ketchup, or sauce, or chutney, the evening before a journey. I did get as far as putting the jars in the dishwasher to sterilise them but then decided a ring round the neighbours was an easier way out. Luckily I did find someone who would act as god mother to the vegetable garden in my absence. Not only would she process the tomatoes but she would also keep an eye on the creeping courgettes, the bell peppers and the aubergines. She flatly refused to do anything with the chillies.
I have put the chillies, as they turn red, on the table in the conservatory to dry.
Sometimes I use them fresh but have been reminded – painfully - of the first rule of chilli cooking: after processing chillis, wash hands, scrub under finger nails before doing anything else.....they really are very hot and very bad for the eyes. Even if one removes the seeds from chillies, either by slitting them in half and scraping out the seeds, or just topping the pods and squeezing them out, there is enough capsaicin left on the fingers to transfer to any other more sensitive part of the body. Oddly enough, they also seem to blunt scissors, so I have gone back to using a knife to cut them – a knife that is carefully washed before being used for anything else.

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