I must confess straight away that it isn’t my home-grown squash; I didn’t grow it. But my friend Rona did and when I visited her on Saturday she gave me a chunk of huge squash to bring home.
Rona has been growing wonderful vegetables in her garden for almost as long as I’ve known her. And that’s a long time. We discussed that on Saturday, when she reminded husband David that she met me first, but I’ll leave it at ‘many years’! I, however, have never been a great vegetable and fruit grower. I use the size of my fairly small London garden as an excuse for not trying now, even though my son with a similar sized garden is turning out enough gorgeous courgettes and other things to take a stall at the farmers’ market. My daughter’s blueberry bushes are more densely covered in plump fruit than Kew Garden’s – because we did a comparison when we visited recently. My two bushes are completely bare of fruit – though one did manage three blueberries last year! Plants are my thing in the garden, and herbs. I have pots of mint, oregano, basil, lemon verbana, thyme and many more, plus a huge rosemary bush that I grew from a cutting 7 years ago.
I decided to do something really simple with the squash this evening. My lovely and observant friends Annie and Linda noticed that I suddenly disappeared from Blogland last week before the end of my trip to Aix en Provence. They wrote me anxious emails. Was I OK? Actually … no. Food poisoning. You see, even a food blogger, who takes reasonable care of what she eats and where, when away, can fall foul to that common spoiler of holidays. But one of the bonuses of writing the blog, I’ve discovered, is that I have a record of the good days. ‘You must read your blogs. That would cheer you up,’ wrote another good friend, Jane. And she’s right. For most of my holiday I was having a wonderful time so that’s the bit to remember.
After a lovely and sociable weekend, eating reasonably normally now, but still not quite 100%, I decided to keep the ingredients to my supper minimal. A few things came into my head but what I finally did – not rejecting Provence despite the unhappy experience – was a kind of ratatouille … minus half the ingredients! I used just the squash, fresh tomatoes, red onion and cooked them gently in olive oil with a little seasoning. And once cooked, I decided to crumble over a little of the little buffalo cheeses I’m so fond of from the farmers’ market.
I sliced half a red onion and placed in a large pan with olive oil. I deseeded the squash and cut into slices about 1cm thick.
Once the onion was slightly coloured and softening I added the squash and stirred it round. I continued to cook very slowly, stirring from time to time. Once the squash was starting to soften I added the tomatoes. These I’d skinned, cut away the tough core and sliced. I sprinkled over some Herbes de Provence too, gave it all a stir and left to very gently bubble away for a while with a lid on, stirring occasionally.
I cooked it until the squash was cooked through – I tested with a fork – but still had a good bite. I also tasted the lovely tomato juices to check seasoning. Then all you do is transfer to a serving dish and crumble over the cheese. I ate it straight away (though the little left for tomorrow’s lunch will taste delicious too, because this kind of dish works well cold). I had some of Ruben’s Bakehouse sourdough bread with it. It was a simple but delicious supper.
The squash tasted wonderful. This kind of vegetable can be watery or tasteless, but not Rona’s! Even the skin was tender and I was glad I’d left it on.
I have to say I didn’t find this kind of simple cooking in France. Not a ratatouille in sight! It was all magret of duck and foie gras, which I associate with the Perigord not Provence. Some of the cooking was too fanciful and it seemed that the restaurants didn’t use all the wonderful fruit and vegetables that I found in the daily market in Place Richelme.
What a shame. The French, of course, are great meat eaters and eat their vegetables separately but where was the ‘wild riot of flavour and colour’ of which Elizabeth David writes in French Provincial Cooking? Food that is ‘civilised without being over-civilized. That is to say, it has natural taste, smell, texture, and much character.’ I had some lovely food, it has to be said, but I didn’t find that elegant simplicity I love so much about Italian cooking. It won’t stop me going back to Aix en Provence again sometime, though, for it was a beautiful place.