What started in the greenhouse in March is reaching fruition – very literally and bountifully – in the polytunnel now. So many of the months of growing Mediterranean vegetables are about hope, luck, graft and maintenance, but September is very definitely payback time. The plants are barely recognisable now as those tiny shivering things I nursed through early spring, trying to fool them that they weren’t really living in northern Europe. Now they are big bruisers, pumping out tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and chillies. I never could have imagined such a thing as an aubergine glut, but now I have a big, fat, shiny aubergine in my hand every few days. When I close my eyes at night I see baba ganoush.
I’m very aware that none of this would have been possible without the season-extending capabilities of glass. Tomatoes and their friends may be wonderful producers when they find themselves mature and surrounded by a beautiful Indian summer such as this, but they take their time to get there. It is only by starting way earlier than our climate would ordinarily allow, and by keeping them warm and fooled into the cooler days of autumn, that I am able to see such bounty.
It has led to a splurge on exactly the sort of meals I most love: I will eat aubergine just about any way you care to cook it (with the exception of the oh-too-common ‘undercooked and bouncy’ method: get that thing away from me). I have fried slices and dressed them with a mixture of tahini, lemon juice, salt and pepper; I have made a sauce of fried aubergines with chopped up fresh tomatoes and bubbled it until it was thick and jammy, and then made indents with the bottom of a rounded cup, cracked an egg into each, sprinkled on cheese, and baked. And of course I have made a lot of baba ganoush: aubergines grilled until the skins turn black and the insides turn gooey, spooned out of the skins into a bowl and then mixed with tahini, lemon juice and garlic. It is one of my favourite things in the world.
Tomatoes are equally easy to find uses for. So far this year I have particularly loved: ‘Sungold’, which as ever is producing lovely, little and incredibly sweet orange tomatoes; and ‘Coeur de Buo’, as chunky and meaty a tomato as you could imagine. ‘Sungold’ I just pop into my mouth like sweeties; ‘Coeur de Buo’ I slice thickly and sprinkle with salt, then eat with a knife and fork.
Peppers are trickier, if only because both children have entirely taken against them, so they can’t be included in any family meal without an unpleasant wailing setting up. I have found the best thing to do with a glut is to grill them fiercely, whole, until the skin turns black and blistered. Drop them into a bowl and cover the bowl with clingfilm until they cool and then push and scrape the skins off. Insides pulled out (very satisfying) and the whole thing chopped and put in a bowl of olive oil in the fridge and I find them irresistible, and eat them non-stop. Glut what glut.
Warm lentil, halloumi, tomato and pepper salad
I made this salad the other lunch time (wailing kids at school) to make use of pepper prepared in such a way, and a load of sungolds that I had got tired of eating raw (poor me) and so cooked until they turned into a sort of a sauce. This makes for particularly beautiful juices for the lentils to sit in, and to soak up with bread. The patty pans I don’t find particularly tasty and wont grow again, but I have them so I ate them. You could substitute for more courgettes. Serves 2.
- 1 tin lentils
- 1 packet halloumi, sliced
- 1 small patty pan squash
- 2 small courgettes
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- Handful of sungold tomatoes
- Olive oil
Heat a frying pan and coat it with a little oil. Skin and slice the patty pans and slice the courgettes into rounds. Cook until all is starting to turn golden then add the tomatoes, halved, and the garlic. Push all over to one side and add the halloumi to the other side of the pan. Turn when golden. Drain and wash the lentils in a sieve and tip into a big bowl, then tip golden halloumi and vegetables on top, add a splash of the oil and vinegar. Mix and serve with good bread to sop up the juices.