Postcard From France

Mes Chers Amis 

As a child, fam­ily hol­i­days were so rare as to be an endangered spe­cies. We had pre­cisely two — one in Wales and the other in France. The French hol­i­day near Albi was a rev­el­a­tion. I dis­covered Fran­coise Sagan, Toulouse Lautrec, gren­ad­ine, espadrilles, file paper with grids instead of lines, flat peaches, Sartre’s Roads to Free­dom tri­logy and auber­gines. Apart from the nov­els of Sagan, an embar­rass­ing teen­age aber­ra­tion, I love them all still. 

I’m in France with two of my old­est friends and our com­bined total of eight chil­dren. Sartre and Lautrec have been sadly thin on the ground, but we’re doing won­ders for the local peach and auber­gine crop. The recipe I’ve cooked three times already is this one, a feast I first ate on that French hol­i­day all those years ago. 

A bientot

Charlie 

Gloomth

I’ve found a sen­sa­tional word.…. gloomth. It was inven­ted by the Gothic nov­el­ist Hor­ace Wal­pole (1717–1797) to describe a place that was both shad­owy and mys­ter­i­ous but airy and soph­ist­ic­ated too. Wal­pole had a way with fash­ion as well as words. My favour­ite out­fit of his is a huge and intric­ately carved solid wood cravat. But I should prob­ably con­fess that I’d like a solid wood hat and a wooden hand­bag too.

It strikes me that gloomth sums up this time of year per­fectly. Walk­ing through the Tuiler­ies Gar­dens and then on to the Rodin Museum early on a March morn­ing, I was shrouded in Walpole’s mist and shadow, but there was a palp­able sense of spring.

So when my organic veget­able box was delivered, it was pure serendip­ity (another Wal­pole word) to find some gloomthy veget­ables in there. No more parsnips thank good­ness, but one auber­gine and six tomatoes.

It got me think­ing about a recipe I adored as a child. It was the height of soph­ist­ic­a­tion when I was a teen­ager, although don’t for­get that when I was four­teen, posh food meant Chicken in White Sauce with Tinned Asparagus, and Roast Beef Bathed in Golden Veget­able Dried Packet Soup.

I now real­ise that auber­gines baked with toma­toes, gar­lic, onions and herbs, isn’t a soph­ist­ic­ated dish at all. It’s just plainly, gloomthily, effort­lessly divine.

## Gloomth d’Aubergines et Tomates aux Herbes ##

I’ll give you a recipe for 4 — 6 people, but since my single auber­gine won’t stretch to a gloomth this size I’ll have to eat mine all by myself.….

  • 3 auber­gines
  • Sev­eral glugs of extra vir­gin olive oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • Two thirds cup of water
  • 4 large toma­toes, ideally the same dia­meter as the aubergines
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Half cup dry white wine
  • A hand­ful of fresh thyme
  • One cup freshly grated parmesan
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Slice the auber­gines about 1 cm thick, dis­card­ing the ends. Strictly speak­ing you don’t need to sprinkle them with salt to release any bit­ter juice, because the new class of auber­gines isn’t bit­ter at all. But I still like to salt them for half an hour because it will release water from the flesh and make the slices less likely to soak up shock­ing amounts of olive oil in the fry­ing pan.

Wipe the slices dry and then fry until golden. You may have to do sev­eral batches to fit them all into the fry­ing pan without crowding them. Remove the slices and heap them on a plate while you wrestle with the onions. Chop the onions fairly small and fry them in the pan you’ve just used until they’re soft, but not brown. After fif­teen minutes of gentle cook­ing, add the water and con­tinue sim­mer­ing until you have a sort of onion mush.

In a round dish, arrange altern­ate slices of auber­gines and tomato cut to the same thick­ness. Heap the onion in the middle, crush the gar­lic over the whole lot and splosh over the white wine. Sea­son, sprinkle with thyme and parmesan and bake at about 160 degrees C for half an hour. If you can stand the wait, eat at room tem­per­at­ure. If not, hot is also good.

I’m about to eat my Gloomth d’Aubergines in the rain, wear­ing a thick coat and admir­ing my spring bulbs. They’re begin­ning to nose their way out of the soil, the mad, crazy fools.