I have to start this with an apology. I feel I have been rather distant and remiss of late, but I promise it’s just a start of summer sort of thing. The children are on holiday, everyone has been here, there and everywhere and I have been rather pulled in every possible direction; super busy yes, but absolutely loving it all the same! As you know, last week I was in San Marino with our youngest daughter and wow, what a country!
One drives for hours through the Alps, with scarcely another car in sight,
surrounded by wide open roads and stunning scenery, through endless tunnels carving their way quite literally through the mountains
and then half-way through this underground passage there is a tiny European flag; blink and you would miss it. It proudly announces that we are in Italy. Nothing changes except for the language, and we suddenly realise we cannot understand the road signs very well!
San Marino is the most extraordinary country.
I have never been there before, the views are incredible from the historic centre which sits at the very top of this tiny Republic. One can see for miles and miles all around; to the west are the rolling hills of Italy
and to the east are lowlands which look out over the Adriatic Sea towards Croatia.
After any length of time though it is always good to be back at home, to stroll through the garden and see what has changed and to give it some much needed attention!
In the potager I’m always aided and abetted by Coco, who is now 12 weeks old.
She’s actually going to live with friends in England, but won’t be leaving us until the end of August. She’s an absolute bundle of trouble in the best possible way, and she and Evie, her mother, are never far away when I’m working. However, unlike Evie – who has learnt to use the paths and not to walk all over the beds – nowhere is out of bounds to Coco and this has caused me to squawk in indignation rather more than normal! Of course, when I tell her to stop chewing the sweet potato vines, she just looks at me with the face of pure innocence and as soon as I turn my back she goes back to munching!
Call her and she’ll coming running, for half an hour she’ll race around full of life and then collapse and sleep like the dead!
Despite all the distractions I have managed to get a fair amount of my neglected weeding done. It’s been so hot and dry that the vegetables have come on apace and we have eaten our first home-grown melons of the summer, always a cause for celebration!
The aubergines are ripe and we have far too many courgettes – I never seem to learn, and I always plant too many! We’re overrun with lettuce and cucumbers but incredibly they don’t go to waste; being a large family we can happily eat one a day and the chickens happily mop up the scraps.
We are certainly very lucky, in addition to the glut of summer vegetables our hens are in fine fettle, laying prolifically; it feels so good to be eating so much that comes straight from our own land.
And then there are the tomatoes. Oh so many of them! The ones we enjoy most are the small sweet juicy cherry ones that we all love to eat straight from the vine, right there in the middle of the potager; they’re warm from the sun, nature’s natural candy. We also have some Italian plums of some variety and a few of enormous beefsteak ones which Roddy always insists on as they are excellent for cooking. They always take a little longer to ripen though, and typically come to fruition in a couple of weeks.
Tomatoes are a very staple part of our diets all summer and one of my favourite recipes is one that is incredibly simple and very French – I thought it would be rude of me not to share it and perhaps introduce its delights to anyone not familiar with a true taste of France – it’s my take on la tarte a la tomate Provençale.
You will need one packet of puff pastry (I must confess I use a good quality store-bought puff pastry as here in France there are several different makes and they’re all perfectly acceptable if you have a busy lifestyle; they do not contain any sugar which is a quite unnecessary addition and using store-bought pastry saves me a whole heap of work, to be frank).
You will also need:
1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1 cup of grated emmental or gruyere cheese
5 or 6 good sized tomatoes, thinly sliced.
Salt, pepper and fresh herbs (I use rosemary and thyme)
Roll out the puff pastry and lay it on a baking sheet, round or square, it’s your choice.
Roll over the sides by about 1 inch but don’t press them down. This forms the edges of the tart.
Spread the mustard over the base thinly.
Add the grated cheese in a fine layer over the base – not too much, as it melts it acts more as a liquid-proof lining than anything else.
Arrange the tomatoes over the top of the cheese. It is best if they do not overlap as this will make the tart too wet.
Drizzle all over with olive oil and then grind a good amount of pepper and also a little salt for flavour.
I like to then add a generous sprinkling of fresh herbs, thyme and rosemary work very well, as stated.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200C/390F for approximately 25 minutes.
Serve hot or cold.
It is perfect for a picnic, a leisurely lunch or as part of a long lazy outdoor supper on a warm evening. This really is one of the best flavours of summer. Couple it with a glass of wine, and some freshly caught grilled sardines, and I am in heaven!