When I was growing up, in Vermont, one saying that I particularly loved hearing on the weather reports, especially in the summer, was that we were in for “good sleeping weather.” That means cool but not cold, maybe just the perfect temperature for having the window open and a cosy blanket to snuggle in.
That window of opportunity for good sleeping weather is surprisingly small in our little north-eastern state, where the annual temperature range is anywhere from -30C to 35C, and on a daily basis the weather can change from an idyllic sunny day to a blustery, gale-force storm. So Vermonters also have another saying: If you don’t like the weather….wait a minute.
The same could be said of the weather here in Devon, especially where we are, in a valley on the edge of the moor. The weather comes in from the sea, over the hills, and then – well, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen. While the rest of England can be suffering a heat wave, we are often stoically walking in the rain, determined to get out and about. (Although sometimes all of England gets soaked. I particularly remember one time when the weather reporter intoned, “Today will be a disappointment to everyone.”)
Yesterday we had a mixed bag of weather. While the sun was still shining, we winkled the kids and the dog out of the house for a little jaunt on the moor. Before we had gone less than 1/4 of a mile, The Poppet stopped and said gloomily, “It’s raining.”
And sure enough, drops were coming down, if only sporadically. The Author and I peered at the Western sky and saw a line of blue behind the clouds.
“It’ll pass,” we said. And much to the children’s dismay, we carried on.
Indeed, the rain did pass – it barely touched us, to be honest. By the time we got the the top of the moor, we had seen swirling clouds, fuzzy cows, pheasants, shorn sheep, sun, gorse, heather, blue sky, mist, mud and grass. The wind blew our hair around, which The Poppet found particularly exhilarating, and The Son looked far to the South and exclaimed, “I can see the sea!” (It is possible to see the sea from the top of the moor, but I’m not sure it was yesterday.)
While I sometimes bemoan the lack of a clear weather forecast, one thing I can say for sure: it’s never dull. And most importantly, as far as I’m concerned, it’s always good cooking weather!
Aubergine & Goat Ricotta Roll-ups with Basil Sauce
Serves 4-5 people
You don’t have to wait for good cooking weather to make this; the most important part is to get the vegetables while they are in season, which is right now. If the weather happens to co-operate, so much the better.
When I first started writing this recipe out, I thought it would be very simple because there are not very many ingredients in it. But then I realised that at least three of the ingredients are ones I make myself, and that’s what really adds to the flavour. Don’t let this put you off. It’s still really simple, but you just need to plan slightly ahead.
If that doesn’t convince you, then I should also add that 5 out of 5 people in this house love it, despite 2 or 3 of them professing a hatred for aubergine.
- 6 large aubergines (eggplant)
- 300g (10 oz) goat milk ricotta (see how to make it here, or you can buy whatever ricotta you choose; please note the measurement is approximate)
- 40g (1/4 cup) pine nuts
- 40g (1/4 cup) currants
- 120g (4 oz) rocket (arugula)
- 1 egg
- 400ml (14 oz) tomato sauce (see the end if you want to make this too)
- basil oil (see end)
Wash the aubergines and peel two opposite sides, then slice each aubergine lengthwise into strips about 1 cm thick. Salt the pieces on both sides and leave to rest, vertically if possible, in a colander for about 1/2 hour.
Put the currants in a bowl and just cover them with warm water. Or, for even more oompf, soak them in white wine – cooking wine is fine.
While the aubergine are sweating and the currants are plumping up, toast the pine nuts. Lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake them at 170C (350F) for 5 minutes. If after 5 minutes they haven’t turned golden brown, stir them around and bake for another few minutes. Keep a sharp eye on them; they go from uncooked to burnt fairly quickly! When they are done, remove them from the baking sheet to a cool plate or bowl and set aside.
Wash the rocket and chop 1/2 of it into smallish pieces (reserve the rest of the rocket for serving).
Once the aubergines have released some moisture, pat them dry with a tea towel or paper towel and coat them generously with olive oil. Lay them out flat on some baking trays and roast in the oven at 190C (375F) for 15 minutes or so, until they start to take on some colour and become pliable. (I usually flip them over after about 10 minutes.) Take them out of the oven and let them cool on the baking sheets.
Drain the currants and mix them with the chopped rocket, ricotta, pine nuts and about 1/2 tsp of salt and a few good cranks of freshly cracked pepper. Have a taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Mix in the egg.
Lay the pieces of aubergine flat and put a generous tablespoon of filling at the small end of each piece. Roll up firmly but not too tightly, and place the aubergine seam-side down in a baking dish that you have lightly coated with the tomato sauce. Continue until all the aubergine are rolled up. (I had to use an extra smaller baking dish as well – I didn’t have enough room in the first one.)
Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the rolled up aubergine, and bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling. Remove from the oven and drizzle the basil oil on top. Serve with the rest of the rocket.
- 1 bunch basil (2 good handfuls)
- 100-200ml extra virgin olive oil (the quantity depends on how big your handfuls of basil are!)
De-stem the basil and wash the leaves thoroughly. (I always think that herbs are clean, and then when I wash them, I find so much grit at the bottom of the bowl!)
Pack the leaves into a blender or food processor and, with the motor running, drizzle in the oil, stopping when the whole thing is a nice, pourable consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use immediately, but if you want to keep it, put it into a jar and pour a little bit of olive oil onto the surface to keep it from oxidising.
This recipe is not mine but is from Marcella Hazan, who was one of the best Italian chefs and cookbook writers in America. It is super simple and super tasty! Trust me!
- 400g tomatoes (fresh or tinned will work)
- 70g (2.5 oz) butter
- 1 onion, peeled and cut in half
- salt and pepper to taste
Chop the tomatoes and put them, along with their juices, in a saucepan with the onion and the butter and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer, then cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. While it is cooking, you can occasionally mash the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Sometimes I do this, and sometimes I don’t!
Remove the onion, and season with salt and pepper. For the recipe above, I purée the sauce, but it’s hardly necessary.