Mummy exhaustion tends to have me on the look out for simple cooking, but at the same time, I don’t want to skimp on goodness and nutrition for a quick fix meal. My Nona once told me that the best meals are the ones that do all the work for you. The trick is, she told me, to only use good ingredients. She told me to never skimp on quality, and if you happen to have the space, then go the full hog and grow your own mini-farmers market. Her garden was always in season. From tomatoes and plums in the summer, to pumpkins and fennel in the fall. I tend to believe anything my Nona tells me about food simply because of the way her kitchen smells. One of my favorite dishes as a child was her fresh tomato and basil salad. There’s nothing simpler in the way of a meal. But I think what made it one of my favourites was the ritual leading up to the warm, burst of tomato flavour. She’d grab her garden knife, slip on her garden shoes and put on her apron (why she ever needed an apron for visiting the veggie patch at the end of the garden I’ve never really understood). I too needed to be appropriately attired; gum boots, a small paring knife and one of my Nono’s work buckets. Then we’d schlep ourselves down the garden path to the back gate which lead to what, for me, has always been the most wonderful little slice of heaven.
If you’ve ever watered a veggie patch on a summer’s evening you know how vegetables should smell. It’s a thick, pungent aroma which lingers on your clothes and in your hair long after you’re done. Tomatoes have a sweet, fuzzy kind of scent which tickles the inside of your nose. It’s one of my most cherished summer memories. Nona would water the garden while I would browse and munch my way down each aisle, and then we’d pick the tomatoes and basil for the salad. Warm, like freshly laid eggs, we’d gently lay them in our basket one by one and then head on back to the kitchen. What would come next couldn’t be any simpler; slice the tomatoes, tear up the basil, salt, cracked pepper, olive oil (good olive oil), let it sit for 10 minutes or so, e basta! A freshly baked ciabatta and a glass of pino grigo are perfect partners for this dish (well, I think so anyway). To this day, it’s one the dishes I prepare when I’m feeling homesick. I’ve been away from Oz for nearly seven years now, and although I love travelling the world with my husband, every now and then I need a little something from home to remind me who I am. And food, well … it’s a natural soul soother.
Now, this recipe will be a total let down if you use tomatoes which crossed two oceans and three states before arriving on your kitchen table, which is one of the reasons I decided to grow my own veggie garden this summer. I knew that if I wanted Noah to discover tomatoes as good as I remember them, it was important that they be left in the sun for as long as possible. So, for the past six weeks Noah and I have been heading out each night after dinner to water the veggie patch. At first he didn’t really get it and would spend most of his time trying to empty the garden boxes of all their dirt. That then progressed to him attempting to transplant anything he could wrap his little fingers around. But now, after a little repetition and observation, he’s decided that it’s fun to fill his little watering can and empty it on mummy’s garden. This week our tomatoes turned a gorgeous, sun burnt red. Yum! So, I grabbed my garden knife, slipped on my garden shoes and found an old bucket in the garage (what is it about repeating history that’s so comforting?). Only a few were ready, but there were enough for a small salad. Sadly Noah wasn’t having a bar of it. He promptly spat his piece of tomato out like it was the most revolting thing I’d ever put in his mouth, followed by a loud and confident ‘Blaaaaaahh!’ Lovely (eye roll). I guess the romantic notions of my own memories don’t translate well outside of my own mind. Here’s what it looked like before Noah’s thumbs down review.