Food Shorts    

Baked Beans
My greengrocer had some fresh Borlotti Beans - I'd only seen them in their pods before in French markets. I bought myself a bundle, about half-an-armful, and took them home to ease the smooth marbled shapes out of their violet-striped pods.

In a hot skillet, I swirl dice of shallot in a big puddle of olive oil. As the white clears I add thin crescents of carrot, then the beans and chunks of fresh tomato. When the whole lot softens I throw in handfuls of chunky-chopped parsley, drip a little water, and stir it up with salt and pepper.

I tip the red-white-green mixture into a low, long baking dish, smooth it across the bottom then throw in a sprinkle of sugar, more handfuls of parsley, and a liberal soak of olive oil. The dish goes into a hot oven and stays there for as long as I can bear, a couple of hours, just the odd check to prevent complete dehydration.

When it comes out the beans have caramelised, thick starchy insides chewy brown shells, infused with tomatoes, shallots and parsley. I cut slices and eat it like pecan tart, always just one more slice, so sweet and gooey you could even pour cream over it. That's real baked beans. You listening Mr Heinz?

Amazing the shapes, sizes and colours of the humble tomato, isn't it? Round, plum or pumpkin-shaped, micro-cherry to macro-beef, all shades of traffic lights. I can picture in my mind a hedgehog tomato, spines reflecting light in the subtlest way, almost translucent at the tips. And I once ate Russian Black tomatoes - not jet black, no, but red fluting out to mahogany-ebony, a bit scary to look at, but sweet as blood oranges.

I must have gone nearly 20 years without ever smelling a tomato. I planted some the other year in the small plot out back, and misplaced years of childhood returned to me, back to when every garden had a row of gro-bags and a pungent curtain of green-and-red toms. It's when you smell them that you realise there's nothing like eating a tomato fresh, off the vine - that taste fades so fast inside a salad washed with dressing.

For two weeks a mystery crop from Sardinia made a guest appearance in the local health-food store. A huge basket, diminishing by the day, balancing fat scalloped tomatoes, blemished and bulging from their skin. By the end of the fortnight I was returning to the shop twice daily, certain that each time would be the last, buying a kilo and taking them home to halve them with a huge blade and dot the exposed flesh with salt, pepper and olive oil. I wolfed down a kilo each time, and still my tomato-lust was unsatisfied. I want to move to Sardinia and farm mutant pumpkin tomatoes.

Butter and veg
I can't help thinking vegetables are boring. That is, I can't until I eat them. Thing is, whatever the veg - broccoli, mange tout, slithers of butternut squash, curly kale, carrots, courgettes - they all taste exquisite if you just steam them a bit and toss in some butter, salt and pepper. Sure, you can get a lot fancier, but butter, salt and pepper - it's to die for. I was vegan but I missed milk. Then I was vegan but I missed cheese. Now I'll never be vegan because I love butter.

Lather your body in fresh mango. Rub yourself down with an avocado.

Pasta and potatoes
Pasta. And potatoes. That's it. Well, obviously cheese, butter, herbs - stuff like that too. But pasta and potatoes are all it takes to feel completely cocooned, enveloped in warmth, back in the womb. Sounds crazy, but take my word for it.

Salad dressing
Yeah, there's oil and vinegar, everyone knows that. And you can add stuff - salt, pepper, garlic, herbs, mustard, god knows, even honey. I've even been known to use lemon curd when out of honey. But I always wondered... is that all there is? And then I discovered a new continent of drizzles. Anything and everything - bound together with fruit juice, soya milk, wines and spirits.

Try this to get you started: a little soya milk, honey, a bundle of chopped dill weed, small blobs of silken tofu. Salt and pepper if you want. Perhaps a drop of lime and olive oil. Liquidise the lot, then pulse in little chunks of green peppercorn. Next time, try that on your coleslaw.

Burnt fruit breakfast
Breakfast's another dull one - cereal or toast. In a never-ending monotony of rotation. But to eat either is to dare the devils of irritable bowel syndrome to come enjoy a day of torture and pain-infliction in my intestines. Fruit sounds so dull (dull as veg, right?) - but find a fleshy fruit or two and burn it. Sear black lines into it on a griddle pan, or toast it under the grill. Apricots, mangoes, peaches and plums, they all need to suffer. While the fruit smokes, mix yoghurt and honey with your choice in spices - cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg... and spoon it into the hollow left by the fruit's stone. Salve the fruit's wounds with your yoghurt. Play the angel and Mary Magdalene to those IBS devils. One good deed that makes you feel good all day.

© Dan Sumption, October 2002

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