On a very hot day in Sicily many years ago, I wandered into the kitchen and found my friend Gisella chopping tomatoes into a large bowl. I sat and watched as she smothered the tomatoes in basil, chopped in some garlic and added olive oil. ‘What are you making?’ I asked as she put a large pot of water on to boil. ‘It’s Sicilian pasta,’ she replied. ‘You don’t cook the tomatoes.’ Was it a deep longing to recreate this scene that inspired me, a few days ago, in the dark of my Burgundy kitchen, as rain poured down outside and 4 housebound teenagers clamored for lunch, to make a version of Gisella’s dish?
Pâtes aux tomates fraîches, mozzarella et basilic / Pasta with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil
Here in France it is hard to find the salty, hard sheep’s cheese known as ricotta salata that Gisella used in Sicily. But I loved the recipe so much that I have been making it for years, using mozzarella as a substitute and adding plenty of salt. It makes a perfect everyday French chef sort of meal — quick to prepare and highly popular with the younger set (and grownups, too). We have quite a few vegetarian friends down in Burgundy, and this is a fine dish to serve when they visit. Even on days of rain.
Now then. Would you mind if I went on about the rain for a moment? This is the coldest, wettest July I can remember in my 40 years in France. The high yesterday was 15 degrees C. (59 F.) — equal to the average low in July. It rained so hard two nights ago that my veranda got flooded. And last night, in the middle of the night, again awakened by rain pounding on the roof, I found my daughter snuggled under a pile of quilts wearing a winter parka and big flowered scarf, my old Russian shapka (fur hat) perched on her head.
It’s still wet this morning and I’m facing a difficult drive back down to Burgundy to collect our puss, Fifi, who got left behind at a cat hotel on Wednesday because I couldn’t fit her plus 4 teens into the car. No barbecue in view this evening, no happy splashing in the village pool. Is this a perverse consequence of global warming, or what? If it continues, you may well find next year that this column has changed its name. I am dreaming of decamping to a warm Pacific island. Would you believe The Everyday Tahitian Chef?
Oh Meg do not despair. Here in California, we’re in the middle of a huge drought, and we’ll be grilling & splashing all over the place when you & my niece visit.