Half Baked

Welcome to mid-summer.

Without doing anything about it, we find ourselves now at the high point of mid-summer. It was effortless. How did we get here? Time is flying by, the days are getting shorter, but not that noticeably and the fruit is ripening on the trees, even through all this rain. This is probably the apogee of the summer heat, although it’s not that hot this year. Our maximums are in the low to mid thirties.

The Earth Mother Garden Girl has been out early, picking vegetables and returns with a wheel barrow full. She comes in with a couple of boxes full of tomatoes, capsicums, aubergines, zucchinis, and more.

I’ve spent the day cutting and folding stainless steel kiln parts. I see the bounty of summer right there in boxes on the kitchen floor and decide to make the obvious choice, ratatouille. It’s that time of year!
I start by selecting out all the bird-damaged, rain-split, sun-burnt and otherwise affected and just plain over-ripe or undersized tomatoes. Paring them down and cutting them in half. I rub them with olive oil and dress them with a sprinkling of salt, then pop them into a low oven to dry a little for a while.
For the past few days, The lovely has been thinking about doing our tax. It’s a job that we always do in Jan. Well, we try to. It has to be in by March, along with our company returns. It’s not as big a deal as it used to be. Since the introduction of the GST and quarterly BAS statements, most of it is already done. But it’s still a job that no-one likes. So My Beautiful Abacus has managed to put it off now for 2 days and as a result of this extended procrastination, she has sorted out the office, cleaned out the spare room, tidied under our bed, re-arranged the pantry and de-cluttered the kitchen table, work bench and side board. Tax time is great! The house has never looked so tidy. I think the next job on the tax-list may well turn out to be cleaning the shower grouting. Procrastination can be good!
In the kitchen the smell of the half baked tomatoes is wafting out and about the house now. I split the zucchinis, capsicums and aubergines. These are our first two aubergines of the season. I lay them all in a baking dish with some olive oil, cover them with the half baked tomatoes and dress it all with a big handful of torn basil leaves fresh from the garden, while The Lovely crushes a few cloves of garlic and spreads it about all over the mix. I tear up a few anchovies and place little bits evenly about the pan. It isn’t pretty. It’s a big jumbled mass of veggies, but it smells fantastic already and I haven’t even cooked it yet.
In the oven for half an hour to soften the veggies let it all meld in together. It fills the house with that smell of “only in summer”.
For me, ratatouille and its many variations has to be the apotheosis of summer. Good olive oil and fresh summer vegetables from the garden – beautiful!  As we only eat what we grow. We can’t have this dish at any other time of the year. Aubergines are very slow to get going here. They don’t start producing until mid-summer and then fruit well into the autumn. Zucchinis on the other hand are just about past their zenith and starting their slow decline as they straggle and spread all over the place. The tomatoes haven’t reached their peak as yet, but are bearing very well for us just now. We are just starting to get enough to think about bottling them. Passata may well come before tax?
My Beautiful Abacus packs away the tax files from the kitchen table into their relevant boxes and spring folders, then transforms into a Beautiful Maitre’D and Sommelier as I plate-up the fragrant dish and grate a little parmigiana on top and some more fresh basil leaves. It’s really wonderful, if I do say so myself. It’s a great pity that I can’t convey the smell sensations to you in words. You just have to be there – or do it yourself. Half baking the tomatoes really helps to concentrate the flavour. It takes a little longer, but it’s really worth it. Once they are in the oven, you can go back to not doing the tax for a little longer. Actually, it’s a great way to extend the working day without realising it.

Best wishes from the Half Baked Steve and his Beautiful Actuary