Becoming very vague about what day it is here in the Apennines but I like that…

After extremely hot weather with temperatures reaching the mid-thirties, we had a very dramatic hailstorm on Saturday evening with hail stones the size of cherries! Hopefully with no lasting damage to the orchard or recently-planted potted flowers and shrubs…

I have now written 46000 words of my new novel, Dorek, deaf and unheard. It obviously needs a lot of work and I will never be a Muriel Spark or Jean Rhys but I hope I have something new to say about the ‘deaf’ experience.

Unlike me, my main character Dorek is a vegetarian bordering on vegan and not particularly concerned with food. I have recently spent three nights on the Cote d’Azur, courtesy of a very dear Italian friend. The trip has rekindled my own interest in food (and Armagnac for some reason!). One fish restaurant we visited in Antibes was magnificently decorated with vegetables and lemons rather than flowers or plants. The selected fish displayed under a mechanically operated perspex dome was then baked in salt. We shared a sea bass which wasn’t particularly tasty but the vegetables accompanying it were superb. On our return here I was inspired to make my version of ratatouille. I didn’t want to cook it like a sauce but rather to retain each individual vegetable characteristic. There were three of us for dinner so I took one red pepper, de-seeded and devoid of all white bits, cut in half. Then one aubergine, sliced in chunks, retaining some skin on each slice. Finally one courgette, peeled leaving stripes of skin and cut into thick slices between each strip of skin. In the meantime I brushed a large layer of tin foil with oil which I had already put on a tray (equivalent to a grill pan). I placed all the veg (in two lots) on the foil, skin side up, brushing each piece lightly with oil. I grilled all under high heat for 20 – 25 minutes turning aubergine and courgette slices over once after around 15 mins. When pepper skin was brown and puffed up I removed from grill and left to cool. I then removed pepper skin and cut the halves and other veg into mouth-size strips. I then heated a very small amount of olive oil in a pan and placed all the veg in it. I added a couple of dollops of tomato purée and heated through. At this stage seasoning can be added, either pepper and salt or chilli flakes. If it looks too dry add a tiny drop of water or white wine and garnish with parsley or coriander. I served it with sole but it is equally delicious on its own with bread.

On Sunday I made guinea fowl with oranges and fennel from an Ottolenghi recipe. I am convinced Yotam’s a very distant cousin of mine but that’s another story…