Once upon a time, four Parisians and a cat escaped to the south of France for a rural holiday, in a little yellow house with a large garden. They talked and read and lazed in deck-chairs. When they played pétanque, the cat raced up to each ball, like a referee judging distance. There was a jazz festival and a meteor shower. When it rained they sat around a fire with books, stirring only for tea and bread and jam. If they were too lazy to go the market, they only had to walk through the long grass to the vegetable patch. There were spaghetti squash (steamed, tossed with basil pesto, also from the garden) and beefheart tomatoes (sliced with salt and oil) and long stalks of chard that were starting to go brown. (The chard went into everything – baked eggs, courgette soup, sauteed with chili and orange as a side dish.)
The menu started to look like an achingly hip farm-to-table restaurant, from the fresh sourdough – parmesan and black pepper – to the homemade jam – apricot and ginger – not forgetting the handmade mayonnaise to go on the local chicken salad. With chives from the pot next to the outside tap. They made lists of meals, and lists of Things Googled. (Why is Judy Garland a gay icon? Can zombies swim? Etymology of condom? What is the French for knuckles? Answer: They don’t have any. They have finger joints. So no knuckle sandwiches in France.)
They recycled all the leftovers into more meals – the chicken stock into soup, the bread into croutons. They ate duck and more duck. Ethiopian bread with its hint of vinegar, spread with duck rillettes and fig jam. Magret de canard with lentils. One restaurant served an incredible beef tartare, briefly seared top, with toasted hazelnuts and a generous slab of foie gras on top. They ate too much. But they only made it halfway through the enormous marrow. You can only eat so much marrow.
These recipes came from a wet morning, and a roasted butternut that needed a purpose. Perfect for using up the end of summer overload of squash, tomatoes, courgettes. They were some of the best pizzas ever made in that little yellow house.
Butternut and cherry tomato pizza; courgette and pesto pizza
serves two, hungry
Make your favourite pizza base, enough for 2. For example: mix 250g bread flour, 150g sourdough leaven*, 120g lukewarm water, 20g olive oil, 5g instant dried yeast, 5g salt. Adjust water if necessary – but it should be initially sticky rather than dry and tough. Knead for 10 minutes or so until the dough can be stretched as thin and translucent as the surface of a balloon. Shape into a ball, allow to rest in a oiled bowl, covered, for an hour or so at room temperature until doubled in size. Halve, shape into two balls, rest 10 minutes. Roll out with a little flour to desired size/thickness.
*instead of leaven, make a starter by mixing 75g bread flour, 75g water and a pinch of dry yeast 12 hours before; or skip it altogether, just add the extra flour/water directly to the mix
(The day before.) Roast one butternut squash, whole, until soft.
Finely slice one small onion and a clove of garlic, sauté in olive oil until soft. Peel and mash about half the squash into the onion with a potato masher, or a fork. Add a large dollop of crème fraîche. Flavour with salt, pepper, paprika, chilli powder, lemon juice, chopped thyme. Stir in a splash of water if too thick.
Spread over pizza base. Halve some cherry tomatoes, tear up some ham and fresh mozzarella and scatter it all over the top. Add some extra thyme too.
Bake at 250C until the crust is nicely browned.
Very finely slice a large courgette, enough to cover a whole baking tray without overlapping, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast at 250C until golden-brown. Leave the oven on for the pizzas.
Blend large handfuls of basil with a handful of grated parmesan, some toasted pinenuts or almonds and a few generous glugs of olive oil to make a rough paste. Taste and add salt, lemon juice, and/or a garlic clove if desired. Spread pesto over pizza base, cover with roasted courgette circles, then fresh mozzarella and a little more olive oil. Add herbs – basil, oregano – if desired, before and/or after baking.
Bake at 250C until the crust is nicely browned. Serve with chopped parsley or rocket on top.