Some debate, recently, around when Autumn starts: Is it immediately after the end of August, or does the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness kick in the September Equinox (23rd, this year)?
For me, it feels like it started this week. It’s been the saddest summers ever for me, and my life has been changed by it. But it ended with news of an opportunity I’ve been waiting my whole life for. A publisher who not only wants – but loves- my book.
So I’m sort of shell shocked at the moment, but the moment I stepped outside on Tuesday morning to damp chill, the scent of decay hanging in the air, and a thin drizzle that could – if one were of a poetic mind – be imagined as mist hanging in the air, it’s been autumn.
But the summer – as far as the contents of my kitchen is concerned – isn’t over yet. So, to celebrate what’s left of the sunshine season, and welcome the coming time of cinnamon and nutmeg, of pumpkins (even here, on the other side of the Atlantic), and of baking slow roasting, and crisp red leaves underfoot I made Autumn Salsa.
“What’s it made of?” my Friend C asked.
I called it Autumn Salsa cos so much of what you’d normally put in a salsa is a bit ‘off’ now. But there are a lot of cherry tomatoes that still have a heck of a sweet and sharp punch around.
These are “Key,” cos big watery tomatoes are useless for anything other than hurling at people who say things like “We’ve got no more room for immigrants.” Fucking idiots.
Also around, for some reason, are peppers of all hues. Probably flown – at great expense and carbon footprints as big as a basketball player – from Costa Rica.
However since, in the Northern hemisphere, the constant consumption of turnips beet and root vegetables has lead, in the past century or two, to little more than two “Wars to end all wars”, a tendency towards dwarfism in much of the population, and a selection of alcohols with a tendency to make the Autumnal consumer blind (a fact the drinker may not realise until the arrival of daylight the following April), I’ll take the guilt and shame of using peppers out of season.
Grab a yellow pepper and dice as finely as you can. Teeny tiny chunks of golden yellow shiny sweetness.
I similarly diced a green-to-orange pepper. It started off as green, but was left on top of the drier next to the microwave, so it might have been a touch, um irradiated, but if you don’t tell Joni Mitchell, I won’t.
Slide your diced peppers from the board into a bowl, ensuring you slide all the attendant juices with them.
Dice the tiny little tomatoes – as many as you have – as tiny as you can, and as regularly as they allow and slide – along with the always precious juices – into the bowl.
Slam in a decent pinch of salt. A pinch of salt as big as the ones we tend to use when my soon-to-be publisher announces projected earnings figures for my debut novel.
Grind in some several grinds of black pepper. I just like the word grind – don’t judge me. That said, there is one thing, for this recipe (and I use the word lightly) that counts, and it’s this: CHUNKY. We want bits of pepper, rather than the anaemic powdery dustings of pepper we get from a seriously tightly wound pepper mill. Tightly wound is never good, so loosen up, and let some big black flakes fly. And if I now sound like someone from the OCR of “Hair,” then so be it…
Anyways, what we want is chunks of heat and vanilla accented spice in the bowl.
Add half a deseeded red chilli (you could use the whole thing if you want, and leave in the seeds if you really love a kick of heat. You could also just slap in a good dollop of hot sauce if you are a complete slut. And I would note that I prize Slutdom as being next to Divadom, but fresh red pepper works best here). Dice it slice it sliver it into the tiniest pieces and – as always- slide into the bowl so that it adds a glistening speckling of heat and colour to the bowl.
Dice a red onion. I’ll write a piece on dicing onions soon. It’s really easy – the dicing – and I’ll include pictures of the hideously disfigured tip of my left index finger to explain how I’ve learned to dice an onion the hard way…
Add it to the bowl then stir them all together.
Put on something by Kander & Ebb, and marvel at their genius. Alternatively put on something by Adidas and marvel at the fact that you feel comfortable wearing Rayon in the kitchen…
To the vegetables add a Glug (that’s a technical term for something that’s halfway between a Splash and a bastard-i’ve-tipped-the-whole-bottle-in) of red wine vinegar. I should have used lemon juice from the hundredweight of lemons that have set up home in my fruit bowl like a congregation of yellow “Occupy Wall Street” protestors, but I forgot about them. So, as a result, I suspect Moroccan preserved Lemons are on the horizon.
With a decent fork and a strong right arm, stir the assembled items together.
Cover. Place somewhere cool.
Pour a glass of wine. I didn’t, cos I’m not drinking in September. I’m doing the Cancer Research UK Dryathlon, about which you can find more details here. It’s a small thing, to give up booze for a month, but if it (a) helps me rebalance myself after a very stressful few months and (b) gets some funds for a great charity, I’ll be happy. But you’re not abstaining, so pour a nice glass of Shiraz for me, and tell me.
Ten or twenty minutes prior to serving, put on The original Cast Album of “The Visit,” and marvel at the music, and the lyrics (particularly of “I walk away,” which manages to be both Funny and Heartbreakingly true to me), then mince a couple of handfuls of leafy herbs.
I had Coriander in the fridge, but I also had Mint that was about to go off, so guess which one I ended up using? And guess what I forgot to do before I took the picture..?
Mincing is an important technique: It’s not – by any stretch of the imagination – chopping. Chopping is way too butch, and comes with all sorts of unpleasant butchery undertones.
Neither, if you want to get in out and on with your life as fast as possible, is it slicing. Slicing is – in this situation – the act of a human being who has nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon than to slice a Fucking Mint leaf.
And if you are the sort of person who has nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon than to slice a Fucking Leaf, you need to do more than make salsa…
Mincing – with herbs as with carriage – is a gentle but rapid exercise that requires, in the latter case, a relaxed but definitive swing, and, in the former, a deliberate, and yet controlled limp wrist. Make the leaves – whatever they are – confetti.
Slide – and I mean sliiiiiiiiiiide; we really want to capture every last drop of the attendant oils and scents and acids and juices and flavours – the herb into the melange (another technical term that means, basically “slop”).
Stir. Taste. Add more salt and pepper if needed.
Pile on plates with steaks that – despite your best intentions – have a scoop of Philadelphia on each sizzling slab, and potato wedges that have been dredged in Paprika.
Slop (a technical term meaning Shovel) the Leftovers into a box, add some cooked prawns, some raisins, pumpkin seeds, another grind (giggle) of pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice and comfort yourself with the fact that whilst your weekend may have been filled with Glamour, sparkle, Broadway shows and cheap wine, your Monday Lunch is at least a decent use of leftovers….