Saturday, 21 August 2010

Marinated cucumbers

I’m back in Tuscany, celebrating a glut of cucumbers and getting reacquainted with flavours that took a backseat during the winter months. Eating here feels like emerging from some kind of taste-hibernation, remembering forgotten pleasures and rediscovering dishes as though meeting old friends. None of the artisan tomatoes from farmers markets in the height of summer in London tasted as richly delicious as the sun drenched examples from Sibilla’s garden. We feast on them every morning, sprinkled with a little red wine vinegar, torn basil and a splash of fruity olive oil. Yesterday there was creamy sheep’s milk ricotta from the dairy to go with our tomatoes. Sitting in the sunshine listening to cicadas I wondered why anyone would ever want to eat anything else.

We used home-grown Italian cucumbers with quite a tough, thick skin and spiky nubbins, so peeling is essential, however if you might decide not to peel yours if their skin is thinner.

Serves four as part of a summer's lunch

3 cucumbers, peeled and sliced into rounds about as thick as a pound coin (roughly half a cm)
One medium sized white onion, peeled and sliced into rings as thick as the cucumber
A generous teaspoon of sea salt
Half a teaspoon of sugar
A small clove of garlic, crushed
Good quality white wine vinegar
Fresh basil and mint
Extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper

Combine the cucumbers and onion rings in a bowl large enough to let you toss and mix around your ingredients. Add the salt and sugar and mix everything up. Taste a piece of cucumber – it should taste a tiny bit too salty. If not add a bit more salt. Add the garlic, toss again, then pour over enough white wine vinegar to just about cover the cucumber. The salt will draw moisture out of the cucumbers and together with the vinegar this will be your marinade.

Cover the bowl with cling film and leave it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, just before you serve the dish, tear up a small handful of basil and mint leaves and scatter them over. Add a good splash of olive oil, grind over some black pepper and give the whole thing one last toss.

The cucumbers are lovely and refreshing eaten on their own, perhaps with a slice of cold roast pork and chilled glass of white wine. Or add them to chopped up tomatoes, and throw in some cubes of dry, stale bread for a more substantial panzanella-style salad.

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