The variety show currently on offer to members - so many grapes, so little time to peel them! - make me yearn for the Mediterranean, not so much the bobbing waves but the quieter hinterland where farming takes over from fishing, the landscape is dotted with ancient olive groves and the air is pungent with wild herbs.
I think wistfully of markets heaving with goodies we can only dream about at home - less a matter of ingredients, more of the perfect ripeness and concentration conferred by the sun. The difference it makes to a simple courgette is phenomenal, and as for tomatoes, don't get me started.
We have become accustomed to year-round hothouse-grown peppers and aubergines from the Low Countries and to call them vehicles would be to insult minibuses. I still recall Financial Times cook Philippa Davenport's memorable description 'Dutch dullard' whenever I see an impressively large and glossy but essentially vapid 'obo' at the greengrocer's and I wonder why we import tasteless aubergines when we could produce them under glass ourselves.
Recently, however, I've noticed home-grown offerings at farmers' markets, including designer varieties like the wondrous lavender-striated Pearl which seem to have a bit more about them. Armed with the best olive oil and most patrician sherry vinegar I can lay my hands on, I'm ready to take myself off to the sun with a colourful and classic Spanish salad.
In his book Cook España, Drink España, Michelin-starred chef Mario Sandoval quotes an old Catalan saying that the purpose of eating together is to have a conversation, and that food simply gives you something to do with your hands while talking.
I defy your guests not to be rendered momentarily speechless by the sheer tastiness of this delightful dish, even if the odd dullard has sneaked into your shopping basket.
Mario Sandoval's Escalibada De Verduras
Traditional Roasted Vegetables
Wine recommendation: fruity reds made from garnacha or tempranillo, and rosés made from these varieties work brilliantly. White wines should be gutsy and full and Mediterranean in feel. The white grapes of the Rhône - marsanne, roussanne, viognier, grenache - deliver on all counts.
- 2 aubergines
- 3 red peppers
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 onion
- 1 whole garlic bulb
- Salt to taste
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Sherry vinegar (optional)
- Fresh dill, to garnish
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F, Gas Mark 4). Wash and dry the aubergines, peppers and tomatoes, and place in an ovenproof dish with the onion and garlic. Drizzle over some olive oil and sprinkle on a little salt. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes until tender (the onion requires the most cooking). Remove the dish from the oven and set aside to cool.
When warm, peel the vegetables, tomatoes and garlic cloves. Cut the aubergines and peppers into fine strips, and the tomatoes and onion into segments. Keep all the vegetables separate from one another. Dress each with plenty of olive oil, and a few drops of sherry vinegar if desired, then set aside in the refrigerator to chill.
On a large, flat plate, assemble a round vegetable 'tart' about 29cm (8in) in diameter. Arrange the strips of red pepper around the outside, and then, working inward, a ring of onion segments aubergine strips, tomato wedges and finish with a pile of soft garlic in the centre. Cut it into 4 portions and use a cake slice to transfer the slices to individual plates. Garnish each with a sprig of fresh dill.
From Cook España Drink España by John Radford and Mario Sandoval (Mitchell Beazley, 2007)
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor