Life at № 42 by E.M. Coutinho
She’s decided she’s going to live in America. I won’t lie, I’m a little bit shaken. I thought that considering the virus and the turmoil in the world, she’d be gracing us with her presence for a bit more time. In the past twenty years I’ve only been able to lay my hands on three pieces of this sort of main altar proportions. The first was my Saint Michael, who lived with us in the entrance hall at Villa l’Africaine for years until I finally agreed to sell him to a church. When the Jehovah’s Witness missionaries came to the door he was very good for scaring them away.
The second was a wonderful Virgen del Consuelo dressed in red who now lives in New Zealand. But this Madonna was by far the best of the three. The proportions are perfection, the face is really lovely, she’s held up beautifully considering her age. And she looked exceptional upstairs on the 17th century chest! It’s sometimes very difficult to work with beautiful things because you don’t want to let them go. But Mike’s rule is one piece in, one piece out, or chaos ensues; and I know he’s right. My hoarder tendencies are undeniable.
I’ve been doing much better than I thought I would after events with my grandfather. I have a new doctor, a young woman, who a month or so ago put me on a new course of medication which has done wonders to keep my mind fairly clear. I’m also relatively calm. The bursts of extreme anxiety still come, but I feel able to sit them out. When I first came out of the pharmacy I thought Cheezuz that’s a lot of pills for a month – but then of course, it’s also a lot of crazy.
And in the food department, I leave you with Michel Roux Jr’s superb chilled tomato soup with mackerel. I simplified the whole thing and used smoked mackerel which was excellent, but here’s the original version:
4 very ripe plum tomatoes
4 very ripe beef tomatoes
Juice 1 orange
8 coriander seeds
1 tbsp tomato purée
1-1½ tbsp sherry vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling and brushing
Squeeze lemon juice
3 medium mackerel fillets, pin boned (see tip)
Fresh basil leaves to serve
Using a sharp knife, score a small cross on the base of each tomato. Put in a heatproof bowl and cover with freshly boiled water. Leave for 15 seconds, then drain and refresh in cold water. Peel off the skins (they should come away easily). Cut the tomatoes in half, squeeze out and discard the seeds, then chop roughly.
Put the tomato flesh into a blender or processor with the orange juice, coriander seeds and tomato purée. Season with salt and pepper, whizz until smooth, then press through a sieve using a wooden spoon or ladle.
Add 1 tbsp sherry vinegar, then taste and adjust the seasoning as needed – you may need a splash more sherry vinegar. Chill for at least 3 hours (see make ahead). The air bubbles will leave the soup and the colour will intensify to a deep red.
When the soup has chilled, peel the cucumber, halve lengthways, then remove the seeds with a teaspoon. Cut the cucumber halves into 4cm lengths, then into batons. Season with salt, pepper, extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice, then toss to combine.
Heat the grill to high. Run your fingers over the cut-side of the mackerel fillets to locate any pin bones, remove using fish tweezers (see tip), then wash and pat dry. Cut each fillet diagonally to give 2 roughly diamond-shaped pieces, brush with a little oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill, skin-side up, for 2 minutes, then cook for 1 minute on the other side.
Divide the cucumber evenly among 6 soup plates, piling it up in the centre. Top each pile with a piece of hot mackerel, pour the cold tomato soup around, then garnish with fresh basil leaves and a drop or two of olive oil.