Over the years, my garden has had its ups and downs. It has never come close to the glorious fruit and vegetable producing garden of Eden that I plan each spring. Either I start well and then procrastinate planting out, or I start too late. In the past seven years that I have been attempting to create an inner-city vegetable patch, this year was the first year that we didn't leave on holiday in the month of August, leaving the garden to the mercy of inattentive cat-sitters who never remember to water. On the rare years that I have managed to plant seeds on time and plant out early, the August drought has managed to kill all but the most hardy plants.
This year, I thought it was going to be different. (Of course!) I planted seeds in March and got the seedlings out on the terrace by the end of May. For once, we were taking our summer holidays in June - a month that usually has plenty of rain and isn't too hot in Paris. My plants would survive perfectly well without care for a few weeks and I would be home in the hot month of August to do the watering myself. The first part of the plan went well: June was wet and cool. Unfortunately, so was July. Oh yeah, and August too. By the time it started to dry out in September, my tomato plants were just starting to flower. The eggplant and zucchini had already given up by then. So it was another disappointing year at the Paris vegetable patch.
But there were a few plants that valiantly thrived despite the cold, wet summer: my herbs. Rosemary, sage and basil all flourised. Even the coriander, which I traditioinal am truly awful at keeping alive more than a week, survived for several weeks, died and then had a phoenix-like resurrection.
But sage was the star of the show. If you are interested in balcony gardening, I have to say that it's my biggest and best recommendation. It's very easy to raise from seed, has beautiful dusty green leaves, is delicious in so many wonderful dishes and - if you have mild winters as we tend to do - will even survive the winter. I even managed to keep one alive in a pot in the kitchen once for two years.
And here is another: sage, ham, turkey and wine in a somewhat authentic saltimbocca.
The "real" saltimbocca, is of course, made with veal. But as I have mentioned before, turkey works pretty well as a substitute for veal. The critic loves turkey and it certainly is cheaper than veal, not to mention more acceptable to those who are fussed about eating "baby cows". And it is absolutely delicious and so easy to prepare it's almost embarrassing. Serve it with a big helping of pasta tossed with butter, salt and Parmesan. The pasta will pick up the juices from the meat and not a delicious drop will go to waste.
Turkey Saltimbocca (serves 2-3)
2-3 turkey breast cutlets
4-6 slices of prociutto or Parma ham
4-6 fresh sage leaves (you can substitute dried, sprinkling a half a teaspoon per cutlet)
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs butter
1 clove of garlic, crushed with a knife or a mallet
1 glass dry white wine
Place two sage leaves on each cutlet and wrap the cutlets with two slices of ham. Melt the butter in a large frying pan and add the butter and oil. Add the garlic and cook for a moment or two, until the clove just starts to color. Turn it over and add the cutlets. Turn up the heat slightly and cook quickly: four minutes on the first side and then two minutes after you turn them over. Remove the cutlets to a warm oven and cover them. Add the wine to the pan and cook over a high heat, scraping up any bits of meat that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Taste for salt and pepper; it probably won't need salt but might be improved by a pinch of pepper. If any juices have collected in the plate, add it to the sauce. Serve with a generous plate of pasta and drizzle the sauce, carefully dividing it among the cutlets.