Tuesday, 19 May 2009

sausage and cherry tomato bake

as much as i love a sausage now, my relationship with it has had to overcome some serious obstacles. we are now okay but it has taken a long time. it's just as well, really, considering i am marrying a man with a love of sausages so profound that they would probably be his last dinner.

unlike most other foods (with the exception of rice pudding and maybe polenta topped with milk and sugar), sausages were not on my menu for a long time.

this had nothing to do with the sausage itself, i should add. true - i’ve never been too keen on hotdogs: there is something about biting hard into their plastic-like casing only to be greeted by what to all intents and purposes is no longer meat that still turns my stomach a bit. but sausage – the ordinary pork banger – i know is delicious.

instead, it was to do with thinking that the devil might cut off my leg if i ate them.

i know. 

it’s a long story.

when i was about six, my best friend was a girl called amela. amela’s parents were clearly religious as they sent her to school with a copy of koran for children. it came out in the after-school club, called produzeni boravak.

we only went to school between 8 and 12, which seems extraordinarily short by british standards. most of our parents worked till 3 or 3.30 so we would have to spend a few hours in produzeni boravak unless there were grandparents or relatives to look after us.

produzeni boravak was no disneyworld. i hated the place with a passion, as did my brother. it was just a couple of rooms inside the school and it smelt of the inside of wet ski gloves. even the name was slightly institutional – it literally translates as ‘prolonged stay’ which doesn’t exactly have connotations of fun. more like what you’d get in prison for bad behaviour.

amela would read her koran to me, encouraged by one of the teachers. it was written in verse form but without rhymes, rhyming obviously being far too frivolous for this kind of thing. i vividly remember being scared by the language i didn’t understand and, for some reason, by the arabesque drawings on each page. in fact, i was absolutely terrified by the whole thing.

i had no idea what religion was, this or any other. my parents are both atheist even though they sometimes pretend not to be (the truth is,  i think they’re the sort of people who wouldn’t want to commit either way more in order to hedge their bets rather than because they really believe that man was made from adam’s rib). 

to be fair, amela could have been reading from the bible, it would have made no difference. what scared me was the core message of punishment for disobedience - it was all stick and no carrot. it turned me off god for life. 

anyway, presumably to bring these tales to life, amela also told me that the devil would cut off my leg if i ate sausages. not both legs and not instant death (in some more child-friendly version of events); and not all pork, just sausages. i couldn’t sleep that night for fear that i’d already eaten too many of them to ever be able to walk again. there'd be no more games of jump rope with amela after school or running away after not paying for our ice creams on the 'sweet corner' in bascarsija (that came later, i wasn't really shoplifting at the age of six). 

and that was it. i spent the next twenty or so years avoiding sausages. it's taken a long time for me not to flinch every time i see one on my plate. i still think the right ratio of fry-up ingredients is two pieces of bacon and one sausage, unlike r who judges breakfast places by the number of sausages served. but, as i said, sausages and i are now basically fine. more than fine. 

PS we didn't stay in produzeni boravak for long either. a year or so later mum let us go home on our own, which seems completely insane but then you don't know my brother. 

SAUSAGE AND TOMATO BAKE
for two

1kg ripe cherry tomatoes
2 sprigs of thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
6 pork sausages, the best you can afford
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
seasoning

preheat the oven to 190C.

in a large baking tray, put the tomatoes so they fit in one layer, smugly. sprinkle with the garlic and the herbs, then add a few glugs of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. shake the tray so it’s all mixed together and the tomatoes are covered with oil and vinegar. put the sausages on top.

bake in the oven for around 45 minutes until the sausages are browned all over. you might want to turn them once during cooking.

if, at the end, you end up with too much tomatoey liquid, take the sausages out (keep them warm somewhere) and put the roasting dish on the hob. boil to reduce for 5 or 10 minutes, depending on how much you start with. you want quite a thick gravy.

this is a jamie oliver recipe and it's really quite awesome in its simplicity. you will wonder how come you'd never thought of doing something like this yourself. we ate it with some quickly steamed rainbow chard - the slight bitterness was perfect for the sweet tomatoes. 

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