My first job was pumping petrol at the garage at Stone Cross in Northallerton. 4 star petrol cost 55p a gallon and I got 20p an hour so you can see how long ago it was! I was 14. A couple of school friends and I shared the rota and it was lot of fun. I remember very clearly Hazel one of my friends wasn’t concentrating on filling up a motorbike (because she fancied the motorbike owner) and as she turned to put the nozzle in, she squeezed too early and managed to pour petrol into the owner’s wellies. It is only now that I wonder why he was wearing wellies.
That job ended when a well-meaning parent of a friend told the garage that it was illegal for under-16s to be working with petrol. I then started working in the shop attached to the garage. I didn’t enjoy this very much – I found it quite boring and even the princely sum of 25p an hour didn’t make it better. I was then headhunted (poached) to work on Saturdays only in the houseware/toy shop of some family friends. Suzy had worked there too. I really didn’t enjoy this even though my other Saturday co-workers were friends too. The other problem was that once a month I had orchestra practice all day Saturday for the North Riding Schools Orchestra (again, pre- North Yorkshire so just dated myself…). The Saturdays that I wanted off never seemed to coincide with the days that the others wanted to work. I hung on because I liked having the money. I didn’t like getting into trouble from my violin teacher though.
There was one lovely restaurant in Northallerton at the time, Romanby Court Restaurant. It was run by Toni and Giovanni, two Sardinians. Toni was the majority share-holder and ran all the operations. Giovanni was the chef. The food was slanted towards Italian but included more Yorkshiremen-friendly food too! As a family, we had started going there once a month as a treat. After one visit, Toni asked if I would like a job. Hurrah! I would now waitress Friday and Saturday nights and help setting up on Saturday during the day. He was fine about my missing Saturdays during the day for orchestra and I would earn £7.20 for the weekend. I was rich. I also had no social life.
I enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant and I got on well with my co-workers. I particularly enjoyed being in the kitchen and at the end of shift would help them clean. The school summer holidays of 1974, I needed money to buy a 21st present for my brother and so asked if I could help in the kitchen. 1974 isn’t on record as being a hot summer, but it certainly was in that kitchen. I did the washing up, cleaned ovens, and dodged flying knives. Giovanni was quite temperamental and generally the knives were thrown towards the outside, usually at the cat, but sometimes… Away from the pressure of cooking to order, Giovanni was a kind, funny man, but when stressed he was appalling. I remember quite clearly that he couldn’t find me once – I had gone upstairs to get some more napkins. I heard him yell ‘Where is that putana?’ I stormed downstairs, napkins in hand, squared up to him and yelled, ‘Don’t you dare call me a putana – I am not a putana.’ He backed off and immediately apologised, saying he wasn’t really calling me a whore, really it was a term of endearment. I gave him what in later years became my Killer Death Stare, while everyone else laughed. He never called me that again, and I like to think he had a new respect for me. Anyway, he showed me how to make today’s recipe. It was served throughout the year with the main courses. During that summer of 1974, I often prepared the vegetables for him and he taught me that it was more important to have the vegetables cut evenly than to always have the same proportions of vegetables. I always remember that as I chop them. Everyone who knew Giovanni had their story about him – he wasn’t an easy man, but, temperament aside, he cooked well and he was happy to teach me, because he knew I was interested. He died some years ago, and I was sad when I heard the news. Romanby Court had long since closed and Giovanni had opened a takeaway which was a terrible waste of his talents. So today’s recipe is Ratatouille – made the way Giovanni showed me in 1974, but in family-sized quantities!
Ratatouille – Ingredients
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 1 large onion, peeled and sliced
- 1 red pepper, cut into pieces
- 1 yellow pepper, cut into pieces
- 1 aubergine, cut into cubes
- 2 courgettes, cubed
- 1 tin of chopped tomatoes or 3 large ripe tomatoes
- Olive oil
- Chopped parsley
- Salt and pepper
Put about 3 tbsp olive oil into a pan, and gently heat. Add the onions and soften – do not brown. Add the garlic – again do not brown. Add the aubergine, peppers and courgettes and sauté gently till softened. If using the tinned tomatoes, add, cover and simmer until vegetables are cooked through. If using real tomatoes, peel and slice and add to the pan. Then cover and simmer until all vegetables are cooked through. Season according to taste. Add parsley and serve.