It was a hot night. I was sitting on the front porch with a cold beer and a book on the table beside me. The ancient incandescent globe above cast a soft yellow glow in the dying light and the oppressive heat. The heavy silence was broken only by the sprinkler hissing softly in a small shady corner of the garden.
Then the crickets started. I heard that crickets can generate 100 decibels, or is that just an urban myth? The noise was deafening. Do crickets go deaf? The noise came from small cracks in a dryer part of the lawn. So I moved the sprinkler. The noise stopped. I sat back in my chair and felt a heel for drowning crickets for doing nothing more than making a noise. Maybe they weren't drowning. Maybe they were drinking.
All these thoughts stopped me from being able to concentrate on my book. Then there was another distraction. From out of the window behind me stole an aroma so incredibly divine, I could only stand up like a zombie and follow it into the kitchen, via the door of course, not the window. I wasn't that hungry. As the screen door slammed behind me, a thumping of small feet grew louder and a small figure emerged from the semi-darkness of the room at the top of the passage.
A red pepper and two cloves of garlic were baking in the oven; and a leek was braising in some white wine on the stove top. Dinner for two is timed to coincide with the small figure having just fallen asleep. But how do you get a two-year-old to sleep when it still 30 degrees in the house? Two-word answer: you can't. The boys talk themselves to sleep, but the two-year-old has the energy of a lion. She toddled into the kitchen.
Gnocchi with roasted red pepper, leek and avocado.
Place a whole red pepper into a moderate oven with a couple of unpeeled garlic cloves.
Peel and boil four or five potatoes until soft. Press through a ricer or simply mash, but ensure you catch all the lumps. Place on a floured board, make a crater, crack an egg into the crater, add half a cup or more of flour and combine with your hands. (Ingredient amounts vary. It's trial and error. Make this four or five times and you will arrive at your own idea of perfection.) Roll dough into snakes an inch thick. Chop into one-inch lengths. Place on a floured platter until ready to cook.
Chop a leek into very fine rings. Rinse to remove any grit, especially towards the top. Braise the leek rings very gently until very soft in a pan with a dash of white wine, a little olive oil, and lots of pepper. Towards the end, slice an avocado into sections and add to pan. They only have to heat through.
When the red pepper is done, cool in a paper bag, then peel and chop into strips.
Place the gnocchi into salted boiling water. Let them rise and float about for a few seconds, then rescue them with a slotted spoon, drain, and gently combine them with the slinky leek and avocado mixture and the fragrant red pepper pieces. Pile the pasta and vegetables up on serving plates in little mountains and flutter shaved parmesan cheese over the top. Decorate with parsley.
Later. I went outside, turned off the sprinkler and sat down again with the book. Everything was quiet inside now, the child a crumpled ball of tousled hair and white nightdress dreaming two-year-old dreams in her tiny bed.