A few weeks back, as the UK’s wettest June on record gave way to its hottest July on record, I decided it was time to dust down my bicycle. I have since been out cycling on a regular basis around the lovely city of Worcester where I live.
On my trips I have been delighted to see that the Council has deliberately left some roadside verges and traffic islands unmown. In past years these areas would have consisted of bland, closely cut grass, but now they have been replaced by a marvellous profusion of wildflowers. The Council has also left small patches of land in parks, along the river and even in the city centre untouched by the mowers. The result is just glorious.
The photograph below was taken of one such urban patch near the city centre’s viaduct by my good friend Paul Snookes (do check out Paul’s Facebook group, Beauty All Around Us, which records and reminds us of the natural wonders we have on our doorsteps).
In addition to their visual beauty, these little pockets of natural beauty are providing a vital lifeline for our dwindling insect and wildlife populations. According to the Royal Horticulture Society, 97% of wildflower meadows in the UK have been lost since 1945 and, for pollinating insects, this means a lack of flowering plants, a key food source. Alongside the huge damage caused by pesticides, this has led to massive reductions in bee and butterfly numbers and has left 10% of pollinating insect species on the verge of extinction.
Worcester is not alone in taking this initiative. Many other towns and cities have adopted a similar strategy this year. Communities across the UK have been inspired to take local action in the face of the catastrophic collapse in insect life. The result is a rich, vibrant splash of colour in areas where nature is now simply being allowed to run its course. What a contrast to the neat but sterile alternative of previous years.
Leaving these “mini meadows” to flourish in the way nature intended is a “win-win” as it also helps keep down maintenance costs. All in all, a wonderful example of the sort of small but significant changes we need to make to address the many problems created by climate emergency, and this one shows that making such changes doesn’t always have to hurt.
On to the recipe. At its best, Italian cooking is about great ingredients cooked simply to bring out their best. I like to think that this recipe falls into this category. It’s certainly a good way to use a glut of summer tomatoes.
spaghetti with garlic roasted tomatoes
320 g organic spaghetti
500 g organic cherry tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
30 g pine nuts
½ tsp sea salt
50 ml organic extra virgin olive oil
15 g basil leaves, torn or roughly chopped
to serve (optional: omit for vegan version)
finely grated vegetarian Parmesan cheese
1. Pre-heat the oven to 150°C (300°F, gas mark 2). Place the tomatoes in a roasting tray and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Roast in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes are tender and just starting to catch.
2. While the tomatoes are roasting, place the basil, pine nuts, garlic and sea salt in a pestle and mortar (or alternatively use a food processor) and grind to a smooth paste, adding the olive oil a little at a time.
3. Cook the spaghetti in boiling water according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When cooked, strain and then tip the spaghetti back into its pan. Add the basil paste and stir to combine. Serve the pasta in bowls or on plates, topped with the slow roast tomatoes. If using, scatter with a little grated Parmesan.