It is usually about now, when summer is starting to look a little crisp around the edges, that I look at supper sizzling on the grill and think: 'This needs something very cold and very pink to go with it.' It isn't just the food that makes me want to put the corkscrew to a bottle of rosé but something altogether less tangible. I can't even say it is purely down to the weather, though that certainly has something to do with the sudden, inexplicable need for pink wine. There has to be something in the air, a certain laissez-faire - a point when you realise the summer is almost, but not quite, done. The rosé days, I call them ...
I generally have to be away from home to want to drink this sort of wine. Preferably somewhere involving pale sand, oleander and painfully bright sunshine. I can't remember a glass of rosé without the faint scent of suntan oil in the background. What is more, I have never had a staggeringly good bottle of it (perhaps because of the ever-present whiff of Piz Buin). My guess is that there probably isn't one. But I will be happy to be proven wrong.
The ingredients that get me in a pink frame of mind are not of our shores: olives, anchovies, tomatoes, basil, open-textured breads, olive oil, young mauve garlic, saffron, mint, apricots and thyme. These are flavours that sit comfortably with a late-summer lunch. Despite the frivolity that goes with drinking 'a cheeky little wine from Anjou', there is a slight feeling that the summer is drawing in far too early. You know it won't be long before the leaves turn and the damsons are ripe.
But hang on. There's still currants about and plenty of raspberries and figs, even if they are too swollen by rain. There are beans, too, which I am happy to add to the above-mentioned anchovies, tomatoes and garlic, and some crisp lettuce to make a late-summer salad. The classic Italian salad panzanella gets an outing at this time of year, too, with its squishy contents of ciabatta, lots of fruity oil, young garlic and thick layers of tomatoes. The bread soaks up the olive oil and the juice from the tomatoes to make a dish that positively swells with summer and is, frankly, more than substantial enough to be a main course. I use it as a first course, in suitably small amounts, in front of something light, like a baked fish.
Anyone would feel spoilt for choice for a light dessert at this time of year, and the idea of adding a little of that wine is just too tempting. There are some very fine apricots around right now, better than I have tasted for ages, and it doesn't take much to work out how good they might be with some of that wine. Or better still, actually in it.
Bread and tomato salad
Well made, this is a salad of bright flavours, a jumble of lusciously soft vegetables and crisp, open-textured bread. Few salads are as colourful or as full-on flavoursome - this is a meal for the brightest summer's day - but it is not a recipe to get sloppy with: using under-ripe tomatoes, wimpish basil and second-rate oil will end in disappointment. Timing is important here, too; this is not a dish to leave hanging around.
250g open-textured bread such as ciabatta
600g tomatoes, ripe and juicy
a small cucumber
a fresh new clove of garlic
a red or yellow pepper
a large bunch of basil
a handful of olives
150ml olive oil, green and peppery
2 tbsp red-wine vinegar
Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. Slice the bread thickly - the pieces should be about 1cm thick - and lay them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle each piece very lightly with olive oil then bake them for about 15 minutes till they are lightly crisp.
Slice the tomatoes, but don't be tempted to peel or seed them. Put them in a large serving bowl. Peel and seed the cucumber and cut it into rough chunks, then add to the tomato. Finely chop the garlic, cut the pepper into small dice and add both to the tomatoes. Tear the basil leaves from their stalks, then add them along with the olives to the bowl.
Put the oil and vinegar into a small dish, season it with salt - you can be quite generous - and some black pepper. Toss the dressing, bread and salad gently together. Eat before the bread gets too soggy.
Baked sea bream with saffron and mint
Beautiful colours here, with the silver fish and green-bespeckled cooking juices. Part of the pleasure is squishing new potatoes into the minty, saffron-freckled juice as you eat. It's a good light dish for a summer's day.
2 medium-sized sea bream (or red mullet)
4 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp white wine or white vermouth
a handful of mint leaves
a good pinch of saffron stamens
small waxy potatoes to serve
Put a pan of water on to boil for the potatoes. Set the oven at 220C/gas mark 7. Rinse the fish and pat them dry, then lay them snugly in an ovenproof dish.
Pour the olive oil into a small bowl, add the white wine and a little salt and ground black pepper. Roughly shred the mint leaves and stir them into the wine with the saffron stamens. Pour the marinade over the fish and leave it for anything up to an hour. (Though you don't have to leave it at all if time isn't on your side.)
Salt the water for the potatoes and put them on to boil. Put the fish in the oven to bake, basting it once during cooking with the juices that surround it. It will take about 12 to 14 minutes, but check it after 10. The exact timing will depend on the size of your fish.
Serve the fish on to warm plates or into shallow bowls, spooning over the mint and saffron juices - and potatoes - as you go.
Apricots with rosé wine
Left to marinate with golden caster sugar, then cooked briefly till they turn the colour of an Indian sunset, even the dullest apricots will be rescued by this method. You could add cream at the table if you wish, but I rather think it might be an intrusion.
45g golden caster sugar
a glass of rosé
Cut the apricots in half and remove their stones. Put the fruit in a shallow pan for which you have a lid. Pour over the sugar and leave for an hour until some of the juices have been drawn out. Pour over the wine, then put the pan over a low to moderate heat and leave the apricots to simmer gently, partially covered with a lid, for 15 minutes or so. Leave them to cool.