Late spring-early summer is such an exciting time for anyone who cares about what they eat. I constantly find myself spoilt for choice by the abundance of great produce around. This month's recipes celebrate the beginning of a wonderful summer.
Not a thick soup this, but with bags of green flavour. The crème fraiche is just as important to the texture as to the flavour. For a thicker soup, add a couple of potatoes, cut into small dice pieces with the onions.
spring onions - 5
butter - 50g
nettles - 350g
stock - 1.5 litres
crème fraiche - a heaped tablespoon per person
smoked bacon - a rasher per person
Grill the bacon until sizzling, drain on kitchen paper and cut into short bite-sized pieces.
Remove from the heat, blitz in a food processor or blender then return to the pan. Bring to the boil once more, then ladle into bowls, add a heaped tablespoon of crème fraiche to each bowl and a rasher's worth of bacon strips.
There is a point each spring when globe artichokes are so tender that you can eat every little bit of them. (It must be said that this is only possible when they are very small, otherwise the leaves are too tough.) They can be boiled as usual and eaten with Hollandaise sauce or grilled.
Serves 4 as side dish
young artichokes - 8
olive oil - 200 mls
water - 400 mls
the juice of a lemon
lemon to serve
Trim the artichokes, snipping off the leaf points with scissors. Cut the artichokes in half from tip to stem and rub each cut half with lemon. Pour the olive oil and water into a large pan and add the artichokes cut side down. Bring to the boil and turn down to a simmer. Leave to cook gently until the artichokes are tender - test them by pulling on a leaf, if it comes loose easily, they are ready. Lift them out of the cooking liquor and set aside.
Heat a grill, barbecue or griddle pan. Place the artichokes cut side down on the bars and leave till golden brown. Serve with lemon halves.
A salad of shoots and leaves with a thick, savoury dressing. Ideal for a light lunch. I never dress this particular salad until the last minute.
asparagus - 12 spears
assorted salad leaves - 4 large handfuls
cherry tomatoes - 12
coriander, a small bunch
For the dressing
tarragon vinegar - 1 tbs
Dijon mustard - a tsp
an egg yolk
olive oil - 100 ml
grated parmesan - 3 tbs
Cut the asparagus into short lengths, then put it on to boil in lightly salted water, checking it every few minutes for tenderness. Drain and set aside.
Make the dressing by whisking the vinegar, mustard and egg yolk together then beating in the olive oil. When the dressing is smooth and with the consistency of double cream, stir in the parmesan. Rinse the salad leaves and the coriander and shake dry. Pile into a serving bowl, add the cooked asparagus. Cut the tomatoes in half and add to the salad.
Pour over the dressing and toss lightly just before serving.
Trout with tarragon butter
Herb butters work well with fish such as salmon and trout. The aniseedy herbs such as tarragon, chervil and fennel are especially appropriate. Cooking under an overhead grill is probably the most suitable, though you could bake this particular version instead.
trout fillets - 4 large
a small bunch of tarragon (to give 4 tbs tarragon leaves)
the zest of half a lemon
wedges of lemon to serve
Get an overhead grill hot. Place the trout fillets flat on an oiled baking sheet. Mash the butter until soft. Remove the tarragon leaves from their stems and chop finely. Mix with the butter, the lemon zest and a little salt and black pepper. Divide between the pieces of fish, spreading the butter thickly over each fillet.
Place the fish under the grill until the butter has melted and the fish is tender - about 6 or 8 minutes depending on the heat of your grill. Serve with a little salad or some steamed spinach.
As hands-on as food can get. Grilled prawns are made for sucking and tearing to pieces with your fingers. Good though they can be with just salt and lemon, I must admit to liking them highly spiced too. Especially when the shells crisp on the grill and can be sucked clean before you break them open to get at the meat inside.
paprika - 2 tbs
ground hot chilli - 1 tbs
lemon juice - 150 mls
ginger - a thumb-sized piece, grated
garlic - 4 cloves, crushed
sea salt - a tsp
12 raw prawns, shells on
1 tbs olive oil
Mix together the ground paprika, chilli, lemon juice, grated ginger, garlic and salt. Add the prawns to the mixture, toss them gently and set aside for an hour or so.
Heat a grill, griddle pan or charcoal grill. When it is up to heat, lay the prawns on the grill bars and leave to colour, then turn once and cook until the shells have turned deep golden brown.
Serve with finger bowls, cracking open the shells with your hands.