Throughout the summer I find it useful to have a few recipes to hand that I cook regularly. Recipes that are just as useful for an everyday supper as they are for a larger meal when friends gather round the table. The only thing that they have in common is that they contain the very essence of the season: a casual lunch of chicken baked in creme fraiche with a refreshing cucumber salad; a sea bass with anchovies and rosemary; a vivid green salad or perhaps a rich raspberry syllabub. Simple, straightforward cooking for the lazy days of summer.
A green panzanella for early summer
This is a pared down version of the classic bread salad panzanella kept simple to highlight the early summer vegetables. Use the recipe as a base to add any other seasonings you wish, such as capers, olives, caperberries or crushed anchovies. As the summer progresses I tend to add more garlic, and then revert to the more traditional interpretation with tomatoes and peppers in place of the green vegetables.
200g peas (podded weight)
500g broad beans (podded weight)
150g young fennel
4 slim spring onions
½ cucumber (optional)
120g bread, firm and white
½ clove garlic
6 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Put a large pan of water on to boil. Salt it lightly then cook the peas in it for 3-4 minutes. Lift them out with a draining spoon. Cool the peas in a colander under cold running water then add the broad beans to the boiling water. Cook for 4-5 minutes until tender then drain and remove the skins. Cool under running water then add to the peas.
Shred the fennel finely and put in a bowl. Trim and finely chop the spring onions and add to the fennel. Peel and chop the cucumber, if you are using it, and add to the spring onions.
Toast the bread then slice or tear it into pieces and place in a large serving bowl. Sprinkle water over the surface. Peel and very finely chop the garlic and put in a small bowl with a little salt, black pepper, the oil and vinegar.
Toss the peas and beans (and cucumber if you are using it) with the dressing then tip on top of the bread.
Asparagus with goats' cheese
24 spears asparagus
For the dressing:
4 bushy sprigs flat-leaf parsley
6 sprigs tarragon
150g firm goats' cheese
Boil or steam the asparagus for 9 or 10 minutes till tender. While it is cooking, put the yoghurt in a bowl and season with black pepper. Chop the leaves from the herbs and stir in. Crumble the goat's cheese into small pieces and add to the yoghurt. Serve with the asparagus.
Warm beetroot salad
Not exactly a pickle or a tracklement, and not even really a salad, this is nevertheless a very fine accompaniment to have with a few slices of cold chicken, beef or pork. And it will work very well with cheese, too.
Serves 2 as a side dish
250g small onions or large shallots
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp sultanas
4 tbsp water
2 bay leaves
a bushy sprig rosemary
2 large beetroot , roasted - see recipe below
Put a small pan of water on to boil. Peel the onions and drop into the water. Boil for 15-20 minutes until they show signs of tenderness then drain them.
Warm the olive oil in a shallow pan. Tip in the drained onions and leave to colour lightly on all sides, turning them now and again. Add the vermouth – take care, it may spit – and bring to a simmer. Stir in the sultanas, water, bay leaves, and the rosemary needles finely chopped. Simmer for 10 minutes then introduce the beetroot, cut into thick wedges from root to tip. Once it has warmed through, turn off the heat and leave for 15 minutes or so, then serve warm or at room temperature.
To roast beetroot in their skins
Wrap beetroot, wet from washing, in foil. Put in a roasting tin and bake on a low heat for 2 hours or so, until the flesh is tender,and sweet. Peel before serving.
Chicken with mustard and crème fraîche
A light but rich main course to have with the olive and cucumber salad.
4 chicken thighs
250ml crème fraîche
2-3 heaped tbsp grain mustard
2 garlic cloves, crushed
150g pancetta or bacon in the piece
3 or 4 small sprigs thyme
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Put the chicken thighs in an ovenproof dish. Put the creme fraiche in a mixing bowl with the mustard, crushed garlic, a little salt and black pepper. Pull the thyme leaves from their stalks and add them to the creme fraiche.
Cut the pancetta into short, thick strips then fry in a non-stick pan until the fat is golden. Mix with the sauce then spoon over the chicken. Bake for 35 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the chicken skin is nicely coloured.
Olive and cucumber salad
a small cucumber
100g stoned green olives
a small bunch flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
Peel the cucumber, halve it along its length then scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon. Slice the cucumber thickly, then put in a serving bowl with the halved olives. Pull the leaves from the parsley (you will need a couple of handfuls) and add to the cucumber.
Mix the lemon zest, juice and oil, grind in a little salt then toss with the cucumber. Serve with the chicken above.
Smoked salmon with steamed potato salad with lemon and toasted Parmesan
I say waxy potatoes, but any small, young potato will work well. I use a mixture, but pink fir apple are especially suitable. I shall leave the quantity of salmon up to you.
enough smoked salmon for 4
750g young waxy-fleshed potatoes
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
a good handful flat-leaf parsley
a lemon, grated zest and juice
6 tbsp grated Parmesan
Wash the potatoes and rub well with your thumb to remove any loose flakes of skin. Pile them into a colander or steamer basket and place over a suitably sized pan of boiling water. Cover the colander with a lid and let the potatoes steam for 10-20 minutes or so, checking them with a skewer regularly.
Meanwhile, make the dressing by putting the oil, chopped parsley and lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper in a small jar with a lid. Screw the cap on tight then shake to mix.
Put the parmesan in a single layer on a baking sheet. Get an overhead grill hot, then let the cheese cook under it till pale gold. (Keep an eye on it – at first it will take ages then suddenly it will brown in seconds.)
Remove potatoes from the heat and slice each one in half lengthways. Toss gently in the lemon and parsley dressing then dust with the grated, toasted parmesan. Serve with the salmon.
Baked sea bass with rosemary and capers
A whole baked fish for a summer's day.
2 small sea bass, cleaned
500g new potatoes
4 bushy sprigs rosemary
a long, hot red chilli
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp capers, rinsed
juice of 1 small lemon
2 garlic cloves
4 large sprigs parsley
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Rinse the fish and wipe them dry with paper towels.
Peel the potatoes then cut into thin slices, about the thickness of a £1 coin. Warm a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large shallow pan or roasting tin set over a moderate to low heat and slide in the potatoes, letting them cook slowly, until their edges are starting to colour – a matter of 10 minutes. Stir and turn them over now and again, so they don't stick to the tin.
As the potatoes cook, make the dressing: remove the needles from the rosemary sprigs, chop them finely then put them into a mixing bowl. Halve the chilli lengthways, scrape out and discard the seeds, then chop the flesh finely. Add to the rosemary with the sherry vinegar, rinsed capers, lemon juice and a grinding of black pepper. Peel and finely chop the garlic, remove and chop the leaves from the parsley, then stir both into the dressing with 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
When the potatoes are ready, stir them again, then lay the fish on top and spoon over the dressing, tucking as much of it as possible into the open belly. Bake for about 25 minutes till the fish is tender, opaque and just cooked through to the bone.
Serve the fish by cutting off the head and tail (you can do it with a spoon) then lifting the fish on to hot plates. Divide the potatoes between the plates and serve immediately.
Baked peaches with maple syrup and vanilla
4 ripe peaches
4 tbsp maple syrup
a pinch vanilla seeds, about the contents of 1 pod
juice of 1 lime
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Wipe the peaches and slice them in half. Discard the stones and place the fruit, cut side up, in a shallow baking dish.
Put the syrup in a bowl with the vanilla seeds and the lime juice. Mix well then pour over the peaches. Bake for approximately 35 minutes till the peaches are tender. It is good to baste the fruit from time to time as it cooks.
You need a really light batter or the lacy effect of the flowers is lost. The batter barely covers them and cooks particularly quickly, leaving the fritters to come out light and crisp, the batter clinging to them gently. For a more robust batter, use a little more flour.
16 large elderflowers
For the batter:
100g plain flour
2 tbsp sunflower oil
175ml sparkling mineral water
1 tbsp caster sugar
an egg white
oil for deep drying
a plate thickly dusted with caster sugar
Sift the flour into a large basin then add the oil and water beating slowly to a thick paste, then stir in the sugar. Set aside for 30 minutes. Don't be tempted to skip the resting time, this is essential for a light batter. Just before you plan to fry the elderflowers, beat the egg white and fold it gently into the batter.
Wash the elderflowers thoroughly by leaving them to soak in a sink of cold water. This will not affect their flavour and they are easy to shake dry. Make certain that there are no aphids hiding among the flowers. When you are certain that they are clean, get the oil on to heat up. Snip the flowerheads into small stems.
Test the oil to make sure it is hot enough – it should send a cube of bread golden in seconds – then dip the elderflowers into the batter and lower them into the hot oil. Keep them under the oil by pushing down on the stem. The batter will bubble up around the flowers like little pearls. Fry until the batter is pale gold and crisp then lift out of the fat and dip straight into the caster sugar. Eat the fritters while they are hot and crisp.
grated zest and juice 1 lemon
60ml sweet wine
300ml double cream
2 heaped tbsp caster sugar
Grate the lemon into the bowl of the food mixer, squeeze in its juice then add the sugar and sweet wine. Leave to steep in the fridge (it is important the bowl is kept cold) for a couple of hours or, better still, overnight.
Use a large balloon whisk or electric mixer and slowly beat in the cream getting right to the bottom of the mixture. Stop when the cream will sit in thick, soft, billowing folds. If you take it too far it will become grainy and separate. Crush the berries with a fork and fold into the mixture, leaving a trail throughout the cream rather than stirring it in completely. Spoon into chilled glasses and leave for half an hour in the fridge before serving.
It sounds odd, a sorbet topped with whipped cream, but in this case the dairy addition is essential to form some sort of balance The soft, smooth-tasting cream is a perfect contrast to the crystalline texture and keep-you-up-all-night quality of the granita. I give myself quite a bit of time to make this classically Roman end to a meal as it takes a while to freeze by hand. Should you use an ice-cream maker, you will end up with a smooth coffee sorbet which will be delicious but will lack the granular texture of true granita.
300ml still mineral water
350ml hot espresso coffee
softly whipped cream, to serve
Bring the water to the boil then add the sugar and stir till dissolved. You have produced a light sugar syrup. Pour in the coffee and leave to cool, then chill thoroughly in the fridge.
Place a metal or plastic box in the freezer. When it is very cold, pour in the coffee syrup and leave in the freezer for a good hour. Remove and stir the ice crystals that have formed around the edge into the liquid middle and return to the freezer. Leave for 45 minutes to an hour then repeat, folding the frozen edges into the centre. Continue this, every hour or so, until you have a box of frozen, coffee-coloured ice crystals.
Whip the cream until it lies in soft folds.
Divide the granita between four chilled glasses (the ice melts quickly, so don't skip the step of getting your glasses thoroughly cold), then spoon on the whipped cream.