Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

Gazpacho, Spanish summer soup
Sorry folks – no new posts for a short while as I’m off to a (we hope) quiet corner of the Balearics.  Following a bit of research on its gustatory specialities this is what I’m hoping to plunder:

  • hierba for the lady
  • gin for the gent
  • a whole ham for slicing
  • queso Mahón for dicing
  • sobrasada for the larder
  • wild fennel for fish & products porky – ubiquitous on Ibiza but Mr T threw out my fagot, damnit

and while I’m there I’m looking forward to eating ensaimadas, scoffing coca and tucking into tons of tasty tapas and if I have the time, finding a handsome leather belt (not for eating). 

I’m not lugging my laptop there and back – we’re on a charter flight for heaven’s sake – so comments will have to bide their time until my return.

In the hope that the sun shines brightly enough to make a lycopene boost imperative, I bring you my easy yet delicious version of:

modified from Paula Wolfert’s version in her Mediterranean Cooking
(a terrific book now sadly out of print)Big Tom spiced tomato juice

  • 750 ml (1½ pints) tomato juice
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • ½ cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • ½ clove garlic, peeled & microplaned (or crushed)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • ice cubes, salt & pepper

Pour 250 ml tomato juice into a blender; add the rest of the vegetables and buzz at high speed until smooth.  Pour into a wide shallow (preferably Spanish earthenware) serving bowl and use the rest of the tomato juice to thin down the gazpacho if necessary.  If it’s overpoweringly tomoto-ey add a few ice cubes instead.  Stir in vinegar and oil, season lightly and chill for a couple of hours. 

Check and adjust seasoning and oil/vinegar balance.  Serve annointed with droplets of good olive oil and chopped green and/or chilli pepper, spring onion or chives or coriander, croûtons and/or fresh bread on the side.  If the weather’s really hot (fingers crossed!) extra ice cubes will be most welcome.

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Sometimes I just don’t have the guts to deal with whole fish.  I’ve never wholly regained my bravado since the Saturday in 2002 when my kind and thoughtful brother, on the way home from his job delivering spanking fresh fish to temples of gastronomy The River Café, J. Sheekey, Moro, Gordon Ramsay, The Ivy et al, dropped off a sackful of spare sardines.  Ruth & Rosie’s over-orders were my manna from heaven, except this day was a hot one and I was out being a chef myself until late afternoon …

…so by the time I returned home the piscine contents of the black bin liner had settled on my doorstep and dripped a disconcertingly fishy – in every sense – trail of blood into the house and across the floor.  With hindsight, continuing that trail straight out the back door and into the wastebin might have been wise but instead, Mr T and I, thrilled by the sight of such bounty, seized a filleting knife and set to our very own kitchen sink mattanza.  And as with all gore-fests, somewhere around the 23rd gutted sardine, queasy from the carnage and unable to meet the gaze of any more bloodshot eyes, we lost our mutual appetite, decided to double-wrap it up and dispose of the entire bundle where it should have gone in the first place, feigning nonchalance as net curtains twitched.

Ever since I’ve been happy to pay a professional to clean, cut and cook their delicious little bodies on my behalf.  Until just last week that is, when awaiting my turn at the Sainsbury’s what should I spy gliding atop the neighbouring checkout but a neat little package of eight headless and gutted Cornish somethings beginning with s.  At £1.89 a pop I went for it and they turned out pretty good, in a land-lubber kind of way.
sardines from Sainsbury\'s
I hesitate to call this a recipe as all I did was grind a tablespoon or so of fennel seeds with a couple of chilli peppers, zest half a lemon and toss the sardines with them all in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil to lubricate.  Set that lot aside while the barbecue warmed up and then grilled for 5 minutes each side.  I might have stuffed them with fennel or some such, but this time we enjoyed them with just a wedge of lemon – don’t want to overdo it…
Sardines grilled with chilli, fennel and lemon zest

Of course they weren’t a patch on fresh from the sea, but you don’t get those every day…

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tapas time

Aha! The sun’s back and that means it’s time for tapas.  Lovely summery little dishes: as I now have an enormous collection of the real deal terracotta, courtesy of Waitrose (again), plus a handy mini toaster oven, I make a batch, keep it in the fridge and portion it out in tapas or raciones as the mood and need arise. It’s not so hard with good ingredients on hand: 

Octopus and potato tapasA bag of frozen seafood, sliced potato and some garlic butter


tomatoes stuffed with rice and pesto


 home-made pesto and leftover rice stuffed inside Lidl’s bargain monster tomatoes


Hot spinach and artichoke dipfrozen artichokes and spinach baked with mozzarella, crême fraîche and a nugget of parmesan become a tasty hot dip 




Butterbean, tomato and anchovy tapabutterbeans, tomatoes and anchovies, all coaxed from their cans, make yet another another little snack


All that’s needed is a grating of garlic here and a pinch of pimentón there; parsley for greens, good bread and a jug of sangria.  Followed by a siesta – buen día!

a flask of sangria on a summer lawn

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One (mental) escape from the enforced trogloditism (yes that’s my word) of this year’s Whitsun Bank Holiday might be via a 2 minute video in The Times travel section: that suavely sincere and sincerely suave Raymond Blanc tucked into a pink bib while explaining and demonstrating that classic and exclusive Mediterranean dish, bouillabaisse, in a location just to the east of Nice on the Côte d’Azur.

If Raymond himself fails to delight (hardly likely), pay a cyber-visit to his venue – the fabulous Coco Beach restaurant – for a quick fix of Riviera deluxe.  No wonder he’s smiling.

It’s such an old saw that bouillabaisse can be made only with local rockfish that I shan’t labour the point here.  Mind you, with French fisherman stunt pulling once more I’ve a good mind to hire myself a speedboat and raid their waters of every loup, lotte, rouget and rascasse I can find.  Just need a bit of marine diesel…

Until such time, I am willing to share my delightful version using chicken in place (no pun intended) of fish:

Pouillabaisse™ aka Chicken BouillabaisseHenri Bardouin pastis
serves 4

  • 8 boneless chicken thighs, skinned and cut in large chunks
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 bulbs fennel, chunked – keep fronds for garnish
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced fine
  • generous pinch of saffron
  • a sprig of thyme, 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tin of tomatoes (whole or chopped, whatever is on hand)
  • generous slug of pastis
  • 1 litre or so chicken stock
  • 500g waxy or new potatoes, peeled and chunked
  • olive oil

We want to keep the flavours pure and clear, so in a large cast iron casserole and over a medium heat, soften the onion and fennel in 2 tablespoons olive oil.  After about 5 minutes add the garlic, saffron, thyme and bay leaves then pop the chicken pieces on top.

Sprinkle over the pastis then add half of the tomatoes with their juice (break them up with your wooden spoon if using whole).  Add the potatoes and pour over sufficient chicken stock to almost cover the chicken and vegetables, then decide whether to add the rest of the tomatoes.  We’re making a bouillabaisse here, and with the price of fennel and saffron we’re in polite company, so mustn’t allow the tomato to shout down the other flavours.  Think visually – more yellow than red.  If you think the tomato is in danger of taking over the party, top up with chicken stock.  If not, add the rest of the tomatoes and top up with stock to barely cover.

Bring to the gentlest simmer, cover and cook for between 30 minutes and an hour until chicken and potatoes are cooked through.  There should be plenty of liquid, so serve in shallow bowls, sprinkled with a dash of good olive oil and the chopped fennel fronds.

A homemade rouille sets it off perfectly.  Recipe coming soon…

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Yet another riff on my olive oil dough theme: I call it inside-out pissaladière as this one contains home-made onion confit, flaked tuna and a sprinkle of capers.  I ate it – just catching a last morsel for this snap – for lunch then made another variation for Mr T’s tomorrow but this time added a few anchovies and a scatter of Waitrose’s frozen Grilled Peppers for an antioxidant+fibre hit & run.  Made in a toaster oven it’s convenient and economical; two of my favourite things.  Oh, and very very tasty.
Brush with olive oil halfway through (200C for 30 mins) for a deliciously friable crust .
inside-out pissaladiere

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borage flowersAh, true sunny delight: the borage is in bloom.  Such pretty periwinkle blue flowers, all set to adorn a glass of Pimm’s® for whiling away an English summer afternoon.

Wood on willow, polite applause, chin-chin…you get the scene.  But there’s something wrong with this picture, surely?  Firstly it’s most likely raining and secondly, is not Pimm’s impossibly bland when made properly?  And possibly improper when not?  For truly it’s a merry devil of a drink, slipping down far too easily and bringing upright folk, even the odd marquee, down in its wake as stilettoes catch in turf and guy ropes do service as guard rails…

Try this recipe for the classic Pimm’s® Cup cocktail…
Over ice, pour:

  • 1 part Pimm’s® No.1
  • 2 to 3 parts clear, fizzy lemonade (eg Sprite®)
  • Infuse with borage flowers, fresh mint and slices of lemon, orange and apple.

..and you too can turn your garden party into The Wasteland.

But there’s more to borage than that; why not use the stems and leaves too?  With a delicate cucumber-like flavour they cook to a texture similar to that of chard leaves or beet greens, with which they are often prepared around the Mediterranean as a pasta stuffing or filling for pies and omelettes.  The flowers also make a delightful addition to salads and only the churlish could despise them as a garnish on any summery dish.

I’ll follow with a couple of tasty recipes once I have some pix to go with

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Nothing so good as pure old-style, old-school pesto.  Particularly when made in the old-fashioned way, with a mortar and pestle and while sitting outdoors with basil’s best friend – summer sunshine – for company.

Because the basil leaves are not cut as they would be in a food processor they preserve so much more of their aromatic oils; similarly the garlic eludes its usual sulphurous fate and the pine nuts retain their delightful savoury mealiness.

And as if that weren’t good enough news, considering the time and hassle it takes to assemble, dissemble, scoop-out-without-wasting, clean and finally put away a food processor, a mortar and pestle is downright quicker, greener, altogether simpler … and infinitely more satisfying.

I ♥ my mortar & pestle!

pesto recipe

  • a fistful of pine nuts
  • 3 or 4 or 5 small cloves of wet (young) garlic
  • a large bunch of fresh basil
  • about 50g fresh parmesan (or pecorino romano if you have it)
  • a few slugs of extra virgin olive oil

Pound the pine nuts and garlic together in your mortar until they form a paste, then strip the basil leaves from their stalks (chop or tie these together and use in a tomato sauce) and add them in small handfuls. Keep pounding and grinding, adding more leaves as they pulverize down.  When all the leaves are used and you have a rough paste, grate in the parmesan and then let down (thin) this now thick compound with olive oil, glug by glug and stirring the while, to your desired consistency.

Satisfying stirred into linguine or spaghetti: the coarse texture clings to the pasta, providing substance and savour

Delectable atop a slice of artisan bread – lovely rough consistency
Decant into a jar and keep in the fridge for a taste of summer, whatever the weather does

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Ah, bliss! A beautiful bank holiday weekend.  Down in the South East we have it good; while the rest of the land experience rain we enjoy the sunshine.  And now it’s sunny and warm we can haul the patio furniture from under its tarpaulin, chill a bottle of Corsican rosé – a pale, mass-produced vin de pays de l’Ile de Beauté evocative of summer lunches in Old Nicebrilliant sunshine, Corsican rose on a turquoise table
and nibble on a simple chickpea salad

chickpea salad with red onion and parsley

and some sardine bruschetta (using the artisan bread, natch – see previous post).

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