On the one hand, I want my summer cooking to be a triumph of haste over effort, but on the other, I still want to cook. We are spoilt for easy solutions to what to give guests for lunch or supper, whether it is opening a pack of mozzarella or prosciutto, throwing a few ready-washed leaves into a bowl, or warming up a cheese tart, but the feel-good factor of cheating wears off as the days and weeks go by.
I think many of us are caught between wanting to create an archive of memories of happy summer meals, and not wearily churning out meal after meal, day after day. It is a situation that often arises when you’re away on a self-catering holiday. There you are in a sunny part of Europe, torn between taking advantage of the beautiful local food in the markets, and relaxing on a sunlounger.
Some take their holiday cooking too seriously. Elizabeth David wrote about packing a batterie de cuisine for the holiday home: a range of tools and utensils unlikely to be provided so she could cook just as she would in her own home – or just about.
One good-sized saute or shallow pan makes an easy-to-put-together hash a reality and still leaves time for those holiday novels you have been dying to read all year.
Curries need no more equipment than a chopping board, knife and cooking pot, so I have added a recipe for a light coconut-based fish curry that can be adapted to whatever fresh seafood you can get, home or abroad.
Lastly, who makes puddings when getting away from it all? I’m happy to stretch to a fresh ricotta and mascarpone cheesecake to eat with summer fruits. It is not a lot of trouble, and the time it takes to make essentially earns that very precious thing: a recollection of joyful times – good food with people you love.
Cucumber, Apple and Mint Chilled Soup, with Crumbled Feta and Herb Oil
The base of this cooling summer broth is inspired by a cocktail made at the Daylesford farm shop, called the English Garden – cucumber, mint, apple with a dash of gin and elder flower – and featured in Carole Bamford’s book of recipes from the farm, Nurture. As a soup with extra cucumber and no gin (sorry), it still has a wonderfully enlivening taste.
- 2 cucumbers
- 20 mint leaves
- 2 tsp elderflower cordial
- 50ml lemon juice
- approximately 400ml cloudy apple juice
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 150g barrel-aged feta
- small mint sprigs
- Slice the cucumbers in half lengthways then scoop out and discard the pips. Chop the flesh into large chunks then place in a powerful liquidiser or blender with the mint, elderflower cordial, lemon juice and half the apple juice.
- Blend until very smooth then add enough of the remaining apple juice for a soup-like consistency – this will depend on the water content in the cucumbers. Season to taste with sea salt then store in the fridge. The soup will keep its fresh taste for two hours.
- Combine the olive oil and parsley – pound in a pestle and mortar if you have one, as it helps to release the flavour of the parsley.
- Ladle the soup into shallow bowls then crumble over some feta. Add a few teaspoons of the oil to each dish and finally throw over some mint sprigs.
Monkfish Curry with Coconut and Mint, with Lemon and Black-Cardamom Rice
A very striking, fresh-tasting and aromatic fish curry for a summer dinner – it is important to add the sauce just before serving, so it retains its lovely greenness.
For the marinated fish
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tbsp grated root ginger
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- juice of 1 lime
- 500g boneless trimmed monkfish tail, cut into large bite-sized pieces
- 2 tbsp groundnut oil
For the sauce
- 50g fresh mint leaves
- 80g fresh coriander
- 2 small shallots, peeled and halved
- 3 small green chillies, halved and deseeded
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- pinch of ground cloves
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 150ml full-fat coconut milk
- 2 tbsp maple syrup or 1 tbsp soft brown sugar
- juice of 2 limes
For the rice
- 180g basmati rice
- 50g mung beans (or yellow split peas)
- 2 black cardamom pods
- ½ lemon
- Mix together the turmeric, ginger, garlic and lime juice and add the monkfish, then thoroughly coat. Leave for 20 minutes.
- Put all the sauce ingredients – apart from the lime juice – into a blender and process until smooth. Set aside.
- Put the rice and mung beans into a pan with 400ml water and add the cardamom, a pinch of salt and the lemon half. Bring to the boil, then simmer uncovered for five minutes. Cover the pan with a lid, simmer for another five minutes, then turn the heat off. Leave the lid on for another five minutes before serving.
- Heat the groundnut oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat, then fry the monkfish pieces briefly, turning them so they brown but are still raw inside. Add the sauce and simmer until the fish is firm and cooked through.
- Just before serving the curry with the rice, stir in the lime juice.