Eating summer

Eating summer

By
Tom Hunt
Contains
37 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849494182
Photographer
Laura Edwards

Strawberries

June to August/September: A strawberry ripened to perfection is a cosmic experience for which we all feel a certain nostalgia. The zing and tingle in the mouth, buzzing with flavour, and then that divine sweetness that makes your eyes close with pleasure. A little less ripe, and strawberries actually have a savoury twang that opens up a whole new repertoire of dishes to which they can be added. Try dotting them into salads, even seafood salads.

Strawberries that are grown for local sale don’t need to be hardy for transport. So the farmer can concentrate on growing more flavourful varieties that can be picked ripe and are therefore sweeter than most commercially grown strawberries. Also, strawberries can show a high level of pesticide residues, so buy organic if possible.

To keep strawberries fresh for longer, store them in the fridge in the punnet they came in, first removing any mouldy or bruised berries as they will turn the rest. Don’t wash the strawberries until you want to serve them, as they will retain water and become soggy. Remove them from the fridge an hour before you eat them, so they have a chance to warm up and become as sweet and aromatic as possible.

Broad beans

June to August: Broad beans are a sure sign that summer is here. They begin small and sweet, raw and ready for salads; even the pods are tasty. As they grow larger and a become a little more bitter, I like to use them in Arabic pilafs and rustic Italian-style soups. Dried broad beans, also known as fava beans, make a sumptuous and moreish purée that, flavoured with a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt, is better than any chickpea houmous.

Broad beans are hardy and easy to grow, even in poor soils. This means that they are readily available from local farmers. If you grow your own broad beans, you can also eat the small leaves by steaming or wilting them like spinach; you can even use the flowers to dress your salads.

Broad beans keep well in or out of the fridge, as they are well protected by their pods. If the pods become blemished, the beans will often still be perfect, so check inside before you throw them to the compost monster.

Courgettes

June to October: Courgettes are abundant in summer and very easy to grow. If you’re short on space, you can even grow them in garden pots… they’re so prolific that you might still find you have a glut. The main advantage of growing your own is that you will be able to pick and eat the brilliant yellow, meaty flowers and make them into my favourite courgette fritters. You can also buy the flowers from farmers’ markets. When buying courgettes themselves, look for the small, firm examples as they will be the sweetest. I’d recommend buying organic, as conventionally grown courgettes have been known to contain residues of pesticides.

Courgettes are best kept in the fridge, but will store at room temperature if necessary. While they’re firm and fresh, use them raw in dishes such as courgette ‘spaghetti’. As they grow older, use them in a soup with soft cheese and herbs.

Aubergines

July to October: The aubergine is a king among vegetables, bulbous in its purple cloak and green crown. Once cooked, it becomes a rich and buttery delicacy, the caviar of the veg patch and to be enjoyed as such.

Aubergine is one of the more exotic vegetables now commonly grown in the UK. My favourite way to eat it is cooked on a char-grill, either sliced and given a lick of olive oil then charred, or simply placed whole in the coals to bake in its skin, allowing the juices to sweeten and the flesh to become smoky and velvety smooth. Sautéed aubergines caramelise quickly and become tasty little morsels.

I’ve included three classic recipes, each with their own twist. Baba ghanoush is top of my list. Rich and silky in texture, I like to add a little yogurt to lighten the delicious, creamy dip. Caponata is also a must for this time of year, with tomatoes ripe on the vines and basil flourishing. Moussaka is a special dish, good to make on a Sunday when you've got some time on your hands.

Aubergines keep best in the fridge.

Apricots

July to September: I wait patiently all year for these sweet, betacarotene-filled beauties to return to the market. Even supermarkets only usually stock them for their short European season, so make the most of it and eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner… in fact drink them in smoothies and cocktails, too, if you have the inclination.

You must choose your fruit wisely, as some that were picked too early will never sweeten and will have a dry, woolly texture that is utterly disappointing compared to the almondy sweet, butterscotch juiciness of a ripe fruit. Choose apricots that are slightly soft, but still firm, with a good strong colour and mild aroma. They should be relatively heavy for their size, indicating the weight of juice within.

All stone fruits can contain high pesticide residues, so buy organic if possible. Keep them in the fridge as soon as they are ripe to lengthen their life, but return them to room temperature before eating for the best flavour and aroma.

Tomatoes

July to October: I’m always hunting for the perfect tomato. Not perfectly formed, but bursting with flavour, the ideal balance of sweetness and acidity. These gems are often also multi-coloured, or misshapen.

For the very best tomatoes, seek out local producers who grow heirloom varieties. Their tomatoes will be picked when they are ripe and therefore taste sweeter and more flavourful than commercial equivalents that are ripened off the vine.

When you cook tomatoes to make a sauce, the flavours develop and change, becoming sweeter and more rounded with floral notes. They are also stonkingly good for you, as the antioxidants are actually enhanced through cooking. To bring back some of the fresh aromas, add a piece of tomato vine or leaf at the end of cooking and simmer for a couple of minutes.

Keep tomatoes at room temperature to ripen them, but pop them in the fridge once they reach the peak of ripeness, to prolong their life. Just be sure to allow them to warm up before eating, so their flavours and aromas are at their fullest.

Lots of cooks remove the skin and seeds when cooking tomatoes. This not only wastes good food, but sacrifices aroma and acidity. If you use the juice and seeds, as I recommend, simply cook the tomatoes for longer to evaporate the extra liquid.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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