Seasonal eating in August
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As we cross the height of summer, stone fruits come into full swing, with nectarines, peaches and apricots all lining up to be used in cakes, tarts and pies, ice-creams and frozen yogurts, as well as in cool cocktails to sip in the garden. Crumble might not be your summer standby but you can lighten it up by serving it topped with cold fruit compote, a sprinkle of smashed-up shortbread biscuits and a perfectly spherical scoop of good vanilla ice-cream.
We shouldn't forget savoury, either, with plenty of treats in store that lend themselves to barbecues and salads, simple weeknight fixes or more intricate, weekend dishes. Make the most of our summer bounty before the warm evenings slip off and the garden door gets firmly shut, ready for autumn's first bite.
Both round and flat varieties are at their best in August, with skins soft and fuzzy. The peach travelled from China and didn't hit English shores until the 17th century, where it was prized by royalty. Fortunately, today they are a bit more widely available as they're a great friend in the kitchen.
In Italy, peaches are cut into slices and slipped into glasses of red wine. Jamie Oliver griddles his peaches with mozzarella and Parma ham and then serves them tossed with rocket and balsamic vinegar. I prefer mine sweet rather than savoury though - a peach granita is an incredibly easy crowd-pleaser of a pudding that is both fragrant and light. Peaches also form part of one of the most deliciously simple classic desserts - peach melba, which consists of peaches, toasted almond flakes, ice cream and raspberry coulis.
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The blackberry, that hedgerow favourite, is somehow one of the most British of fruits. A childhood favourite, I remember my fingers being stained purple as I ate about as many as I picked when I was little. And it's this deep colour that makes them great to cook with, allowing you to trickle and ripple their colour and flavour through a dish.
Try a blackberry ripple meringue - make your meringues as usual (perhaps folding through some ground pistachios for a change) and then make a blackberry coulis by cooking blackberries with a little sugar; then sieving out the seeds and folding the pulp through a mixture of creme fraiche and whipped cream and a touch of icing sugar. Don't stir too much so the mixture retains its rippled effect. Squidge the blackberry cream between your meringues and try not to scoff the lot!
You can't mention blackberries without bringing up that old favourite, blackberry and apple pie, ideally made with hot, flaky pastry and piled high with ice-cream. Or try a blackberry smash cocktail - mix blackberries with sugar and a little Chambord and leave overnight. Add a spoonful of the mixture to the bottom of a champagne glass and top with bubbly.
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For my money, you can't beat a good old Cox's apple. The other varieties are all great for different things - given their texture, many of the newer breeds lend themselves well to cooking, but I love the older varieties. Some aren't so pretty - the russet, for example - but they're absolutely delicious and worth seeking out.
The classic combination of apple and cheese has been given many a twist over the years, but you can't beat a lump of mature cheddar and half an apple for a sweet/savoury snack attack.
Apples and pork are also a classic combination - try slipping a few large pieces of apple under a piece of pork belly before slow-roasting for several hours till tender. Then squish them with a fork to make a rough apple sauce to serve alongside your roast.
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In all their shapes and sizes, peppers are the ultimate summer food. They are perfect for barbecuing or stuffing with mozzarella, pesto and some cherry tomatoes and then roasting (finish them under the grill for a super-stringy topping).
Try roasting them over an open flame (your gas hob will do) until blackened, and then putting them in a clingfilm-covered bowl to rest for 20 minutes before scraping off the skin and discarding the seeds. Slice into strips and marinade in olive oil, garlic and vinegar for a few hours. Drain and toss with sultanas, toasted pine nuts, fresh basil and shredded chicory or endive and dress with a splash of balsamic vinegar - a lovely summer salad.
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It's worth taking advantage of the fresh sweetcorn season, as fresh is a far cry from tinned when it comes to sweetcorn. That's not to say that the tins aren't a decent standby and will certainly pass muster if you're popping them in something like cornbread muffins, but there's nothing like sinking your teeth into a corn on the cob, hot off the grill and slathered with butter with plenty of salt and pepper.
In South America, they use mayonnaise, chilli powder and crumbled queso fresco (you could use a crumbly cheese like Caerphilly or Wensleydale) with a wedge of lime to squeeze over the top.
Sweetcorn is frequently used in desserts outside the UK - maybe a step too far for us Brits. Instead, try making a sweetcorn salsa to serve with some sweet and sticky barbecued chicken wings or legs - mix pieces of corn with chilli, chopped red onion, loads of fresh coriander and some ground cumin.
On Bing: sweetcorn recipes
So - here's hoping for some sunshine so you can knock up some of these treats alongside your barbecue or for afters in the garden. If not, get your griddle pan out. Or your brolly!
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