Seasonal eating in July
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It is summer now, isn't it? Can I plan an alfresco dinner in the garden? BYOB (brolly) perhaps? We Brits never let the weather dampen our spirits - take a summery salad, some good crusty bread, a fruity number for pudding and stuff the weather - it's summer inside. Just add a bottle of fizz and glasses topped with slivers of strawberry and you're sorted. July is really salad time though and there are plenty of ways to bring some sunshine in with July's ingredients - read on for just a few ideas...
Gooseberries are about as close to food heaven as I get. I love them because they're both sweet and sour - perfect for those without too much of a sweet tooth. The red variety is much less frequently seen and is much sweeter. For me, a pie, crumble or jam is about the best it can be when stuffed with green gooseberries.
Gooseberry fool is a dish that many argue about - some layering it up with custard and whipped cream. I keep mine simple - stewed fruit, sugar, Greek yogurt and a little double cream for a touch of luxury; I'll often crumble a gingernut, digestive or a bit or shortbread over the top for the crunch. Gooseberries have become quite fashionable of late - with some top chefs serving a tart compote alongside a piece of fresh fried mackerel.
The cucumber is too often seen as a bog-standard ingredient rather than a celebrated one. Well, my fridge is never without one, and more often, two. This distinctly British veg is in season at the moment and lends itself to a variety of dishes: lightly pickled in water, vinegar and sugar, cucumbers are a fantastic accompaniment to fish along with a dollop of horseradish; blitzed with tomatoes, spring onion, bread, oil and vinegar they make gazpacho, the ultra-cool Spanish soup; the Chinese have a dish they call 'smacked cucumbers' where they smash the cucumber to pieces using the flat of a cleaver. Perhaps our British soup is one of the best though - cucumbers blitzed and thinned with yogurt. And let's not forget the quintessential British teatime treat - the cucumber sandwich.
Aubergines grow happily in Britain, albeit in a greenhouse or conservatory. They're used in so many different cultures' cuisines - from brindjal curry in India (which uses the slender, small variety) to imam biyaldi, the Persian dish reportedly made with so much olive oil, it made the Imam (their leader) faint.
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I have a few aubergine favourites - fried cubes of aubergine tossed with walnuts, caramelised onions, pomegranate molasses and mint, or the Italian classic fried with celery, pine nuts, raisins and sharpened with vinegar, or baba ganoush - where the aubergines are cooked in their skins till blackened and collapsing and then mashed with yogurt and parsley - a perfect pitta-scooping snack.
Raspberries are a bit of a bugbear of mine - I love, love, love them BUT they've got all those little pips in them! Okay, perhaps the pips are a small price to pay for such a delicious fruit, as raspberries play a part in one of my favourite flavour combinations - peanut butter and 'jelly'. I make a brownie studded with fresh raspberries and little dollops of peanut butter.
Raspberries also have a role in one of my top puddings - summer pudding - which absolutely must be served with a large spoonful of proper Cornish clotted cream. And where would raspberry ripple ice-cream be without them? And you can remove the seeds for that... If you've got the time and a dehydrator (a fun, inexpensive kitchen gadget) you can make raspberry powder; next time you make meringues you can swirl some of this through the mixture for raspberry ripple meringues - decadent and beautiful.
The courgette may look like the cucumber's long-lost cousin but it's markedly different both in flavour and texture. Courgettes are great on the barbecue or in your griddle pan, sliced thinly and charred and then tossed with olive oil, lemon and mint. If you cut them wafer thin, they're great in salads carpaccio-style. London burger gurus, Byron, coat them in breadcrumbs and deep-fry batons like courgette chips - perfect for dunking in a spicy tomato sauce.
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The flowers are a rare find (and probably easier left to restaurants unless you're feeling adventurous!). They are often stuffed with ricotta or goat's cheese and lightly battered, almost tempura-style, before being deep-fried. I've even seen them used in the base of a chocolate cake to add moisture.
So, whether you're outdoors in the glorious British sunshine, or you've moved your picnic inside and you're sitting on a rug in the living room eating alfloor-o, at least your food will taste of summer.
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Our gooseberries in the garden yielded jam and chutney this year. I bought a blackcurrant bush the other day as well. I am planting a lot more fruit/vegetables and herbs this year, although we only have a tiny garden its amazing what food one can produce from a small garden.
Also any pips from apples, plums, apricots, peaches, lemons, oranges etc I am going to pop them in a bit of soil and just wait.
Patience is the key.