Friday, June 10, 2011

The start of the tennis grass court season and its strawberries

So the tennis has moved from clay to grass just in time for the cats and dogs that live in the sky to start falling to the ground, or is it the other way round? Anyway, whatever is going on upstairs, the tennis, the rain and this time of year is when our strawberries really start to mean something. There honestly isn't anything quite like the taste of your own berries in season that haven't been in a fridge since they were picked, that is true honest flavour. Sat in the sun with their leaves still on for a few moments before devoured is yet another sensation altogether. 

Scented flowers and sweet herbs always work awfully well with summer fruits. Again and as with everything seasonal, look at what is in our hedgerows and farmer's markets this time of year. A few blackberry leaves and a pinch of elderflower buds would be a spectacular infusion. Have a look at Ms Marmitelover's fantastic recent magical elder moment here. This stock syrup keeps forever and can be scented with other herbs and flowers such as geranium or mint. There's also a wonderful strawberry yoghurt parfait worth a look at from the brilliant talent that is spice spoon should any of your crop be deserving of a bit more of a regal work out.

Strawberries with hibiscus and basil syrup

Serves 4

150ml light stock syrup
1 tblsp lemon juice
2 rosehip and hibiscus tea bags
2 large fresh basil leaves
500g fresh strawberries, hulled
Extra basil leaves to garnish

Place the stock syrup in a medium-sized pan, bring almost to the boil, and then stir in the lemon juice, tea bags and basil. Remove from the heat and allow to infuse for 20 minutes. Strain and set aside until needed.

Ten minutes before serving, place the strawberries in four bowls. Pour over the juice and leave to macerate at room temperature.

Garnish with extra basil leaves, maybe even a tiny twist of fresh black pepper and serve. Cream, ice cream or custard isn't wholly necessary, but I'm not judging if you insist.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The safe cucumber sandwich for 2011

So. the evil that is E.coli seems yet again to be ripping the soul from our larders, and the fear mongers amongst us are perversely turning from vegetarianism to carnivores in a role reversal of the sad foot and mouth era of not so long ago. I'd say just pickle the buggers if the unnecessary paranoia is just too much to handle, and just last week while in Stockholm I did happily overdose on buckets of them with wonderful meatballs, rich mashed potatoes and glorious lingonberries.

But, and alas, the cricket season is upon us at home, and without the cucumber sandwich to refresh our delicate sportsmen, the fear of post tea slumps on local fields across the nation are a real fear not to be taken lightly. What to come up with as a replacement? Surely a second innings is nothing if fueled on scones, jam and cream alone?

Here we go then, out on a limb with the alternative to the cucumber sandwich for the summer ahead. There's a bit more work involved, but it's one of those things best made the night before anyway, saving on the day time to get out your lucky balls and get those nasty red streak marks out of your trousers.

This Proven├žal inspired number is pressed and stored in the fridge for at least a few hours, allowing the bread to soak up the juices from the filling — this gives a tasty, rich sarnie. Traditionally, a flat round loaf (about 6in wide) is used, but baguettes will be fine.

Pan bagnat for the cricket field

Serves 4

75ml extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 large baguette or round loaf
1 tin tuna, drained (preferably albacore in olive oil)
1 tin salted anchovies, drained and washed
1 heaped tblsp capers, rinsed
1 white onion, finely sliced, blanched in boiling water for 1 minute and patted dry
5 wood roasted piquillo peppers (from a jar)
3 vine ripened tomatoes, sliced
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
Cucumber or lettuce, sliced
Large sprig fresh basil
Freshly ground black pepper
and salt
Heat half the olive oil over a low flame and gently fry the garlic for 5 minutes, making sure it doesn’t burn. Remove and set aside for 10 minutes, then strain the oil and combine with the remaining olive oil; discard the garlic.

Slice the baguette in half lengthways and brush the inside with the oil, pressing it firmly into the bread. In a bowl, mix together the tuna, anchovies and capers. Fill the sandwich: layer the onion, peppers, tomatoes, egg, salad and basil leaves, putting the tuna mix in the centre. Season

Put the other half of the bread on top and press down. Wrap in cling film, weight down and chill in the fridge for several hours. Serve with tea or lashings or lemonade.