Three recipes for a summer feast
- Credit: Frances Bissell
Casual, easy to prepare, yet delicious food is what is wanted during these summer months.
And food with a flavour of somewhere else is appealing given how difficult it is to get away. I favour a summer feast, based on the Provençale grand aioli. A large bowl of garlicky mayonnaise is the centre piece - authentic aioli is an emulsion of olive oil and garlic - but can be tricky to make, as it has a tendency to split. So instead I make a classic mayonnaise. Homemade is so much better than the commercial version that it is worth practicing to get it right.
With that, I serve heaps of vegetables, some cooked, some raw. Green beans, artichokes, courgettes, Charlotte potatoes for the cooked, and quartered Little Gem lettuces, wedges of fennel, sweet tomatoes, olives, spring onions and cucumber batons raw.
The classic Provencal dish features poached salt cod but consider poaching a chicken instead and serve it when you want, hot if the weather is cool, or cooled down if it's hot. And what of dessert? Right now, peaches, apricots and nectarines are firm, sweet and juicy. Slice a kilo thinly into a large bowl, trickle some runny honey over to encourage more juice, then squeeze on some fresh orange or lime juice.
English soft fruit are also at their best and a summer pudding will always prove popular, using raspberries, red and blackcurrants and not too many strawberries; you want that nice tartness and pectin provided by the currants.
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But first, the mayonnaise. I never make mine entirely with olive oil, instead I use grape seed, groundnut oil or rapeseed oil. The risk of curdling can be minimised if you use all ingredients at room temperature. Mustard, chopped herbs, especially chives, tarragon, mint or chervil, tomato purée, chopped cornichons and spring onions can all be used to flavour mayonnaise.
Mayonnaise (makes about 300 ml)
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1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons lemon juice or wine vinegar
200 ml grape seed or groundnut oil
2 tablespoons water - just off the boil
garlic, peeled and crushed – as much or as little as you like
50 ml extra virgin olive oil, but see recipe
Put the egg yolk in a bowl with the mustard and lemon juice or vinegar and season lightly. Add the first lot of oil to the egg with a sparing hand, drop by drop, beating in each addition before adding the next. Once the mixture starts to thicken, the oil can be added more liberally, but no more than a thin stream, about a tablespoon at a time. Beat until the mixture looks thick and glossy, but with no surface film of oil, before you add the next stream of oil. When all the oil has been taken up, you will have a thick, tight mixture. Stir in the boiling water to slacken the mixture and give a smooth, pale and creamy texture. Stir in the garlic then start adding the olive oil, beating in a tablespoon at a time. The mayonnaise will begin to thicken again, and become more yellow. Continue adding to taste.
Poached Chicken (serves 4 to 6)
1 large oven-ready chicken, about 2 kg
thinly pared zest of a lemon
large sprig of lemon thyme or plain thyme
1 celery stalk
1 onion stuck with four cloves
slice of fresh ginger
Put the chicken, lemon zest, thyme, celery stalk and onion in a large stockpot, and cover with water. Add seasoning, the bay leaf, parsley stalks, ginger, neck and wing tips and other trimmings. Bring the water just to the boil, skim any foam from the surface, lower the heat as far as possible, and poach the chicken very gently for an hour. The water should not boil. Transfer the chicken to a carving board. Cut it up, and arrange with the vegetables on a large platter.
Summer pudding (Serves 6)
10 to 12 slices white bread, crusts removed
200 g Golden Granulated sugar
250 g each raspberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants
200 g strawberries
150 g gooseberries, loganberries or blueberries
Rinse and drain the fruit, topping, tailing and hulling. Put the fruit in a pan, and sprinkle over the sugar. Set on a low heat until the juices run and the sugar dissolves (start gooseberries off first, without any sugar and a couple of tablespoons of water, as the skins are much tougher, before adding the rest of the fruit and sugar and proceeding as above.) Add up to four tablespoons of water to encourage the juice. Check for sweetness.
Remove from heat. Start lining the pudding basins by cutting square slices into wedge-shaped pieces, and place these, narrow end down, in the basin, having first dipped the pieces of bread in the fruit juice. Continue overlapping the slices slightly until the basin is fully lined.
Cut a circle of bread to fit the bottom. Pour in the fruit to fill the basin, reserving a few tablespoons of juice. Fit pieces of bread over the top so the fruit is completely covered. Press down, cover with cling film and place a weight on top to pack as tightly as possible. Refrigerate.
Turn out on to a large plate and pour the reserved juice over the puddings. Serve with clotted cream, crème fraîche or mascarpone.
©Frances Bissell 2021. All rights reserved.