summer | The Proof of the Pudding

Summer pudding is one of my all-time favourite desserts; I think it could even give the chocolate fondant a run for its money. The pudding has a nostalgic, exciting feeling for me, partly because it meant that the berries and currants at my dad’s allotment were ripe and ready to be used which in turn signaled that summer was well and truly here, but also because I think it’s the first properly impressive pudding that I learnt to make. It’s a sinfully easy recipe, but turning out a perfectly set pudding and slicing into the stunning pink exterior to reveal the jumble of different summer berries inside is a very satisfying feeling indeed.

This is based on a Katie Stuart recipe (the kitchen goddess that our household regularly turn to for instruction, and who I’ve mentioned many times before), though she makes one large pudding to serve about 6 people. If you’re feeding a crowd then I’d highly recommend this – just double to quantities of fruit and sugar below to fill a 2 pint pudding basin (about 1.1 litres) and you will need to use a bit more of the loaf of bread. If, like me, you’re catering for less people then these make the cutest little treats.

A few tips before we begin: make sure you do use stale bread, so remember to buy a loaf in advance. I bought mine two days before I made these and it worked perfectly. Use whatever combination of summer berries that you prefer or have available, but try to use more redcurrants than other berries. For example, I used 180g redcurrants, 100g raspberries, 100g blackcurrants and 70g raspberries. Katie Stuart recommends 450g redcurrants, 225g raspberries and 225g strawberries for one large pudding (double this recipe). You do need to leave the puddings in the fridge overnight so that they set properly so no short cuts here I’m afraid! Inevitably you will be left with crusts and small cuttings from the slices of bread – throw them into a food processor or blender and blitz to breadcrumbs. They can be stored in airtight containers in the freezer for months and used as you require for recipes.

One year ago:
– Stuffed courgettes

Ingredients (makes 3 individual puddings) One loaf of stale white bread (you will use about half of it – the rest will make perfect toast!) 450g summer berries 70g castor sugar

Crème fraiche and extra berries to serve

Method 1. Rinse 3 small pudding basins (150ml capacity each) with cold water and thinly cut about half the loaf into 1cm slices – you can always cut more later if you need it.

5. Place the basins on a large plate or tray (some of the juice will probably spill over the top so this keeps your fridge shelves clean!) and gently press the last 3 circles of bread on top of the puddings.
6. Put small plates or saucers on top of each pudding and weight down with tins or other suitably-sized heavy objects. Refrigerate the puddings at least overnight.

If you’ve never eaten a chilled soup before, you’re going to just have to go with me on this one. It might seem very strange, or even off-putting, to those who have never tried it before, but believe me when I say that you are missing out and need to rectify that ASAP. Gazpacho, a southern Spanish tomato soup, is probably the most famous of the chilled soup family and it is one of my all-time favourite recipes. There are slight variations in ingredients and methods between the recipes available (some including peppers or bread, some soaking the ingredients overnight before blending, some adding stock or basil at the end), but this simple recipe is the one that my family has always used, passed down from my mum’s mum, and it is the best there is (unbiased family opinion).

Gazpacho makes use of the fresh, young allium produce that are available during the late summer. If you can’t get your hands on any young red onions or “green” garlic, as it is sometimes called, then you can use the regular varieties though you may want slightly reduce the quantity you add to the soup as it will be stronger and sharper in flavour. Err on the side of caution, since you can always add more in after the first blend, but you can’t take it back out at the end! This is the perfect seasonal recipe for a light lunch or supper, or to serve as a starter at a summer dinner party. However, I can also highly recommend having a large bowl of the soup the day after a night of excess – it’s zingy and refreshing, is reminiscent of comfort-food-hero hot tomato soup, has a high water content and is packed with vitamins.

One year ago:
– Refreshing watermelon salad

Ingredients (makes 4-6 servings) 450g ripe tomatoes ½ a cucumber 1 medium young red onion 3 cloves young garlic 450ml tomato juice 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 1 tbsp white wine vinegar Salt and pepper

Green bell pepper and breadsticks or croutons to serve

Method 1. Begin by peeling and deseeding the tomatoes. The easiest way to do this is to plunge the tomatoes into a pan of boiling water for 30 seconds.

Remove and drain – the skin may already have started to blister – and leave to cool for a few minutes.

The skin should now very easily peel away, and then the tomatoes can be cut in half and the seeds either cut or scraped out.

2. Roughly chop the cucumber (including the peel and seeds), red onion and garlic and place in a large bowl.
3. Add the peeled and deseeded tomatoes to the bowl, roughly chopped.

4. Pour in the tomato juice, and add the olive oil, white wine vinegar and a generous season of salt and pepper.

5. Use a hand blender to blend the ingredients together. I like to keep the soup just a little bit chunky, but you can blend until you have the consistency you want – for a very smooth texture you will need to pass the mixture through a sieve. Taste the soup for seasoning (including vinegar, onion and garlic, not just salt and pepper) and adjust if necessary.

6. Chill the soup for at least 2 or 3 hours – this step is very important, so don’t skip it unless you are incredibly short on time, in which case having the tomato juice already chilled in the fridge is a top tip from my mum.

Serve the soup chilled, in chilled bowls if you’re feeling extra fancy. Top with diced green pepper and, traditionally, homemade croutons either baked or fried in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. At home we always just broke up breadsticks to scatter over the soup, which is far less effort and a little healthier too. This time we spotted a box of olive oil crostini at the shops, which worked perfectly too.

This soup will keep well in the fridge for up to 5 or 6 days, the flavours mingling and only improving with time.

Have you eaten chilled soups before, and if so what is your favourite type? Do you have your own gazpacho recipe? – I’d love to hear about it below!…

I have something a bit new for you today. Since I’m taking myself on holiday for a few weeks to France, it felt like an appropriate time to give this blog a little summer chill-out too. So until I have eaten all the cheese and bread and drunk all the wine that France has to offer, there won’t be any new posts from me.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share with you some of the blogs and ingredients and TV shows that have been inspiring my cooking and recipe planning recently…

1. Everyone Has To Eat

Gluten-free Kung Pao chicken from Everyone Has To Eat

This new blog is in its infancy, having emerged into the ether of the internet only last week, but it is very close to my heart. It belongs to one of my very dearest friends (my brother-from-another-mother some (we) might say) and I have huge expectations for the recipes to come. The idea for the blog came to him as he got to grips adapting some of his most-loved Chinese recipes for his girlfriend, who was recently diagnosed to be coeliac. The recipes are gluten-free, which will be music to many peoples’ ears, but even if you’re not fussed about the gluten-free part surely everyone can get on board with authentic Chinese home cooking right?! And if the first recipe for Kung Pao chicken is anything to go by (I need to cook this ASAP, just looking at the picture makes me drool), this is going to be a cracker of a food blog. One to watch…

2. Nigel Slater’s Eating Together

I am a huge fan of Nigel Slater: his cookbooks are simple, but interesting, his presenting style is gentle and warm and he has such an emotional, nostalgic connection with the food he cooks and eats which really chimes with my own way of thinking about food. I always love his TV shows, and his new series Eating Together, currently showing on BBC TWO, is no exception. The concept is lovely: each week he finds three people in the UK, each with their own way of cooking what is essentially the same dish, but from a variety of different cultures (think dumplings, soup, custards…). It’s a celebration of multiculturalism, family and modern British home-cooking, all rolled into one.

3. The Londoner’s Seabass & Samphire Parcels

I’ve talked about The Londoner on my blogroll page, and one of her recent recipes was just the inspiration I needed for a weeknight dinner. I ad-libbed a bit with this recipe, swapping seabass for cheaper cod loin and adding seasonal sprouting broccoli along with the samphire (my favourite new ingredient discovery – if you haven’t already you must try it!), but it’s really the kind of recipe that is made for improvising with what’s in the shop or your fridge. Add this one to your weekly repertoire pronto!

4. Asparagus Risotto

Asparagus risotto with chorizo and slow roasted tomatoes

Asparagus season is in full swing, and it’s one of those seasonal produce that you should take advantage of when it’s available. I haven’t yet done a risotto recipe on the blog, but believe me it is much easier than many people think. The base of this particular risotto came from a pack which contained risotto rice (most commonly Arborio rice) and dried asparagus for flavouring, but it was a gift which was bought for us in France so I’m afraid I don’t have a link to it! However, if you’d like to try recreating something similar you could follow a simple risotto recipe like this one from Jamie Oliver, adding some chopped asparagus stalks with the onion. Take your time with the risotto, cooking it over a low heat (though it should only take about 15 minutes for the rice to cook after adding the first ladle of stock), and add a generous hand full of parmesan and knob of butter when the rice is cooked through and off the heat. What really made this dish was all the added extras on top: griddle a bunch of asparagus spears, slow roast tomatoes on the vine seasoned with plenty of salt and olive oil, fry some chopped chorizo and finish the dish with a drizzle of the chorizo oil and some shavings of parmesan. Et voilà!

And finally, in case while I’m away the weather here takes a dramatic turn for the better and you’re all basking in summer sunshine, here are some of my favourite hot-weather recipes from the last year…

Homemade pesto


Happy summer everyone!

I’m already hankering after summer. This recipe is an ode to hot summers days and dinner in the garden and holidaying abroad. It’s not at all seasonal, but I had to satisfy my cravings for summer somehow, and if I can’t hop on a plane I can certainly track down some sunshine flavours from lands far hotter than this one. The recipe is from BBC Good Food, with just a few changes of my own – the addition of red chilli for a spicy kick and lemon zest instead of juice for ultra-lemony flavour (plus, this dish seems wet enough without adding more liquid). I also find their quantities a bit odd – if you use 4 courgettes you’ll end up with rather a lot more rolls than 24!

This is the ideal bite-size canapé. We had ours with glasses of Prosecco, as nibbles before the main event of homemade pizzas, but they would work really well as part of a big antipasto platter. Buy some good quality cheese and meats, put out bowls of olives and marinated artichokes and a basket of fresh bread, and you’ll have yourself the perfect sharing starter, if not a meal in itself.

Ingredients (makes between 25-35 small rolls) 25g pine nuts 250g ricotta 1 small red chilli, seeds removed and flesh finely chopped Zest of 1 lemon 1 small bunch of basil, finely chopped 2 small courgettes Olive oil Balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper

Method 1. Put the pine nuts into a dry frying pan and turn on a low heat. Keep an eye on the pine nuts, stirring with a wooden spoon, as they can catch and burn in the blink of an eye.

You’ll know when to remove them from the heat as they will turn dark brown and you will be able smell the nutty oils in the air. Set aside to cool for later.

2. Add the finely chopped chilli and the lemon zest to the ricotta and mix well.

3. Stir through the chopped basil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Refrigerate the mixture until you are ready to stuff the courgettes.

4. Thinly slice the courgettes – to achieve super thin slices that will roll easily use a mandolin or simply a speed peeler.

5. Pour a little oil and balsamic vinegar onto a large plate (or two) and spread out the courgette slices.

Season with salt and pepper. You can now leave the courgette slices to marinade in the fridge until you are ready to roll.

6. Shortly before serving, mix the toasted pine nuts through the ricotta mixture.

Stuff the courgette by scooping a teaspoon of the ricotta onto one end of each slice. Roll and place carefully onto your serving plate.

These should be eaten soon after they have been rolled, but the ricotta mixture and the courgette slices will happily sit in the fridge for 5 or 6 hours if you’re one who likes to get ahead.

Serve with a refreshing Italian white wine, or some bubbly if you’re celebrating! Turn away from the snow outside the window, close your eyes, pop one in your mouth and imagine that the sun is beating down on your face. It’s almost like you’re in Italy! Almost.

Courgette season is still very much underway, as was evidenced by the gigantic courgette that my dad brought home from his allotment this week. With a glut of regular-sized courgettes already in the house, he offered this vegetable goliath to me, and of course I gladly accepted. Such a magnificent beast needed a fitting recipe, and keeping it (essentially) whole seemed like a nice way to cook it.

This recipe was inspired by a dish that lovely friends of ours made at a dinner party a couple of years ago. I didn’t have the exact recipe to hand, so this is a loose interpretation of the original incarnation, but I remembered the inside of the courgette being stuffed back into the filling, I remembered tomatoes being invited to the party, and I remembered two types of cheeses going in there. Let’s be honest, I mainly remembered the two types of cheese. Then garlic had to be added, as it is to basically all of our food in this household, and then a few herbs which work well with both courgettes and tomatoes made an appearance too. Although it may have deviated from the initial recipe we ate a few years ago, I’m very pleased with the results: a vibrant, vegetarian* dish packed with summery tastes. *Excuse the parmesan! Use a substitute if you’re very strictly veggie.

Ingredients (serves 2 as a main course, or 4-6 as a starter) 1 very large courgette 2 large ripe tomatoes 1 tsp oregano 1 tsp dried thyme 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed Small handful basil leaves, roughly chopped 2 mozzarella balls Small handful grated parmesan Salt and pepper

Good quality olive oil

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6. 2. Halve the courgette lengthways, so that both halves can sit steadily cut-side up. Use a spoon to scoop out the soft flesh, leaving at least 1-2cm of skin around the outside, but don’t throw away the insides – roughly chop the flesh and place in a large bowl.

3. Use a pastry brush to spread a thin layer of oil on both the outside and the inside of the cut out courgette. Season both sides generously with salt and pepper and place on a large baking tray.

4. Remove the seeds from the tomatoes and chop into small pieces. Add to the courgette flesh, along with the oregano, thyme and chopped garlic and basil. Mix well.

5. Chop the mozzarella into small cubes and stir through the stuffing, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

6. Pack the stuffing inside the courgette skins – don’t be afraid to pile this high, as it will melt and sink in the oven.

7. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and drizzle with a little extra olive oil.

8. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the skins are tender and the stuffing is golden brown. Cooking times will depend on the size of your courgettes – if your vegetables aren’t quite as giant as this one was then reduce the cooking time by at least 10 minutes (baby courgettes will need as little as 8-10 minutes in the oven).

We had these as a vegetarian main course, served with some paprika-spiced sweet potato wedges, but this is a great dish to have as a starter. Find some mini courgettes at the shop and serve up one per person for a cute and tasty start to a late-summer meal.

What’s your favourite way to cook courgettes? Grilled, stuffed, sautéed…?

This is an absolute killer of a recipe. It’s perfect for a dinner party or special weekend meal because it tastes divine and looks both appropriately impressive and ridiculously pretty, but is actually very simple to make. It does require a little last minute work, but you can prepare steps 1 to 3 in advance and then spend less than 10 minutes in the kitchen between the main course and pudding.

This recipe comes from Summer Cooking by Elizabeth David, one of the highest members of the royal family of cookery writers. It’s a retro-looking book that’s been sitting on my parents’ shelves for decades, but it’s packed with gorgeous seasonal recipes and this is one of the best. This is barely altered from the book – the only change is that we heat the berries before squeezing the juice from them as it makes it easier to extract the maximum amount.

This is our go-to recipe for a fancy dessert during the summer months when my dad’s allotment provides a glut of redcurrants and raspberries, though the beauty of it is that if you freeze the berries when they’re at their peak you can have a taste of summer all year round. A word of warning before we start: you really want an electric whisk for this recipe. Believe me, it’s extremely hard to achieve the right consistency with a hand whisk; even my mum, who is vehemently against the use of an electric hand whisk, admits it is necessary for this one dish!

Ingredients (serves 2-3 generously) 110g raspberries 100g redcurrants 60g sugar 1 egg white

Crème fraiche, to serve

Method 1. Weigh out the berries, removing the redcurrants from their stalks – the quickest way to do this is to run a fork down the length of the stalk.

2. Warm the berries in a pan until they begin to release their juice and become soft.

3. Sieve the juice from the berries, using the back of a spoon to squish out as much as you can from the seeds and pulp. Stir the sugar into the warm juice.

4. Whisk the egg white until it forms stiff peaks.

5. Put the juice and egg whites into a pan over a low heat and whisk continually for about 5 minutes. The mixture will thicken and rise substantially. Remove from the heat when you have achieved a smooth, fluffy consistency.

6. Serve in small tumblers or wine glasses, topped with red berries and crème fraiche.

The flavour of this mousse is an incredible mixture of sharp and sweet, almost like a berry sherbet, and the texture is as light as air. The warmth is a really unusual element that I’ve never come across in a mousse before and it contrasts beautifully with a dollop of chilled crème fraiche.

If left for too long the mixture splits, leaving a layer of juice at the bottom, however good whisking will ensure this doesn’t happen too quickly. Immediate serving and quick eating will also guarantee avoiding this!…

Last week was named Salad Week and we had different summer salads from sweetcorn salsa to refreshing watermelon to raw fennel. All delicious, healthy dishes, packed with strong flavours and perfect for summer eating. However, in the interest of balance this week will be all about booze and frying.

In our house, sangria means New Year (or Hogmanay as we call it here). A slightly odd combination, I’m not actually sure where it came from, but it’s now a firm family tradition. Sangria is one of my favourite alcoholic cocktails, and when I’m in Spain I can drink it by the bucket load with a bowl of olives and be happy with the world. It’s the perfect drink to make for a barbecue during the summer, or for any occasion that involves lots of people, as you can multiply up the quantities to serve as many as you like – just make sure you have a jug big enough!

This recipe is based on one from Katie Stewart’s Cookbook (our cooking bible, as I mentioned before), with a little extra booze and fruit thrown in for good measure. You can follow this exact recipe to start with, but adapt it to your own taste as you learn what works for you. I’ve had some sangrias in Spain that have enough liquor to get you under the table after just a couple of glasses (I remember one particular concoction at a beach bar which included nearly every spirit in the bar – actually very delicious, but totally deadly) so experiment with different spirits if that’s up your street. If you have a particularly sweet tooth then use lemonade instead of soda water, but personally I find this too much. As for the fruit, basically anything goes. We added peach in to this batch and it worked a treat, as would nectarine. Melon is a great addition to sangria, though some people don’t like the taste. I should probably tell you to get a half decent wine to use, and in fact a Rioja is a perfect option if you find a nice bottle, but really this is a great opportunity to use a cheaper wine. Once the fruit, spirits and soda have gone in, no one will be any wiser. Even more true after a couple of glasses have been quaffed.

Ingredients 1 orange 2 lemons Any other fruit you like e.g. apple, peach, melon 1 tbsp sugar 1 tbsp brandy 1 tbsp cointreau 70cl bottle of red wine, chilled

350ml soda water, chilled

Method 1. Chop the fruit into similarly sized pieces. Remove any pips from the lemons and orange, but leave the skin on.

2. Place the fruit into a large jug and pour over the sugar and spirits. Mix well and leave to marinade for at least an hour.

3. Add the chilled red wine to the jug and leave for at least another half hour.

4. When ready to serve top the sangria up with soda water. You can alter the quantities of soda water to your taste, depending on whether you like the sangria weaker or stronger.

5. Fill glasses with ice and pour over the sangria with some fruit pieces.

Serve as a punch at a party, with the main course of a Spanish meal or as an aperitif with olives, some sliced Manchego cheese and serrano ham or just some fresh crusty bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. Close your eyes as you sip and you could nearly be on the beaches of Spain.