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On the Table: Why summer produce deserves our time

Summer’s fabulous fruit and veg crops are worth lavishing with attention: now is the time to spend a little extra time in the kitchen, writes Cambridge Cookery’s Tine Roche

Summer produce warrants a little extra time in the kitchen, says Tine Roche (57659224)
Summer produce warrants a little extra time in the kitchen, says Tine Roche (57659224)

As we move towards the school holidays and perhaps start to ease off a little, most of us probably look forward to spending more time outdoors. I have written about my love of picnics before and for me the concept of moving not just my meals outside but everything from my morning coffee, early evening glass to evening meal is just bliss. Everything simply tastes so much better when consumed outdoors.

July provides us with an abundance of wonderful fruits, berries and vegetables. The kitchen garden offers up beetroot, courgette, artichokes, cucumbers, new potatoes, aubergine, strawberries, blackberries, black currants, cherries and raspberries, to name some of my personal favourites.

Summer produce warrants a little extra time in the kitchen, says Tine Roche (57659229)
Summer produce warrants a little extra time in the kitchen, says Tine Roche (57659229)

There is such a glut and so much for the cook to enjoy and of course, if it all seems a little overwhelming, preserving comes into its own. As a Scandinavian I love preserving. Curing and pickling using enough sugar to give the vinegar used a taste similar to sushi vinegar, fresh dill crowns if you can get your hands on them, yellow mustard seeds and a few whole allspice berries turns marrows, ridge cucumbers and tender onions into delicious store cupboard condiments for the autumn.

The focus in magazines and media for this time of year is mostly on laziness and spending as little time as possible on preparing meals. I would say the opposite - it is precisely because most of us are starting to think about time off work that July is the ideal time to spend just a few extra minutes in the kitchen.

Summer produce warrants a little extra time in the kitchen, says Tine Roche (57659231)
Summer produce warrants a little extra time in the kitchen, says Tine Roche (57659231)

The whole focus on speed, on cutting down on time spent cooking and making a virtue out of “getting food on the table” - I can scarcely think of a less appetising phrase - is so sad, and also so bad for our health. Food cooked from scratch keeps us healthy. It also costs less and tastes better. Never more so than in the height of summer when fruits and vegetables are tender, ripe and often ready to eat with a minimum of fuss and even “taking time cooking” probably means no more than 20-30 minutes.

As much as I loathe marrow - woody, tasteless and oversized, and as far as I am concerned good only for pickling - I love tender courgette, grilled and added to frittatas and salads, and incorporated in cakes. Cut into matchsticks, shaken in a little flour, and deep fried briefly into crispness and shaken in plenty of sea salt, courgette makes one of the most moreish nibbles I can think of. A great carrier for lemon and thyme, grated courgette also works eminently well in sponge cakes.

I am also a fan of using their delicate, bright saffron-yellow flowers for cooking. The flowers do not have all that much flavour, but they are magnificently flamboyant when served stuffed and deep fried, as a snack to enjoy with a cold Moretti beer or a glass of crisp chilled wine. It’s prudent to check for little black gnats or thunderflies, known for their love of yellow. As the flowers should never be washed, due to their very delicate, gauze-like texture, just shake them lightly and then use scissors to snip out the stamen inside, as they are bitter. Stuff with Buffalo mozzarella rolled or doused in sea salt and black pepper and a little peppery olive oil and then deep fry the flowers.

I have an old saucepan I tend to use for jobs like that. Fill with sunflower oil and heat until a small piece of white bread dropped into the oil turns golden within 15 seconds or so. Take care when you lift out the stuffed flowers, as they are very fragile, and let them drain on double kitchen roll. Sprinkle on more sea salt and serve while warm. Utterly amazing.

Summer produce warrants a little extra time in the kitchen, says Tine Roche (57659220)
Summer produce warrants a little extra time in the kitchen, says Tine Roche (57659220)

I seek acidity and aromatic undertones in both wine and fruits and so blackcurrants are my number one summer fruit, shortly followed by raspberries. Both have a decent level of acidity and make wonderful jams and fillings for summer cakes. My upbringing in Denmark and Sweden taught me to love open sandwiches for breakfast, using either good white bread or dark rye, spread generously with cold salted butter, topped with thick slices of mature hard cheese such as Comté or Gruyère - or, if you can source it, Swedish Västerbotten or Danish Gamle Ole - and topped with tart blackcurrant jam. I strongly recommend you give this a go. My guess is most of you will join the growing number of converts.

Raspberries are amazing just as they are, on thick, natural kefir-based yoghurt or in a simple sponge cake baked in a loaf tin. For the most wonderful deep pink icing, blitz three/four raspberries with five/six tablespoons of icing sugar and drizzle it over the cooled loaf cake.

Large dark cherries are also among my favourite summer fruits. Very annoyingly, however, I have an allergy to raw stone fruits and so can’t indulge the way I would like to. But cooked or baked is fine.

French clafoutis, the batter-based cake often mentioned when cherries are involved, is always slightly too heavy for my liking. I prefer treating British dark cherries by stewing them ever so lightly with fresh rosemary and sugar, to be enjoyed atop of yoghurt or next to a little wobbly panna cotta. I also love macerating them in a good balsamic vinegar and rosemary and serving them with thinly sliced Parma ham and mozzarella or on top of bruschette, with the pieces of toasted bread topped with soft goat’s cheese, Parma ham or no Parma ham, and a little pile of macerated cherries.

Whatever you do, make the most of British high summer and soak up vital Vitamin D and daylight.

Vist cambridgecookery.com for more.

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