I’ve just returned from the Donhead Village Hall, where entries to the summer show have been arriving for the last few hours. It’s a hive of competitive activity and tension. Magnificent Victoria sponges, shortbread, jams and chutneys. The vegetables and soft fruits look mouth watering, and the perennial flower class, better than ever. As a complete contrast to 2012, when we were all under water and very little in the way of flowers and vegetables for the show – how different this year is! Never satisfied, I would give anything for a little rain just now – my cabbages and chard are starting to crisp up round the edges.
This wonderful weather makes me want to eat outside, be it a quick sandwich, a picnic or a full-blown dinner party. Food and drink just tastes better in the fresh air.
I recently bought a small barbecue from that ‘big supermarket’ in town. It’s orange and tiny (still took over an hour to put it together with more washers, screws and nuts than I needed – always worrying when you have some left over), but its size means you can pop it in the car and take it to the beach or carry to the top of a hill. Having turned the AGA off I am left with a single induction ring to cook on, and I was craving something crispy without having to fry it. I have it alight in the garden as I write. I will have boned chicken thighs with a spicy rub mix and grilled courgettes (the misshapen ones that were not good enough for my summer show entry). I have ‘pick and come again’ salad leaves, young spinach and beetroot and the first of my new potatoes, all drizzled with a homemade dressing. I will eat my supper whilst sitting on the bridge with my feet dangling over the cool river and wash it all down with a chilled glass of white wine. Perfect.
Over-complicating a barbie, can be your downfall. However great the sauce or marinade you serve with it, you really don’t need a plate full of pink chicken legs, sausages and the obligatory beef burger. My heart sinks when I am presented with this unimaginative fodder, especially when accompanied by a ‘wappy’ lettuce salad. I believe that the best barbecues for entertaining are simple, with one headline dish – Moroccan spiced shoulder of lamb, a spatchcock chicken with preserved lemon or sea bream stuffed with herbs, served with something equally simple without too much choice and conflicting flavours. A moist homemade burger is also delicious – just don’t complicate it.
Chilled soup sits well as part of a picnic and of course, barbecues or when eating outside on relaxed occasions with or without company. This is a simple recipe and a true taste of summer for those with a glut of tomatoes and a few herbs in the garden. I know you will enjoy this one.
Chilled Tomato and Pesto Couscous Soup
Approx. £3.70 when all ingredients bought in Ludwell
Two ingredients that have a natural affinity combine to create a refreshing cold soup that has heaps of flavour and a positive, almost dramatic look to it. This is a filling soup that could be served as a main course on its own. Its quick to make and truly scrumptious when eaten with the sun on your back.
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp sugar
4 large ripe tomatoes
1 litre passata
20 fresh basil leaves
300ml plain natural yoghurt
For the pesto couscous
½ red onion
2 peppers (different colours, red and yellow will be perfect)
1 red chilli
small bunch flat leaf parsley
8 mint leaves
1 mug measure of instant couscous
3 tsp (heaped) green pesto
150ml good virgin olive oil
1. Peel and dice the onion and finely chop the peppers.
2. Deseed the chilli and chop finely.
3. Chop the parsley leaves, discarding the stalks reserving a few whole leaves for garnishing. Shred the mint leaves.
4. Measure a mug of couscous and place in a bowl with the pesto.
5. Using the same measure of boiling water, add to the couscous and pesto. Stir until well mixed and leave for several minutes before fluffing up.
6. Juice the lemons and stir in to the couscous together with the prepared vegetables and herbs. Stir in the olive oil and season before chilling.
7. Heat the vinegar in a small pan with the sugar. Allow to cool.
8. Blanch the tomatoes briefly in boiling water, then refresh in cold water before peeling, deseeding and dicing them.
9. Mix the passata and fresh tomato. Shred two thirds of the basil and stir it in.
10. Season, then drip the vinegar mix in carefully, tasting all the time until you find the right balance for your taste. Chill until very cold.
11. Put a heaped tablespoon of cold couscous in the centre of each soup bowl, ladle the soup around this, then pour irregular splashes of yoghurt and olive oil around the edges
12. Tear the remaining basil leaves and reserved parsley and scatter over all.
A truly, truly refreshing and scrumptious dish for this summer
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.