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
Shaftesbury’s farmers’ market was in town this last weekend, with some wonderful cheese, meat and fish produce and a new bakery stall, from where I bought a delicious granary spelt sourdough loaf. It was delicious torn into chunks and dunked into some freshly made soup. And soup is the perfect dish to be making now as we slip into autumn, hence this month’s recipe.
Just outside the town hall was a stall laden with corn, leeks, kale, berries and squash. Wonderful squash of around eight varieties, all sizes and shapes. I had to take half a dozen, although that’s a lot of squash for one person to consume. Fortunately, the winter varieties have thick, tough shells that protect that lovely sweet, rich and colourful flesh inside, making them excellent storage vegatables. I bought some hard bulbous squashes, as well as the small softer skin variety like acorn squash. Until the rise in popularity of butternut squash, pumpkins were the most popular squash on our shop shelves, but I really cant abide pumpkin - pappy and tasteless (just a personal view!) This had put me off cooking with any type of squash for years. Nowadays, farm shops sell all sorts of wrinkled, multi-colured, ribbed and striped specimens. The uglier they are, the better they seem to taste, I just wish I was more successful at growing them. My neighbour is very successful. She gave me a spaghetti squash a couple of weeks ago and it is exactly as the name implies, you can fork out the flesh in long strands and serve in place of rice or pasta, especially good if smothered in a fresh tomato sauce. Great for those gluten free guests, but you rarely see spaghetti squash for sale.
At my niece’s wedding earlier this month I served roasted butternut squash (skin on) that I had drizzled with homemeade chilli oil and scattered with toasted seeds and nuts (sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, nigella seeds and almonds). These wedges of golden glory, were accompanied by chunky homemade humous and basil leaves. I was serving this in place of the hog roast for our vegetarian guests. It flew off the buffet table faster than anything else and I was left wondering why I hadnt cooked more and done away with the ‘pig’.
We have Halloween and Guy Fawkes night approaching so a warming squash soup would seem in order, but I have decided to do something different. I love cauliflower, especially with Thai flavours and I think it will be the perfect for bonfire night. I made this recipe first when I knew I had a couple of ‘curry-head’ neighbours popping round, so used them as guinea pigs. I made it too spicy - it was still a good soup but you couldn’t taste the cauliflower. I have refined the american recipe and now, third time in the making, I think it’s fabulous. As I write (it’s early morning) I know I am only a matter of feet from a tub of this wonderful soup. Unconvenitional breakfast, but I am tempted. I hope you enjoy it too, served at any event, season or time of day.
Red Thai Curry Cauliflower Soup (Substitute squash if preferred)
Serves 6. Approx. £0.85p pp when all ingredients purchased in Ludwell
1 ½ tbs vegetable oil
1 medium white onion - finely diced
1 celery stick - finely diced
2 tsp fresh ginger - grated or chopped very finely
1-3 tsp red Thai curry paste (Recommend one tsp only if you want to taste the Cauliflower)
1 tin coconut milk (14 oz) - Reduced fat is fine, just thinner
1 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs fresh lime juice
550ml Chicken or vegetable stock
4 tsp cornflour
1 medium cauliflower, cut into small soup-spoon sized florets
3 tbs chopped fresh coriander leaves
(if making this with squash rather than cauliflower, dice the squash quite small and allow an extra few minutes to cook at stage six below.)
1. Heat the oil in a pan set over a medium heat
2. Add the onion, celery and ginger and cook gently for 5-6 minutes
3. Add the curry paste to the pan and cook for 2 minutes more, keeping the onion mix moving
4. Mix a little of the stock with the cornflour to make a thin paste
5. Add the coconut milk, brown sugar, lime juice, stock and cornflour mixture to the pan and bring to a simmer, stirring often
6. Add the cauliflower florets, return to a simmer for five minutes more, or until the cauliflower is tender
7. Blend, blitz or mash approx two thirds of the soup and return to the pan
8. Stir in the chopped coriander leaves, season (salt only) and serve
If you are serving this in mugs without soup-spoons, blitz all the soup together. Pieces of vegetable are great in a soup if you are eating it with a spoon, but otherwise, not practical.
I know I always say these recipes are the best, but this one really is a truly, truly scrumptious dish.
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.