Although British summer doesn’t officially start until later this month, summer is truly in the air; with markets, restaurants and menus embracing the vibrancy and brightness this season’s produce brings. Here are my favourite June ingredients, and, reflective of the latest global trends, I’ve paired these with recipes for you to try… preferably on a terrace, aperitif in hand.
One of my favourite vegetables, there is something rather magical about artichokes – perhaps it’s their unique, nutty flavour and curious form, with layers of green or purplish leaves giving way to the unctuous heart that lies beneath. They’re also infinitely versatile – and cook well, whether they are sautéed, braised, fried, pickled or grilled.
And you can feast happily, knowing that they are rich in fibre, antioxidants and vitamin C. Once a preserve of the rich, artichokes are now a symbol of European bounty, and are celebrated in markets and restaurants across the mediterranean.
Try young artichokes raw, shaved super thin and dressed with lemon, mint, chilli, your best extra virgin olive oil and Parmesan shavings for a vital, invigorating salad.
Or steam baby artichokes until barely cooked, then cut in half, brush with olive oil, season with coarse sea salt and grill over hot coals until burnished and crisp, and serve with a punchy black garlic aioli.
For whole, older globe artichokes, steam then serve: plucking the hot leaves then dipping in a cooling mustard and miso sauce, and tearing off the meaty tips with your teeth, until the prized heart of the artichoke is revealed.
Fresh Borlotti Beans
For me, summer means beans. And borlotti might just be the most beautiful of them all – with their tan and magenta speckled skins and pods, slightly sweet flavour and creamy texture. A marvel to look at and to eat, they are a lynchpin of Italian summer cooking, and so the act of podding and cooking with them brings me back to languid summers in the mediterranean.
To create a rustic borlotti bean purée, pod beans into a crock pot, then add three whole vine tomatoes, a whole bulb of wet garlic cut in half, a few bay leaves, some sage leaves, then fill with water, add a glug of good olive oil, cover and cook until the beans are soft. Then drain, discarding vegetables and herbs, and pulse beans in a food processor to a coarse purée, and season with sea salt, plenty of freshly ground black pepper, then add more olive oil and pile the warm bean purée onto garlic-rubbed sourdough bruschetta… finishing with a scattering of fried sage leaves and draping with lardo.
Or thread raw king prawns on rosemary brochettes, season with red chilli flakes and sea salt, drizzle with olive oil and grill under a hot grill for three to four minutes until cooked through and pink. Dress warm with cooked borlotti beans, chopped vine tomato, fresh oregano and a squeeze of lemon.
And for a stunning summer starter, spoon warm cooked borlotti beans onto barbecued radicchio quarters and anoint with an anchovy dressing, accompanying with creamy mozzarella of the moment stracciatella.
A true delicacy, nothing turns heads on a menu at this time of year more than courgette flowers. The fruits of the courgette plant, these yellow-leafed blossoms give a faint courgette flavour, with a subtle sweetness. They wilt easily so always cook them fresh, and go for the smaller flowers, as their compactness yields a better taste.
Deep frying serves courgette flowers well, as their thin, delicate leaves become beautifully crisp. Stuff with ricotta, marjoram, crumbled Amaretti and grated Parmesan, and dip in a light batter of flour, cornflour and iced sparkling water. Then deep fry in hot oil until crisp and serve with a fresh raw tomato and basil sauce. Perfect with aperitifs.
For a restorative morning brunch after the fiesta, tear courgette flowers at the last minute into scrambled Mexican eggs with chopped deseeded vine tomato and jalapeños, spring onions and chopped coriander. Serve with soft warm tortillas, plenty of hot black coffee and jugs of Mexican Marys. Olé!
And don’t shy from trying courgette flowers raw. Use to colourfully garland summer buddha bowls made with rainbow quinoa, ancient grains, crumbled feta, avocado, lime, harissa yoghurt and hazelnut dukkah.
I love borage, as it gives an unusual botanical lift to summer cooking. A hardy British plant, borage can be easily recognised from its beguiling star shape, large lilac-blue leaves and sizeable stigma, which makes it a popular plant for bees.
The blue leaves give a mild, cucumber flavour, making it an uplifting ingredient to use in summer salads, cocktails or lemonades. Not just a pretty plant, borage also boasts a high phytonutrient, mineral and vitamin content, including vitamin C and omega 3s.
For a simple summery dish, place borage flowers into ice cubes, top up with cucumber water and freeze, and add to elevate an elegant chilled summer soup of cucumber, yogurt and mint.
Or blitz into a compound butter to add cucumber notes to warm poppy seed bread or for melting over grilled scallops or lemon sole.
Borage and strawberries are a culinary marriage made in heaven… at wedding breakfasts in provincial France, newlyweds are traditionally served a soup of strawberries, cucumber and borage! So for pudding, fill a sweet pastry case with sweetened whipped mascarpone and top with English strawberries and a scattering of borage flowers.
A British summer staple, when young and at their best, runner beans are soft and succulent with a sweet taste. Growing well in cooler, damp temperatures, runner beans are a match for the British climate… and are a gift to their consumer, as they are chock full of protein, vitamin A, vitamin K, iron, fibre and antioxidants.
To ferment, pack runner beans into sterilised litre jars with aromatics such as mustard seeds, dill fronds and crushed whole garlic cloves, then top with filtered water, water kefir and sea salt, and leave in a cool place for five days. Once opened store in a fridge and consume within two weeks. It makes a beautiful contrast to coppa cured pork neck, pork rillettes and coarse country terrines.
Or, for the less patient, make an instant kimchee by blanching runner beans and tossing with crushed garlic cloves, gochujang, Korean red pepper flakes, fish sauce, sesame oil, sugar, salt and lime juice to use as a feisty foil to duck bulgogi.
And for veg-centric vibes, include blanched runner beans in a summer gado gado, an Indonesian salad with asparagus tips, soft-boiled egg, cucumber and bean sprouts – a great side for soy-based tempeh satay.
English Baby Gems
Small but sturdy, baby gems might not look like much, but they are crisp, sweet and flavourful, and make a great pair for more potent and powerful ingredients. Low in calorie and high in nutrients, they are a firm find for keeping you refreshed throughout the summer, and can be served raw, grilled or braised.
For creating Middle Eastern moments, remove the outer leaves, cut in half, brush with olive oil, season with sea salt and barbecue over hot coals. Then scatter with pistachios, crumbled feta and pomegranate seeds, and drizzle with tahini and lemon dressing. Or try braising baby gem with butter, fish stock and fresh orange juice to serve with grilled halibut.
And for some DIY al fresco eating, load baby gem leaves with Thai pork larb, toasted rice and crispy shallots, and accompany with steamed jasmine rice and a side of super spicy som tam for authenticity.
The British go mad for strawberries at this time of year, and for good reason. Plump, juicy and refreshing, they’re a cultural sign of British summertime, with many quintessential British puddings hinging on their flavour and uplifting crimson hue.
For kombucha with a kick, try combining English strawberries with rhubarb and ginger. Or pickle green strawberries in a cider vinegar infusion spiked with black peppercorns and caraway seeds – a perfect pairing for the fruity notes of a young Comté.
For English-strawberry style pudding, adorn an elegant coeur a la crème with wild strawberries and frosted rose petals, or for a retro Romanoff riff, macerate strawberries in equal parts fresh orange juice and Grand Marnier, and serve with crème fraiche ice cream.
Another quintessential British fruit, gooseberries in June are juicy and tart and a pleasing light green, while come August they are sweeter. Their sharp taste making a sumptuous foil for sweets, they are traditionally favoured in puddings, like jams, jellies and fools.
Taking inspiration from Leaves from The Walnut Tree: Recipes of a Lifetime by Anne and Franco Taruschio, published in 1993, Lady Llanover’s duck breasts are cured in sea salt for three days and then gently poached and chilled, sliced super thin and served with a gooseberry pickle, of slightly under-ripe fruit steeped in a white-wine vinegar syrup infused with cloves, ground ginger and cinnamon.
Gooseberries also make a fine sauce for grilled oily fish. Sauté gooseberries in butter until soft and collapsed, add a splash of white wine, cream and fish stock, then sea salt and sugar to taste, and reduce until thick and luxurious enough to coat a plate before topping with grilled mackerel fillets.
And for pudding: conceal elderflower-poached gooseberries under a lemon posset for surprising floral flavour bursts of summer.