Yotam Ottolenghi’s A to Z of summer veg, with recipes to match
There’s an allotment at the end of my street in north London. It’s not a real allotment, but it does bring together the community, and offers a choice of fruit and vegetables that would be otherwise unavailable in this urban environment. The opening of Parkway Greens, my local greengrocer, earlier this year is one of the best things that’s happened to me since I moved to London 20 years ago. Being able to walk to the end of my street each morning and return with a bag spilling over with fruit and vegetables for the day ahead reminds me of how we used to shop back at home in Jerusalem.
I write this A-Z on Parkway Greens alone: Asian mooli, British pink tomatoes, Colombian tamarillos, Dutch portobello mushrooms, English marrow, French wet garlic, Greek olive oil… this little shop is as good as it gets. I’d like to dedicate this celebration of ideas for summer cooking to all greengrocers: you make your customers happy to shop, inspired to cook and delighted to eat.
A is for artichoke
There are two ways to reach the heart of a globe artichoke. One involves the cook doing lots of picking, peeling and shaving; but on a summer’s day, let everyone do their own work instead, pulling out the leaves and scraping off the soft flesh with their teeth. It’s the perfect prelude to the tender heart, and the ideal start to a summer meal.
Globe artichokes with sorrel mayonnaise
4 large globe artichokes, stalks trimmed
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and 1 tsp black peppercorns
For the sorrel mayonnaise
50g sorrel, roughly chopped
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 large clove garlic
1 egg yolk
150ml sunflower oil
Put the sorrel in the small bowl of a food processor with the vinegar, mustard, garlic, yolk and a third of a teaspoon of salt. Blitz smooth, then, with the machine running, slowly pour in the oil until you have a thick mayonnaise. Store in the fridge.
Bring a large pan of water to a boil. Add the artichokes, lemon juice, peppercorns and a teaspoon of salt – keep the artichokes submerged with a plate on top. Bring back to a boil, then simmer for 30-35 minutes, until cooked through. Lift out and drain in a colander, flower facing down, for five minutes. Serve with a bowl of mayonnaise, to dip the leaf ends in.
And to drink… Artichokes are meant to be wine killers, but I’ve found dry herby whites such as the Austrian grüner veltliner and the Italian verdicchio do the job – try the lively Piersanti Verdicchio 2013 (£8 Asda; 12.5% abv).
B is for barbecue (and plan B)
A successful barbecue is the result of three things coming together: friends, sun and the desire to eat outside. It’s a happy combination, made even happier by the fact that most of the work is done well before any flames are sparked. Whether you’re going surf, turf or field, get things marinating well in advance, so the flavours can really infuse. Cold salads made, skewers prepped, everything at the ready – including plan B, in case any of those three key elements goes rogue on the day.
C is for chicory
Chicory is fresh and crisp, but has a bitterness that requires richness from other ingredients – butter-toasted nuts and roquefort, say, in a salad with softer leaves such as baby spinach or chard. Chicory leaves are the perfect vehicle for this rich crab mayonnaise canapé.
Chicory with crab and samphire
Serves four as a starter.
200g picked white crabmeat
20g baby capers (or regular capers, roughly chopped)
2 tbsp mayonnaise
3 tbsp creme fraiche
5g tarragon leaves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 large chicories, bases trimmed and leaves separated
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a small pan of water to a boil, add the samphire and blanch for 30 seconds. Drain, refresh and pat dry. Cut into 1cm lengths, then place in a medium bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, apart from the chicory leaves, then a good crack of pepper. Stir gently and spoon into the leaves.
And to drink… Try a Loire sauvignon, such as the delicate, fragrantClos de Nozieux Cheverny 2012 (£10.99 at Laithwaite’s; 12.5% abv).
D is for dakos
Friends thought my attraction to dakos was simply a summer fling, but I fell for these barley rusks in Crete last August and I’m still smitten. Diced sweet tomatoes, wrinkly black olives, crumbled feta, all mixed with a drizzle of oil and piled on a plate of rusks: it’s the simple things in life that often make us the happiest.
E is for elderflower
Elderflower is the queen of all summer cordials. But the little white flowers from the elderberry tree can find their party elsewhere, particularly on the pudding table. Their distinctive, pungent fragrance works well in a jelly; you can use just cordial, if that’s what you have, but fresh flowers look great suspended in the gelatine. The flowers can also be used to make fritters or to lighten muffins or pancakes. They pair well with other fruit – gooseberries and crab apples in particular – so make puree, jam or jelly if you have a glut.
F is for fennel
Thick slices of fennel, caramelised in a pan, braised in stock and thyme, served dotted with young cheese, are hard to beat – until summer arrives to remind us that raw fennel, thinly sliced, needs little more than fine shavings of parmesan and a light drizzle of olive oil to open a meal with grace. Fennel’s anise flavour also pairs well with summer fish dishes: oil-rich mackerel, say, or a whole baked salmon. Don’t throw away the fronds, either: they are a lovely garnish, both to look at and to eat.
G is for garlic
Traditionally, garlic is planted on the shortest day of the year and harvested on the longest, so June is the start of the season for wet, or fresh, garlic; the Isle of Wight even has a festival in its honour on 16-17 August. Wet garlic has a creamy, sweet flavour, milder than the more pungent dried garlic, so summer salads can handle it raw and thinly sliced. It’s also delicious just to cut the top off a whole head, wrap in foil and roast, then squeeze out and mash the cloves into mayonnaise.
H is for hayfever
Harvests and hampers and a high pollen count mean hankies and anti-histamine for those of us who suffer from this allergy, and July is a tough month. Some say lots of ginger and turmeric in your cooking helps cut histamine production, as do green leafy veg; my own list of ingredients starts with eye drops, nose spray and sunglasses. Not the recipe for a tasty dish, but they help in the enjoyment of what you’re eating.
I is for independent greengrocers
There is rhyme and reason, and room and season, for shops big and small, chain and independent. I delight in lots of what supermarkets do, and am thrilled when another previously “exotic” ingredient is stocked for all to explore. At the same time, our streets and communities would be all the poorer without small, independent shops that give their customers something the bigger stores can’t offer. Support yours!
J is for jelly
Pink, fruity, wobbly delight for the kids; a pink, fruity, wobbly, often alcohol-filled delight for adults. I don’t like drinking champagne by itself but in a jelly, with a generous pinch of saffron and served in a tall glass, I’d never decline the toast. Whip together 3 tbsp each of double and sour cream with a half-teaspoon of icing sugar, and spoon on top of each jelly once it’s set in the glass. It looks like the froth on the real deal. Other ideas for summer jellies include mint-infused Pimm’s with white peaches, or white wine with vanilla, saffron and pear. It’s a fun way to use up half-drunk bottles.
K is for kashkaval cheese
This tangy yet nutty cheese works really well in a mixed leaf salad with Medjool dates and roasted whole almonds, and is one of my favourite starts to a summer meal. Grate coarsely and mix with blanched spinach leaves, toasted pine nuts, beaten egg and breadcrumbs, then form into patties and shallow-fry. Or blitz sorrel leaves and yoghurt with Dijon mustard and crushed garlic, and spoon on top of the cheese for a simple lunch. Kashkaval is widely available from Arab and Turkish grocers; mature pecorino or caciocavallo make good substitutes.
L is for lettuce leaves
Curly ones, round ones, long ones, baby ones; light green, dark green, red, white, purple, crisp, bitter, peppery, wild, soft or sweet: get hold of as many different leaves as you can, mix in a bowl, season and dress simply with an olive oil and lemon juice dressing. Braised little gems make a gorgeous dish, too – fry sliced garlic and spring onions, then add the gems (quartered, halved or whole) and wilt in a broth; if you want, add a few podded broad beans and peas, a little thyme and fresh mint, and serve with rice or bulgur.
M is for marsh samphire
Also known as glasswort, this salty delicacy grows wild on tidal marshes. Cook as you would asparagus: blanch quickly, toss with olive oil and serve with fish. Samphire gets tougher as the season progresses, so it doesn’t keep well, unless you pickle it. Add its saltiness to a warm potato salad with semi-dried cherry tomatoes and a strong seasonal leaf such as sorrel.
N is for new potatoes
There are plenty of variations on the potato salad theme, but my current favourite involves making a bright green parsley and lovage pesto (with pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and enough olive oil to make it runny), then tossing it through a bowl of still-warm boiled potatoes. Soft-boiled egg, petits pois and chunks of feta are all viable additions.
O is for orange blossom water
Guaranteed to make my descriptions of food come over all flowery. An olive oil, lemon juice and orange blossom water dressing will perk up a watercress and herb salad; top with lightly toasted, crushed pistachios. For an Asian-style dressing, warm rice-wine vinegar, palm sugar, orange blossom water, star anise, cinnamon, ginger and red chilli until the sugar dissolves, then pour over a salad of julienned vegetables.
P is for peas
For an impossibly perfect summer table scene, few things beat a bowl of fresh peas in their pods. Eat them as they are – vegetables this fresh don’t need cooking – or toss them through a fresh salad or simple pasta dish, perhaps with chunks of young ewe’s cheese, toasted pine nuts and a few torn basil leaves.
Green peas and roasted carrots
Serves four, as a side dish.
6 large carrots, peeled and cut into 5cm x 1cm batons
1½ tbsp olive oil
1 tsp caraway seeds, lightly toasted
1 tsp cumin seeds, lightly toasted
¼ tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp maple syrup
10g thyme sprigs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
150g fresh peas or petits pois (or frozen and defrosted)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 tsp tarragon, finely chopped
40g pea shoots
Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Put the carrots in a bowl and pour over 1 tbsp oil. Add the caraway and cumin seeds, smoked paprika, maple syrup and thyme, and season with a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Mix to combine, then transfer to a large baking tray lined with parchment. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until cooked through and caramelised, then remove and set aside to cool. Tip into a large bowl and discard the thyme.
Bring a medium pan of water to a boil, add the peas and blanch for a minute. Drain, refresh and dry, then add to the carrots with the juice, zest, tarragon, remaining oil, half a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Mix well. Just before serving, stir through the pea shoots.
And to drink… There’s spice and sweetness in this dish that calls for a wine to handle both – a bright, juicy red such as Le Petit Caboche 2013from the Vaucluse (£9.25 at Yapp Brothers; 13.5% abv) would fit the bill perfectly. Serve lightly chilled.
Q is for quinoa
I prefer black quinoa in summer salads (it looks great against chunks of green avocado, blanched broad beans and white and pink radishes), but red and white can be used just as well. I tend to cook it like pasta – into boiling water for nine minutes (a bit longer for black), then drain and refresh – but it also works slow-cooked like a porridge and thickened with crumbled feta. Adorn as you like: char-grilled cherry tomatoes, a drizzle of basil or chilli oil, fried slivers of garlic or toasted nuts. Leftover cooked quinoa can be formed into cakes or patties for frying. Hold them together with a little beaten egg and breadcrumbs; grated cheddar and cottage cheese, ground spices and spring onions or barberries also work well in the mix.
R is for radish
Thinly sliced or quartered radishes have a peppery kick and crispness that works in an otherwise sweet salad, for instance with slices of orange and dates, tossed with bitter, summery leaves and herbs, and dressed with a citrus vinaigrette. Thinly sliced black radishes look fantastic with thin wedges of sharp apple and red chicory. These pickled radishes last up to five days in the fridge; snack on them with cheese, cold meats or dotted on hummus.
Serves eight, as a condiment.
2 tbsp caster sugar
160ml cider vinegar
1 tbsp brown miso
1 tsp each black and pink peppercorns
1 tsp allspice berries
5 bay leaves
½ medium red onion, peeled and sliced into very thin pinwheels
400g radishes, trimmed but kept whole
Put the sugar, vinegar and miso in a medium pan with a teaspoon of salt and 180ml water. Bring to a boil, stirring so the sugar dissolves, then remove from the heat, add the peppercorns, allspice berries, bay and onion, and set aside to cool. Put the radishes in a sterilised Kilner jar or similar, pour over the cooled pickling liquid and seal. Refrigerate overnight before serving.
And to drink… Pickles are better suited to beer than wine, to be frank, so if you’re nibbling these on their own, go for a lager. I like the full-flavoured craft lager (£1.79 for 500ml; 5% abv) in Tesco’s new Revisionist range.
S is for sorbet
Fruit sorbets are easy to make and their simplicity means you can play around with ingredients without taking too much of a risk. Go in any direction you fancy, from a classic lemon to a palate-cleaning lychee or kiwi; an interesting Earl Grey to a distinctive tamarind; a boozy vodka and orange to a drop of crème de cassis… anything goes. Texture-wise, sorbets should be smooth in a way that granitas don’t need to be, so add a bit of liquid glucose to help this along. Pile up the toppings as you like; as well as the yoghurt and honey, you could add a drizzle of ouzo and finely grated orange zest.
160g caster sugar
80g liquid glucose
550g frozen blackcurrants
5 whole star anise
4 tbsp Greek yoghurt
2 tsp lavender honey (or another floral variety)
Put the sugar, glucose, blackcurrants and star anise in a medium pan, add 100ml water and cook on a medium-high heat for 12-15 minutes, stirring from time to time, until it starts to boil. Remove from heat and set aside to cool and infuse for four hours.
Press through a fine sieve, then pour into a churner and churn for 30-35 minutes, until almost frozen. Spoon into a freezer container, cover and freeze for at least an hour. (If you don’t have an ice-cream maker, freeze, whisking every 40 minutes, to break up the ice.) Serve with yoghurt and a drizzle of honey.
And to drink… Sorbets are another tricky candidate with wine, though the Greek yoghurt here helps a bit. Instead, I’d go for a vin de liqueur such as the sweet, honeyed Carthagène de Haut-Gléon from the south of France (£24.95 from City Beverage Company; 15.5% abv).
T is for tomatoes
Available 365 days of the year, but only done justice to for a couple of months – the difference between a ripe tomato in season and one out of season is stark. A dish of all sorts of tomatoes – large red bull hearts, small cherry vines, plums, baby plums, beef, San Marzano, pink, green and yellow – is my kind of party. Their sweetness loves to be paired with a salty cheese such as feta or some wrinkly black olives; thin slices of lemon, semi-dried in the oven, also work well. These stuffed tomatoes are just as good at room temperature as they are warm, so they’re perfect to take on a picnic.
Tomatoes stuffed with feta, oregano and za’atar
8 large plum tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large celery stick, chopped into 5mm dice
100g feta, crumbled into 1cm pieces
2 tbsp oregano leaves, finely chopped
2 tsp za’atar
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
50g crustless sourdough bread (one thick slice), torn into 2cm pieces
Heat the oven to 160C/320F/gas mark 2½. Cut about 5mm off the top of each tomato and use a teaspoon to spoon out all the pulp, juice and seeds into a bowl. Lightly season the insides of the hollowed tomatoes and set aside.
Put a medium frying pan on a medium heat with the olive oil and celery. Fry for 10-12 minutes, until the celery is soft and starting to brown, then transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool before mixing in the feta, oregano, za’atar, lemon zest, sourdough and half the tomato pulp and juice (discard the rest). Spoon into the hollowed-out tomatoes, then stand them upright on a medium baking tray and roast for 40 minutes, until cooked through and browned on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.
And to drink… Rosé is always a good bet with tomatoes and given the herbs in this dish, I’d go for a southern French or Provençal one, such as Sainsbury’s crisp Taste the Difference Côtes de Provence Rosé 2013(£8; 12.5% abv).
U is for urfa chilli
The sweet smokiness of these burgundy flakes works in all sorts of contexts – sprinkled on roast garlic soup, say, or swirled into a yoghurt and soured cream sauce and spooned over roasted vegetables. My favourite way with urfa chillies, though, is to put them in a marinade with black garlic, harissa, chopped onion, pomegranate molasses, tomato, vinegar and sugar. Blitz until smoothish, then brush over lamb or beef ribs, leave to marinate for as long as you can wait, then barbecue.
V is for verjuice
I wish this was easier to get hold of: it’s such a fantastic alternative to vinegar in salad dressings and sauces, or to dribble over raw summer vegetables such as fennel and asparagus, to heighten their flavour. It’s made from the juice of semi-ripe wine grapes and has both sweetness and a mild acidity which has none of the harshness you get from some vinegars. Try this impressive dressing: on a medium heat, reduce 180ml verjuice in a small pan until only about 2 tbsp of liquid remain, whisk in a tablespoon and a half of olive oil and half a tablespoon of lemon juice, and drizzle over a summer leaf salad. (If you can’t get hold of verjuice, you can achieve a similar taste by mixing two-parts lemon juice to one part red-wine vinegar.)
W is for watercress
Watercress soup with ginger and a hint of rose water; watercress leaves with a citrussy dressing and sprinkled with lightly crushed pistachios; watercress salad dotted with boiled quails’ eggs and toasted seeds: is there any leaf better suited to summer? Vibrant green, peppery fresh: I could eat it every day. Always use both leaves and stalk: the former soften the peppery snap of the latter. Cheese also pairs well with that mustardy kick – ricotta and parmesan spätzle in a watercress and rocket soup, for instance, or spoons of ricotta dotted through a watercress and mackerel salad, or thin shavings of parmesan – as in this salad.
Roasted courgette with watercress, pistachios and parmesan
Works very well as a dish on its own, but is wonderful with baked salmon or fried mackerel. Serves four.
6 medium courgettes, cut into 7cm x 1.5cm batons
75ml olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
50g pistachios, roasted and roughly chopped
50g parmesan, shaved
2 tsp lemon juice, to serve
Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Put the courgette batons in a large bowl with 2 tbsp of olive oil, a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Mix gently, spread on a large roasting tray and roast for 10-15 minutes, until starting to brown but still retaining some bite. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside to cool.
Put two-thirds of the watercress in the small bowl of a food processor. Add the garlic, lemon zest, the rest of the oil and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt. Blitz to a smooth paste and add to the courgettes with the pistachios, parmesan and remaining watercress. Mix well and serve with lemon juice squeezed on top.
And to drink… Try a zesty, lemony godello such as Martin Codax As Caixas Godello 2013 from Rias Baixas, the same region that produces Albarino (£9.99 at Majestic; 13% abv).
X is for (E)xmouth Market
A bit of a liberty here, but nothing beginning with “x” feels as summery as eating outside in the heart of a city on a hot summer’s day. And Exmouth Market – a pedestrianised street full of food stalls between Farringdon Road and St John’s Street in London – is just one of many such markets that now offer food from the world over. French crepes, Ghanaian street food, salt beef sandwiches, Italian sausages, pad thai, Bangladeshi lunch boxes – it’s a true celebration of food spanning continents.
Y is for yuzu juice
Small bottles of the juice from this east Asian citrus fruit are more widely stocked by supermarkets these days, as well as by specialist Asian food shops; unfortunately, you can’t get fresh yuzu in Britain. With a flavour close to a combination of lime and mandarin, it brings a freshness to Japanese dishes and a welcome lightness to, say, a lentil and roast butternut salad. Add a little while the pulses are still warm after cooking, with olive oil and seasoning, then add more juice just before serving. Yuzu powder is a great final garnish, too, so pick some up if you see it.
Z is for za’atar
It’s the finishing touches that can elevate simple summer cooking to something special. A sprinkle of dried rose petals on top of a sorbet, a drizzle of orange-infused olive oil on cheesecake, picked dill leaves on a beetroot spread. Za’atar – a spice mix of powdered dried za’atar leaves, ground sumac, toasted sesame seeds and salt – does a similar trick, especially if sprinkled over poached eggs in the morning or a bean spread at night. Anything drizzled with tahini sauce – a grain or leaf salad, say, or a big tray of roasted veg – will pair well with a teaspoon or two, as do most things with feta, such as the stuffed tomato dish above.