As we slip from seemingly endless spring into summer, lunch and dinner outdoors has become an almost daily event. I’m happy with this and the change of step in the kitchen that accompanies it. Working at this new slower pace this week, I spooned a basil-leaf and green-pea dressing over a tender egg of burrata, and stirred coriander leaves into a crushed melon and raw tomato soup. The soup was taken outside and eaten in the shade. We poured a ribbon of olive oil into its chilled orange and scarlet depths. The little cooking I did was brief: asparagus cut into short lengths and fried with spring onions to make spidery, tangled fritters, and grilled chicken with a quickly made tahini dressing.
What links everything I have put on the table in the last few weeks is that it feels more at home outdoors than in. Even the cake I made felt like one for the garden. Its crumb freckled green with pistachios, the filling a barely set ricotta and orange cream. It was my favourite apricot sponge recipe, the fruit swapped for nuts, and we ate it as intended, before the filling had frozen, and then kept the rest in the freezer to scoff with our fingers like ice-cream wafers.
Burrata with peas and basil
Burrata and peas is one those quiet marriages of ingredients I could eat all summer long. On a warm afternoon I will often tear off pieces of cool, milky burrata and toss them with peas and ruffled leaves of pale green lettuce. Other times I make a dressing with olive oil, peas and basil then watch it trickle, green and verdant, over the burrata. I think the dish is at its most beautiful when you tear open the cheese and spoon the dressing inside, letting it form brilliant green pools among the snow-white curds.
peas 200g, shelled weight
basil leaves 15g
olive oil 150ml
white wine vinegar 1 tbsp
burrata 4 x 150g balls
small basil leaves a few, to finish
Bring a pan of water to the boil and salt it lightly. Tip in the peas and let them cook at a rolling boil for 3 or 4 minutes till bright and tender, then drain them. Put the basil into a blender with the olive oil and vinegar, and reduce to a bright green dressing. Transfer to a bowl and add most of the warm, freshly drained peas. Set the others aside.
Put the burrata on a serving dish and squeeze them until they split open. Spoon the pea and basil dressing over them. Scatter over the reserved peas and small basil leaves and serve.
Asparagus and spring onion fritters
Asparagus and spring onion fritters. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer
I would normally make these little bundles of green vegetables when there are just a couple of us. Making the fritters as we sit and chat, eating them hot, crisp and salty, straight from the pan. When you lower the spoonfuls of batter-coated vegetables into the bubbling oil, they may try to separate. Worry not, just quickly pull them together with the spoon and hold them briefly under the oil. They will form a spiky knot of green vegetables and light batter. I am tempted to serve these with a dip of some sort. The most successful to date has been mayonnaise that I lightened with a squeeze or two of lemon juice and a few spoonfuls of kefir.
Makes 8, serves 4
For the batter
feta cheese 100g
plain flour 4-5 tbsp
groundnut or vegetable oil for shallow frying
spring onions 8, thin
asparagus 12 spears
parsley 3 heaped tbsp
lemon 1, to serve
Make the batter: separate the eggs, putting the whites in a bowl large enough in which to whip them. Put the egg yolks in a mixing bowl and crumble the feta over them in small pieces. Grind in a few twists of pepper (no salt), then add the flour. The batter will appear very stiff at this stage. Set aside.
Trim the spring onions, discarding any tough ends, then cut the stems in half lengthways and then into short pieces about 3cm long. Do the same with the asparagus.
When you are ready to eat, beat the egg whites till stiff and fold them into the batter. It will seem stiff but is actually just what you need. Fold the asparagus and spring onions into the batter.
Heat the oil to 180C in a deep pan with plenty of room for the oil to bubble safely. Take about an eighth of the mixture on a large spoon and lower into the hot oil. Repeat with a couple more, letting them fry for 4 or 5 minutes till pale gold and crisp. Lift out and drain on kitchen paper and repeat with the remaining mixture. You should end up with about 8 spiky golden fritters.
Serve as soon as you can.
Iced melon and tomato soup
Iced melon and tomato soup. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer
A recipe for a day when the sun is high in the sky. A glowing bowl of bright summer flavours, and so refreshing, this iced soup is what I want to eat in the garden, sitting on a balcony or even perched on the back steps. A word of advice, though. A chilled soup must be exactly that. Thoroughly and completely chilled. In addition to a few hours in the fridge, I find adding ice cubes to the soup before I serve it pretty much essential.
cantaloupe or other orange fleshed melon 1kg
coriander a handful
mineral water 100ml, chilled
olive oil 1 tbsp
ice cubes 100g
Halve the tomatoes and grate into a mixing bowl. The coarse side of a box grater will produce a pleasingly rough texture somewhere between finely chopped and smooth puree. It is preferable to using a blender or food processor. Cut the melon in half, discard the seeds, then cut away the skin with a knife.
Put the melon flesh into a blender jug and reduce to a coarse puree. Stir the melon into the grated tomato, then stir in a little ice-cold mineral water to bring it to a pleasing consistency. I suggest starting with 100ml.
Finely chop the coriander leaves and fold them through the tomato and melon, then season lightly with salt (so good with the melon), a squeeze of lime juice and a very little black pepper. Chill thoroughly.
Just before serving, stir in a tablespoon of olive oil and a handful of crushed ice. Ladle into bowls and serve.
Grilled chicken with za’atar and tahini
Grilled chicken with za’atar and tahini. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer
Some wonderful flavours going on here with the smoky chicken and its slightly charred skin; deep nutty notes of the tahini and the underlying hit of sourness from the lemons and yogurt. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve eaten this over the past few weeks. It isn’t difficult to tease the bones from the meat with the point of a sharp knife, but you could always ask the butcher to do it for you if you prefer.
chicken thighs 4 large
lemons 2, for griddling
For the marinade
olive oil 50ml
lemon juice of 1 medium
garlic 2 large cloves
za’atar 1 tbsp
For the tahini dressing
thick yogurt 200ml
tahini 4 tbsp
Remove the two bones from the chicken thighs and flatten the meat out. Place on a piece of clingfilm or even in a plastic freezer bag, then bat the meat a little with a rolling pin or cutlet bat. There is no need to go the full escalope, just flatten out the thicker parts of the thigh. It is not essential, so don’t worry if you don’t have anything suitable, it just helps to cook the meat more evenly.
For the marinade, mix together the olive oil and the lemon juice. Crush the garlic cloves then stir into the liquid with the za’atar. Place the chicken thighs in the marinade and leave for at least 40 minutes. They will come to no harm if left overnight.
When you are ready to eat, get a cast-iron griddle hot, then place the chicken pieces, shaken of excess marinade, onto the bars of the griddle and let them cook till the skin is golden. Turn and cook the other side. They are ready when the juices run clear when pierced at their thickest place with a metal skewer.
While the chicken is cooking, put the yogurt in a bowl and stir in the tahini. I prefer to do this lightly, leaving ribbons of the sesame paste marbling the snow-white yogurt.
Slice the 2 lemons in half and place them cut side down on the griddle for a few minutes till they are warm. You will get more juice from them that way. Let the chicken rest for five minutes, then serve with the tahini dressing and the griddled lemons.
Pistachio ricotta cake
Pistachio ricotta cake. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer
A light pistachio sponge filled with soft, chilled ricotta cream, this cake is best eaten within four hours of freezing. If I make it in advance then I bring it out of the freezer a good half hour before we intend to eat, to give the filling a chance to soften. If I am going to store it in the freezer for any length of time, then I cut it into slices first, which allows you to take out just as much as you need. Wrap the cake tightly in clingfilm or, better still, put it in a plastic box before freezing.
For the sponge
unrefined caster sugar 125g
eggs 2 large
pistachios 50g, shelled weight
self-raising flour 75g
For the ricotta filling
caster sugar 125g
orange grated zest of 1
finest vanilla extract a few drops
pistachios 60g, shelled weight
double cream 250ml
pistachios 50g, shelled weight
For the sponge, cream the butter and sugar in a food mixer until light and fluffy, regularly scraping the sides down with a rubber spatula. Set the oven at 160C fan/gas mark 4. Line the bottom of a 20cm spring-form cake tin with a sheet of baking parchment.
Beat the eggs lightly and add them, a little at time to the butter and sugar, making sure each batch is well combined before adding the next. Grind the pistachios to a coarse powder in a food processor or spice mill (I use an old coffee grinder), add to the flour, then mix into the batter in three or four small batches.
Smooth the mixture into the lined cake tin and bake for 25 minutes. Remove, leave to settle for 10 minutes then open the spring clip and leave on a cake rack till cool.
To make the filling, put the ricotta in the bowl of a food mixer with the sugar. Beat thoroughly to a thick and relatively smooth cream. Beat in the orange zest and the vanilla extract. Grind the pistachios to a fine powder. In a separate bowl, softly whip the cream. Stop when the cream is still in soft folds, before it gets thick enough to stand in peaks, then fold it gently into the ricotta mixture with the pistachios.
Using a long, thin and very sharp knife, slice the cake in half horizontally to give two thin discs of cake. Place the bottom half back in the cake tin, cut side up.
Spoon the ricotta mixture into the cake tin and smooth flat with the back of a spoon. Place the top half of the sponge, cut side down, on top and press lightly. Cover and place in the freezer for an hour to an hour and a half, by which time the filling should be firm, but still soft in the middle.
To serve, grind the pistachios to a fine powder then scatter over the surface of the cake. Run a palette knife around the cake, then remove from the tin and transfer carefully to a serving plate. Serve with a bowl of strawberries.