Friday, 2 July 2010

A very English sort of supper

There's possibly nothing more appealing than the fresh fruits and vegetables of an English summer. Crisp beans, plump in their pods, ready to burst out with an audible pop. Peppery lettuces leaves, supple and bouncy, bursting with the vibrant green of six weeks of unprecedented sun. Voluptuous berries in shades of crimson and rouge, skin soft and ripe, a perfume more inviting than the finest floral bouquet.

In the West Country, where I'm currently taking post-festival R&R, there's certainly no shortage of excellent locally grown produce. And there's nothing quite like a trestle table bursting full of the finest farm produce to re-ignite the neurotransmitters. The best beans I've seen this side of the Mendip Hills...

English bean and cheddar salad

This dish is a homage to the simplicity of Chris Gillard's menu at the Rocket Lounge Restaurant, where I spent last week working. After having bought some positively firey watercress at Helen's Healthfoods in Weymouth, and some super-fresh beans at Bridport Farmers' Market, it seemed only fitting to keep the theme of classic English flavours by pairing the greens with some local mature cheddar. The piquant vinaigrette brings the flavours together beautifully.

Serves two as a light main
A large handful of broad beans, podded
A large handful of French beans
A large bunch of watercress
75g mature cheddar cheese, crumbled into chunks

For the mustard vinaigrette
A tsp of dijon mustard
A tbsp of olive oil
lemon juice to taste (roughly a tsp)
salt and finely ground pepper to taste

First, make the dressing. Either whisk the ingredients together in a large bowl, or add to a clean jam jar with a lid, and shake until combined. The mustard should help the oil and lemon juice emulsify.

If your beans are very very fresh, you'll be able to serve them raw. As they age, the natural sugar turns to starch, and the flavour and texture begins to deteriorate. Taste one of each, and if you'd prefer, blanch them for a minute or two in lightly salted boiling water, just to take away the bight. Drain and immediately plunge into iced water.

Combine the watercress, beans and cheddar in a large bowl, and toss with the dressing until everything is lightly coated. It's better to be skant and allow the flavours of the other ingredients to come through.

Serve with crusty bread, and extra dressing on the side for dipping and mopping.

An easy English berry fool

A quick, and extremely luxurious dessert, invented on the spot by my Mother, as a vehicle for her excellent home-made summer berry jam. Use plain yogurt or cr̬me fraiche if you don't have fromage frais, and broken up Digestives, Hob Nobs, or shortbread would make an ample substitute for ratafia biscuits Рwhatever you have to hand.

Serves two
Four or five ratafia biscuits, roughly broken up
A small tub of fromage frais
Four scoops of raspberry sorbet (which Mum happened to have in the freezer, but Gorgio Locatelli's recipe looks good if you fancy making it)
Rasberry, strawberry, or summer berry jam
Mint garnish to serve

In a tumbler or wine glass, layer the jam, on top of the fromage frais, on top of sorbet, on top of the biscuit. Garnish with mint, and serve.

Thanks to kawilson for the opening shot of the broad beans.

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