Darina Allen's favourite summer dishes

We are coming into the most super exciting time of the year for both cooks and gardeners. The summer produce is ready to harvest at last, says Darina Allen.

This week we picked the first of the broad beans and peas to add to the beets, courgettes and carrots we’ve been enjoying for the past few weeks.

Everybody, young and old, looks forward to the first new home grown potatoes. We’ve been digging our crop of organic casa blanca and colleens for over a month now. 

They were planted in the greenhouses back in January and have produced an abundant crop of irresistible new potatoes to soak up lots of butter and flaky sea salt.

They are almost gone now so there will be a gap of several weeks before the outside “earlies” come on stream.

There are also lots of salad leaves and lettuces heading up nicely in the No Dig beds, little scallions and fine new season’s onions with juicy green tops that we stew down in butter to melting tenderness with thyme leaves. Suddenly it’s a feast — the Hungry Gap is over.

Only those who love to garden will really understand the magic, the joy and satisfaction that comes with sowing a few seeds, then watching them grow from tiny seedlings into plants and eventually maturing into beautiful beets, courgettes, and carrots.

At least three months of care and anticipation, then the moment arrives to harvest, cook, eat and relish, Wow, do you enjoy every single morsel — you want everyone to know you grew it and eat it slowly and be nourished and enchanted by the startlingly delicious flavour of your freshly picked vegetables and herbs and indeed fruit. 

If you haven’t had the chance or inclination to grow your own, then head for your local Farmers Market this weekend, where you are bound to find lots of new season’s produce.

The first strawberries are now ripening — Cambridge Favourite, Alice, Honeycomb, no prizes for size in comparison to the supermarket berries but do they score on taste; a forgotten flavour for many.

So, how to make the best use of every single scrap of produce? The peas, I can scarcely bear to cook. 

We just put a bowl of freshly picked peas on the table for everyone to shell their own and feel the magic of eating them straight from the pods. 

The latter can be made into pea pod soup, but here’s a new pea mousse recipe we’ve been enjoying with fresh radishes — it makes a delicious starter.

Young beets cook quickly in boiling salted water but roasting concentrates the flavour and even further enhances this humble vegetable. Don’t waste the stalks or leaves, both can be cooked and used in salads also.

But it’s not just vegetables, we’ve had the first fresh mackerel from Ballycotton recently and some beautiful summer crabs. Try them in these simple recipes.

I’m also including two cocktail recipes from a darling little book on Poptails, written by Cesar and Nadia Roden who had the inspired idea of combining popsicles and cocktails — how cute and delicious is that?

Cesar and Nadia Roden’s Blood Orange Negroni

Makes about 20 small

  • 600ml freshly squeezed blood orange juice (from about 8 blood oranges)
  • 60ml Campari
  • 2 tbsp sweet vermouth
  • 2 tbsp gin
  • 150ml water
  • 110g granulated sugar

Garnish

Sliver of blood orange and a mint leaf for each

Put the blood orange juice, Campari, sweet vermouth and gin in a bowl or jug. 

Put the water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer for a moment until the sugar has dissolved. Add this syrup to the mix.

Pour the mixture into the moulds, leaving a little space at the top. Drop in a blood orange sliver and a mint leaf.

Freeze until slushy, 60-90 minutes, then insert the sticks and freeze until solid, at least 5 hours or overnight.

Taken from Cesar and Nadia Roden’s Poptails, published by Quadrille

Cesar and Nadia Roden’s Strawberry Daiquiri

Makes 8-10

  • 450g (1 lb) strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 100g sugar, caster or granulated
  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 90ml (6 tablespoons) white rum, plus extra, optional for trickling
  • 125 ml water
  • Garnish (optional)
  • Thin slice of strawberry for each

Put the quartered strawberries into a bowl, sprinkle over the sugar, stir in the lime juice and rum and set aside to macerate for 30 minutes or longer.

Transfer to a food processor, add the water and blend until smooth.

Fill the moulds, leaving a little space at the top. 

You can push the lolly sticks through a thin slice of strawberry if you like and insert them into the moulds; the strawberry slice will secure the stick. 

(Alternatively freeze until slushy, 60-90 minutes, then insert the sticks).

Freeze until solid, at least 5 hours or overnight.

Taken from Poptails by Cesar and Nadia Roden, published by Quadrille

Crab and Asparagus with Thai Mayonnaise on Sourdough Toast

We all love crab toasts, this version with the embellishment of new season’s asparagus is particularly moreish.

Serves 4

  • 4 slices sourdough bread, thinly sliced no more than 8mm
  • 225g white crab meat
  • 6 asparagus spears (blanched and refreshed)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • rocket leaves
  • Thai mayonnaise
  • 4 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 red chilli, seeded and finely diced
  • 1 finely shredded kafir lime leaf
  • freshly grated zest of 1/2 lime
  • 3 scant tablespoons Nam Pla, fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons coarsely chopped coriander
  • freshly squeezed lime juice

First make the homemade mayonnaise: Put the mayonnaise into a bowl, add the crushed garlic, finely diced chilli, lime zest, fish sauce and chopped coriander.

Remove the spine of the kafir leaf and roll up the two halves of the leaf into a cigar shape and slice as finely as possible into a chiffonade. 

Stir into the mayonnaise. Taste and correct the seasoning.

To prepare and cook the asparagus: Hold each spear of asparagus over your index finger down near the root end, it will snap at the point where it begins to get tough. 

Some people like to peel the asparagus but we rarely do. Cook in about 2.5cm of boiling salted water (1 teaspoon salt to every 600ml) in an oval cast iron casserole. 

Cook for 2 or 3 minutes or until a knife tip will pierce the root end easily.

Refresh in cold water, drain.

Mix the crab meat with the Thai mayonnaise. Add freshly squeezed lime juice to taste and correct the seasoning.

To Serve

Toast or char grill the bread. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

Scatter with a few rocket leaves. Divide the crab mixture between the 4 pieces of toast.

Toss the asparagus spears in a little extra virgin olive oil. Split lengthwise and lay two pieces cross ways along the top of each crab toast.

Serve immediately.

Torched Mackerel with Cucumber Pickle, Radishes and Horseradish Cream

Serves 4 for a starter

  • 3 super fresh mackerel
  • Flaky sea salt
  • 6 fresh radishes with leaves
  • Cucumber and mustard seed pickle (see recipe below, make ahead)
  • Horseradish Cream
  • 1½-3 tablespoons grated horseradish
  • 2 teaspoons wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • pinch of freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 225ml (8fl ozs) softly whipped cream

Garnish

  • Dill sprigs to garnish

Fillet the mackerel and V bone. Divide each fillet into two lengthwise.

Lay the 12 pieces flesh side upwards on a metal tray on a heat proof surface. Season with flaky sea salt and allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Next make the horseradish cream. Scrub the horseradish root well, peel and grate on a “slivery grater”. 

Put the grated horseradish into a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. 

Fold in the softly whipped cream but do not overmix or the sauce will curdle.

There will be more than enough for this recipe, but save the rest for another dish. It keeps for 2-3 days: cover so that it doesn’t pick up flavours in the fridge.

To serve

Dab the mackerel dry with kitchen paper. Blow torch each side for a minute or two until slightly scorched, flip over and scorch the skin side. The mackerel should be barely cooked. 

Arrange 3 pieces on each plate interspersed with cucumber and mustard seed pickle and a drizzle of horseradish cream. 

Split the radishes lengthwise with leaves still attached, add 3 halves and a few fresh dill sprigs to each plate.

Sprinkle with freshly cracked pepper and serve with crusty bread.

Cucumber and Mustard Seed Pickle

  • 3½ lbs (1.6kg) cucumbers, thinly sliced
  • 1lb (450g) onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • Pickle
  • 8oz (225g) sugar
  • 1½ oz (45g) mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • A pinch mace
  • 1 pint (600ml) white wine vinegar

Put the thinly-sliced onion and the cucumbers into a bowl, add the salt, and mix well.

Put all the ingredients for the pickle into a saucepan. Bring to the boil for 2 minutes. 

Pour over the cucumbers and onions. 

Stir well, allow to get cold. Fill into sterilised jars. Cover and seal.

Hot tips

Rachel Allen Cooks for Tilara at Cork International Hotel on Thursday, June 8. Rachel is donating 100% of ticket sales to the Time for Tilara Trust. The event starts at 7.30pm with a cocktail reception followed by a cookery demonstration. Phone Ann on 087- 9900624 for tickets or from Evenbrite.

East Cork Slow Food Event at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. Joanna Blythman, investigative food journalist and thorn in the flesh of the processed food industry and supermarkets will tell us about The Big Food Lie on Tuesday, June 13, at 7pm. Tel: 021 4646785 or slowfoodeastcork@gmail.com Tickets are €6for Slow Food members/€8 for non-Slow Food members.

Check out your local Farmers Market wherever it might be for fresh seasonal produce. Have you discovered the brilliant Farmers Market on the Coal Quay every Saturday from 9am — don’t miss Caroline Robinson’s stall. Tel: 087 9834242.


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