End of June means end-of-season for asparagus, morels and ramson (wild garlic). But let’s not be sad! It’s also the beginning of Summer; time to dine al fresco and serve vibrant, light flavours. We combine the very last white asparagus with green asparagus, black olives and basil. Feel free to use green asparagus only. The dish will lose some of its bitterness and complexity but it’s still a great combination of flavours and aromas.
Best to enjoy with a full bodied and elegant red wine. Flavour-wise you’re looking for lots of fruit, mild tannins and a touch of wood. We enjoyed our asparagus with a glass of Cantine Due Palme Salento Il Passo Nero 2019. This wine from Puglia (Italy) is made from late harvested negroamaro grapes. Dark berry fruit, medium full tannins and a beautiful deep colour.
What You Need
Equal Amount of White and Green Asparagus
Black Olives (preferably Cailletier or Taggiasca)
What You Do
Peel the white asparagus and cut of the end. Wash the green asparagus and cut of the end. Slice the asparagus in nice chunks (4 centimetres or so). Combine the asparagus with olive oil and a nice amount of black olives. Transfer to the refrigerator. When ready for your al fresco dinner, heat your oven to 190˚- 200˚ Celsius (or 375˚- 390˚ Fahrenheit). Mix after 10 minutes and again after 20 minutes. The asparagus should now be ready (if not, another 10 minutes should do the trick). Add half of the basil leaves.
If you serve the asparagus with lamb chops: leave the chops to marinate in olive oil, crushed garlic and thyme for 24 hours in the refrigerator. Remove thyme. Heat a heavy iron skillet and fry the chops in olive oil (4 minutes depending on the size). When ready keep the chops warm in aluminium foil. Fry the thyme in the remaining oil. In parallel add more basil leaves to the asparagus and mix.
Fennel and radishes go together very well. Radishes come with a spicy, piquant flavour; fennel comes with the flavour of anise. Both have a touch of sweetness and a lovely crunchy texture. Combine with a simple dressing of oil and vinegar and you’ll have a tasty salad. But, yes, agreed, something is missing. What to add? Search the Internet and you’ll find additions such as lemon (zest and juice), cucumber, apple, Parmesan cheese et cetera. All very nice, but we think the not-very-obvious third ingredient is tarragon. It supports the anise flavour and unites the fennel and the radishes, especially after two of more hours in the refrigerator.
When on the Internet you will also see that most chefs put the vegetables in ice-cold water to make them extra crispy and that using a mandoline slicer is required. We much prefer coarsely dicing the ingredients in order to create one, flavourful, refreshing salad. By dicing the ingredients and letting the salad rest, the flavours will be much better distributed. Take your time to chew, allow the salad to linger in your mouth and enjoy the development of the flavour.
Fennel and tarragon point in the direction of fish, which is indeed a good idea, provided the fish is one with lots of flavours. Think monkfish, skate, mackerel, red gurnard et cetera. You could also think of a home-made burger with first class beef, mustard, spring onion, a splash of soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, black pepper, capers and dill.
What You Need
One small Fennel
Three sprigs of Tarragon
White Wine or Cider Vinegar
What You Do
Cut the fennel and radishes into small cubes. Cut a large amount of tarragon leaves; similar size. Make a dressing with olive oil and vinegar. Don’t make the dressing very oily and don’t make too much dressing, it should only coat the ingredients. Combine in a bowl, mix well and store in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Just before serving taste the salad. You may want to add some vinegar.
Baba Ghanoush is tasteful and easy to make. Combine it with olives, pickles and flat bread (naan) to create a delicious starter to share. Don’t be tempted to buy Baba Ganoush at the supermarket. Most of these products lack the typical taste as a result of charring the eggplant. Sumac is an ingredient from the Levantine cuisine. Basically sumac powder is the result of crunching dried berries of the sumac plant. The taste vaguely resembles cranberries with a touch of lemon. In this case it adds fruitiness to the dish. The sweetness of the berries combines well with the garlic.
Enjoy Baba Ganoush with a glass of white Lebanese wine, but since that’s hard to find a nice glass of Cava is also a good choice.
Start by grilling the eggplant (in the oven in our case) to the point of charring. Ideal would be a char coal grill, but an oven grill also does the trick. Then leave the eggplant in the hot oven until very soft; maybe 30-45 minutes in total, depending on the seize of the eggplant. Some suggest rubbing the eggplant with olive before grilling it that’s not necessary. Transfer the eggplant to a plate and let cool. Now cut in half and use a spoon to separate the flesh from the skin. Use a kitchen knife to cut the flesh very thinly. Put the mixture in a sieve and reduce the amount of liquid in the mixture. Add the garlic and mix well. Add tahini and while stirring slowly add olive oil to create a thick mixture. Add yoghurt and some lemon juice. Taste well and adjust by adding more tahini, yoghurt or lemon juice. Allow to integrate for at least 15 minutes before serving. Spread the baba ghanoush on a small plate, add a splash of excellent olive oil and sprinkle some pomegranate seeds and sumac to finish.
Think summer vegetables, think Ratatouille! Which is also a comedy released in 2007 about a rat called Remy with a passion for cooking. If you want to see how he prepares ratatouille then simply enter Remy cooks ratatouille as search term in YouTube (or buy the DVD if you’re old fashioned like us). Ratatouille brings back memories of summer, of the South of France, of the Mediterranean. Or for some, of their youth. It combines very well with a simple sausage, with lamb, with grilled chicken. However you prepare your ratatouille, be sure to use courgette or zucchini, aubergine or eggplant, tomato and bell peppers. Also make sure you prepare it a day ahead. The taste becomes much more integrated after a day (or two) in the refrigerator. Our recipe is very much the recipe of a dear friend. She taught us how to make ratatouille in her summer kitchen, overlooking the pool and the garden with herbs and vegetables. Indeed, fond memories. To our surprise she added cilantro (you would expect thyme or basil) and many years later we are still grateful for this twist. The cilantro enhances the feeling of summer and it supports the various vegetables in a beautiful way.
We enjoyed our ratatouille with a glass of simple, red wine with lots of red and black fruits. Spicy. A wine that brings summer to your glass.
If you combine 1 of each, with the exception of 3 tomatoes, this will serve 4 people. Start by cutting the aubergine in small but not too small chunks. Drizzle with salt and mix. Let the mixture rest for a few hours, allowing for the aubergine to loose water and become firm. Best way to do this is by putting the aubergine in a sieve and let it rest above a bowl. The tomatoes require some attention as well. You could peel them, but that’s optional. What is not optional is to separate the tomato meat and juices from the pits. First step is to remove the internal hard bits and the pits and put these aside. You now have the outer part of the tomato, which you can slice. Cut the remainder of the tomatoes roughly, add to a sieve and by using the back of a spoon make sure you capture the juices. Be surprised about the volume of tomato juice and the small amount of tomato bits that remain in your sieve. Peel the courgette, slice in the way you sliced the aubergine and fry over medium heat in olive oil. In the mean time cut the bell pepper into long slices and add these to the pan. Continue frying. Add the finely chopped chilli pepper (not the seeds of course). Add the firm aubergine after having removed the remaining salt with water. After a few moments add the tomato chunks, fry a bit more, add the tomato juice (and the optional garlic) and leave on a medium heat for 30 minutes. Try not to stir too much; otherwise you risk creating mashed vegetables. Cool, set aside and store in the refrigerator. The next day gently warm the ratatouille, add some chopped cilantro, mix and add more cilantro just before serving.
Something you have to have in your cupboard (or refrigerator in our case): chutney. Why? Because once in a while you don’t feel like making a sauce when you eat duck, rib eye or grilled lamb chops. Or because you want to eat something nice, simple and vegetarian, like rice with lentils and, there we are, chutney. If there would be a top three of main ingredients for chutney it would read mango-tomato-apricot. The basic recipe is the same for all three; it’s a matter of adjusting the quantities and choosing the spices. Chutney needs to integrate, much more than jam or marmalade. So cook it for an hour or so and leave it in a jar for at least a week before using it. The fact that it needs to integrate will create a hopefully nice surprise when opening the jar. If not, there is little you can do (eat more quickly, give a jar to a not too close friend et cetera). We use just a bit of sugar so our chutney needs to be stored in the refrigerator. Too much sugar (200 grams on 1 kilo of mango for instance) will only hide the taste of the mango. Chutney is a balance of sweet (fresh fruit, onion, garlic, cinnamon), sour (vinegar), bitter (the skin of the apricot or tomato), spiciness (ginger, red chilli, garlic) and depth (cardamom, nutmeg, cumin). Too much sugar will only disturb the balance. Cooking is about pairing tastes and textures, not about creating a simple, one-dimensional product. Why would we make apricot chutney if it’s our number 3? Simple: we like the touch of bitterness that comes with the apricot. When making mango chutney, try using unripe mangos. The chutney will be much tastier and complex!
What You Need
1 kilo stoned Apricots (meaning 1,25 kilo of Apricots)
Stone and quarter the apricots. Cut the shallots in 4 and slice (not too thin). Slice the fresh garlic. Same with the seeded red chilli. Cut let’s say 5 cm of ginger in small bits. Start by glazing the shallots for 10 minutes in olive oil, making sure they will enhance the sweetness of the chutney. Then add all other ingredients to the pan, mix, add the grated ginger, the spices of your choice, mix and bring slowly to a simmer. We used vinegar and water given the acidity of our apricots. If your apricots are really sweet and ripe use 200 ml of vinegar. Spices wise we prefer using cardamom, cinnamon, and a touch of cumin and nutmeg. Leave to simmer for at least one hour. Stir occasionally but gently. After an hour increase the heat and transfer to very, very clean glass jars. Close the jars, leave them to cool a bit, then put in cold water and later on transfer to the refrigerator.