June in the South of France has to be just about as near as we can get to paradise. Sure, that's a personal opinion, but it also happens to be true. What's not to love? The cloudless, azur sky (yes, cloudless). Markets teeming with rainbow coloured, fresh produce, sold by happily plump vendors. The balmy temperature, before the slap in the face heat of July and August. Not even a glimmer of school holidays. Elderly ladies already strutting their miraculous permatans. And the evenings! The long, long, evenings, washed down with Pastis and Rosé. At 9pm yesterday, contemplating the luscious pink light over the Mediterranean I sighed contentedly. My mother replied with, "God, the days will be getting shorter any day now". What a way to rain all over June's parade.
Just as well we had such a deliciously seasonal dinner planned, otherwise I might have been pushed into a very unseasonal depression.
Stuffed courgette flowers
For four, takes 30 minutes
starter / show off / summer / vegetarian / gluten free
It's true that one of the very best things about June, courgette flowers, are all too ephemeral. I simply have to eat them as often as I can get my hands on them while they're out. You can substitute mascarpone for ricotta here, or even a mild goat's cheese.
* Ricotta – 100g
* Fresh basil – a handful, chopped
* Parmesan - 50g, finely grated
* Courgette flowers – 24 (you can eat the stalks!)
* Corn flour - 3 tbsp
* Baking powder - a pinch
* Sparkling water - a dash
* Egg - 1 yolk
* Vegetable oil – for frying
Mix the ricotta, basil and parmesan in a small bowl with a fork. Season with plenty of salt and black pepper. To stuff the flowers, carefully peel open the petals with your fingers so you can see down into the flower. Try not to rip the petals. Using a teaspoon, spoon a little of the ricotta mixture into the bottom of each flower and lightly twist the tops of the petals to close them. Don’t worry about them staying closed, the stuffing won’t come out.
Mix the corn flour and baking powder in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add a dash of sparkling water and roughly mix with a fork. Next, mix in the egg yolk. The mixture should be the consistency of double cream. Add a little more water if it’s too thick.
On a high heat, warm enough vegetable oil to just cover the base of a large frying pan. Test the temperature of the oil with a drop of the batter, it should sizzle and fizz. Coat each flower in the batter by dunking it briefly into the bowl, then add to the pan. Turn down the heat slightly – they should still sizzle but you don’t want them to burn. Cook each flower for a few minutes on each side, until the batter turns golden brown. Place the flowers on a paper towel to soak up some of the extra oil, then serve immediately.
Grilled squid with garlic butter sauce
For four, takes 20 minutes
main / fish / easy peasy / quietly smug / gluten free / perennial / ready in a jiffy / detox
A perfectly light, summery seafood supper. Of course they're best when plucked straight out of the Med, but you should be able to pick them up fairly easily in your local fishmonger.
* Squid - 4
* Lemon - 1, juiced
* Olive oil
* Butter - 25g
* Garlic - 2 cloves, crushed
* Parsley - a handful, chopped
Start by preparing the squid. Pull the head and tentacles from the body (so slimy). Then pull out the hard, plastic-like inner bone from the body. It should come out in one go. Use your hands to pull any other bits out of the body of the squid, and rinse the inside out with water. Next cut the head (is it a head? The bit with the eyes and the ink pockets, in any case) from the tentacles, making sure you remove the hard beak from the top of the tentacles. Careful not to get any ink on your outfit. It stains.
Preheat the oven grill to the highest temperature.
Next, make the sauce. Melt the butter with a drizzle of olive oil in a small frying pan. Add the garlic and fry lightly for a couple of minutes. Add the parsley and stir to combine. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Place the squid bodies and tentacles on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil, squeeze over the lemon juice and season generously with salt and pepper on both sides. Cook under the grill for a few minutes on each side. When you turn the squid, if it looks like they have released a lot of liquid, pour this into the sauce before you grill them on the other side.
Pour some sauce over each squid to serve.
Makes four, takes 45 minutes, plus chilling time
dessert / gluten free / dairy free / show off / easy peasy / summer / party / date night
An excellent thing to do with any strawberries which might be slightly past their prime. Imperfect, bruised berries are welcome.
* Ripe strawberries - 1 punnet, tops removed
* Golden caster sugar - 45g
* Rose wine - 350ml
* Gelatine - 3 sheets
Separate a third of the strawberries (choose the ripest) and slice them finely. Combine in a small bowl with the sugar and mash up with a fork. Place the mixture in a small saucepan with the rose wine and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for half an hour.
Add the gelatine leaves, one by one, stirring to incorporate each one completely. Leave to simmer for a few more minutes. Make sure the gelatine really is completely dissolved otherwise washing up is a NIGHTMARE.
Slice the remaining strawberries and divide them between your jelly moulds.
Strain the jelly mixture into a plastic measuring jug (it will be much easier to pour into your moulds) through a fine sieve. Divide the jelly between your moulds and put in the fridge to set for at least four hours.
This is lovely on its own or with a scoop of proper vanilla ice cream as a treat.