Monday, 27 June 2011

MY SUMMER SPECIALS

As London broiled on the hottest day of the year (so far), and those of us who had to use the Tube today cursed the lack of air-conditioning, my foodie thoughts turned to long, cold drinks and light but piquantly-flavoured dishes. In between these foodie musings, I was doing my 'other' job, as a music reviewer for Bachtrack.com, enjoying a lunchtime Schubert recital in the relatively cool Wigmore Hall. When I got home, I had to teach, an extra lesson for a student, not one of mine (though soon to be, officially), who is taking her Grade 2 exam next week. The heat made her sloppy and forgetful, and when I sat at the piano to play through the aural exercises, the keys felt sticky, in all senses of the word. After she left, I downed half a pint of Diet Coke, a drink I normally eschew, but sometimes it's surprisingly refreshing. Then I wrote my review for Bachtrack; by the time I'd tried - and failed - to think of a snappy title for the article, it was 7pm, so I went to the kitchen to prepare supper while listening to 'The Archers'.

Rock Shandy is one of my favourite non-alchoholic drinks. I discovered it some years ago in a trendy cafe in Notting Hill (as you do) and have subsequently ensured its place on the drinks menu of the Wookey Hole Inn in Somerset (the barman remembered me and made it for me - perfectly - the next time I visited). It's simple and refreshing and can be juzzed up with slices of lemon, or the sort of fruit salad you put in Pimms. In fact, its colour is redolent of Pimms, and on the strength of that, I've just decided to serve it as the non-alcoholic alternative to Pimms at my Summer Concert. It's easy to make - half soda water, half lemonade, dash of Angostura bitters, and a slice of lemon (optional). The ingredients should be cold. Add ice if liked (I don't - very cold drinks make my temples ache). Coincidentally, I blogged Rock Shandy exactly a year ago, though I can't remember what the weather was like then!

Another lovely, summery dish I often make at this time of the year, when there is a glut of strawberries, is Strawberry and Lemon Sorbet, which is my adaptation of a River Cafe recipe (I replaced raspberries with strawberries; you could use either, according to your taste). You need a food-processor to whizz the ingredients together, but an ice-cream maker is not essential: be sure to beat the mixture regular to stop ice crystals forming.

Strawberry and Lemon Strawberry
Serves about 6

1/2 unwaxed lemon, roughly chopped (peel, pith and all - just remove the seeds)
approx 200g caster sugar
400g strawberries, hulled

Whizz the lemon and sugar together in the food-processor, then add the strawberries. Check for sweetness and add more sugar if needed. Churn in ice-cream maker or put in a plastic box and freeze. Nice served with amaretti biscuits or cantuccini.

We had a barbecue last night, and sat in our newly-painted 'cabana' (also known as 'the Stable', 'Hugh's hut' and 'the Loggia'). With Buika's soulful, husky voice singing Mi Nina Lola and other songs from her album of the same name, we cooked chicken skewers and lamb shish kebabs, and roasted those long, thin Romano red peppers. It's the first time we've sat in the garden in the evening this year without needing fleeces and blankets. Today, I made the leftover red peppers into a pretty salad with crumbled feta and olives. Nigella Lawson has a very nice version of this - find it here.



Another simple salad, ripped off from The Eagle (London's first gastropub) is sliced tomatoes with rocket and fresh coriander. It's exactly what it sounds and is really tasty. A splash of olive oil and red wine vinegar is the only dressing it requires. When I ate it at The Eagle, it was as an accompaniment to bruschetta made with chargrilled squid. Utterly delicious!

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