The first SIGNS OF SUMMER have TRISH DESEINE dreaming of Bahamian nights and HERB-INFUSED RECIPES …
Gone are the confusing sunny days of spring described by Dickens in Great Expectations as being “summer in the light and winter in the shade”. Now the air is warmer and the days are long enough to keep it so. Gingerly, we step outside to eat, starting with a cup of coffee and slice of toast at the garden table which badly needs scrubbing or oiling or painting, or all three, and before we know it, in our minds we’re on the terrace at the Chèvre d’Or or Villa San Michele sipping an icy rosé or a Negroni. We start seeing our outdoor spaces differently and with summer holidays just around the corner, are once again ready to pretend that at least one Irish shore borders the Med.
My own outdoors fantasy lifestyle has migrated across the Atlantic and gone slightly more up-market and completely unattainable in recent years, finally reaching full-on India Hicks Bahamian madness.
Lean, tanned and barefoot in floaty, retro floral silk, in my dreams I dine at endless candlelit, flower-festooned long tables, under twinkly lights draped amid the trees in fragrant hidden corners of the garden, serenaded deep into the warm, still night by cicadas. There are no mosquitoes, midges, spiders, paper plates, barbecue fumes, prickly-stingy things in the grass, Spotify hoggers or young children. The drinks stay perfectly chilled and so do I.
It’s so good to dream – and you should too – but when it comes to our first Irish al fresco entertaining of the year, it’s probably also sensible to hedge your bets with some seasonally appropriate, highly adaptable food and a standby table set inside if the sun lets you down. Perhaps also think twice about barbecuing if the forecast looks at all dodgy? How many times does the poor, sodden barbecue chef get stuck out in the rain alone with a warm beer and smoky coals while the guests safely party on indoors?
But regardless of the perils of our climate, what a joy it is when the first signs of summertime easy living appear at last. In France it was the arrival of small, sweet pungent Mara des Bois and wild strawberries, and the glut of green asparagus as crops ripened, from Provence to the Loire, which told me summer was just around the corner. Fresh herbs were no longer confined to cellophane packets and started to appear in the market in thick, loose bunches, often with muddy roots still attached. The fishmongers’ displays filled up with piles of langoustines, crab, sardines and anchovies and the cheese stalls were heavy with fresh goats’ cheeses.
Back home, a quick poll of favourite “first taste of summer” dishes unsurprisingly revealed our love (nay, passion) for steamed new potatoes. (Those from Ballinacourty even received a special mention from Maire Flynn at The Tannery, Dungarvan.) But I think we all know I have long since exceeded my quota for spud chat and recipes in this column, so let’s just leave it there as a given? The other clear winners for an instant summer feel to our plates were our homegrown herbs, peas and broad beans with many votes for fresh crab and lobster. Here, then, are a few light and simple recipes to help celebrate our long Irish evenings and luscious gardens.
1. Crab with radish and mango
Fresh, light and aromatic; this makes a lovely little spring-to-summer starter or appetiser.
For 4. 30 minutes preparation; 2 hours marinating.
300g fresh crab meat
150g fresh mango, diced finely
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh basil
1 tbsp fresh coriander
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
5 or 6 radishes, sliced very thinly (use a mandolin if you have one)
3 tbsp mirin
3 tbsp rice vinegar
Bring the mirin and vinegar to the boil, pour over the radishes and leave to marinade in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Just before serving, drain the radishes and toss the other ingredients together
Serve spoonfuls of the crab mixture on Little Gem or butterhead lettuce leaves, topped with the pickled radishes
2. Pea and lemon hummus
The best little mixture to keep in the fridge during the week for a quick supper. Serve with a bowl of grains or some good bread.
For a large pot (75cl)
600g fresh or frozen peas, steamed
1 garlic clove, peeled
Zest and juice of 2 lemons
50g almonds or cashews
1 tbsp tahini (optional)
1 tbsp fresh chervil
Olive oil, salt and pepper
Put all the ingredients in a blender and mix to a fine purée, adjusting the consistency with olive oil and lemon juice. Season and serve topped with a little more chervil and lemon slices.
3. Aromatic chicken soup with peas and ginger
Soothing and restorative, you could poach some bok choi or spinach in the broth at the same time as the peas for an added green boost.
25 minutes preparation; 1-2 hours cooking.
3 or 4 free range chicken pieces
A piece of ginger the size of your thumb
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 star anise
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 or 3 small onions or shallots
4 or 5 radishes, finely chopped
Fresh parsley, mint
In a large saucepan, put the chicken, garlic, pepper, ginger, onions and carrots.
Fill with water until everything is covered, bring to the boil, remove any scum on the surface and leave to simmer gently for 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove the chicken, take the flesh from the bones and keep warm.
Sieve the poaching liquid to remove the vegetables and pour it into a smaller saucepan. Simmer to reduce the liquid until you have enough for 6 to 8 soup bowls.
Pop the peas into the simmering liquid until they are just cooked. Add some chicken pieces, season with more pepper and soy sauce, garnish with the herbs and radishes and serve.
4. Pea and almond soup with preserved lemon butter tartines
Quick, tasty and colourful. Works well also with broad beans and a touch of mint.
For 2. 40 minutes cooking and preparation.
300g fresh peas
A handful of blanched almonds
500ml vegetable or chicken stock
2 slices sourdough
1tsp chopped preserved lemon
Bring the stock to the boil and cook the peas for a few minutes only. Pour the mixture into a blender with the almonds and blitz until smooth. Season and keep warm.
Mix the butter with the chopped preserved lemon.
Serve the soup with a swirl of cream and the toasted sourdough with lemon butter.
This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this don’t miss our next issue, out Thursday June 1.
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