To me there is nothing nicer in the world than lunching outside on a perfect summer's day with family and friends. It doesn't happen very often as there are many variables. For instance, it shouldn't be uncomfortably hot, and can't be too cold – it's hard to enjoy food when your teeth are chattering. A bit of lightly dappled sunlight so you don't feel the need to squint is ideal. Obviously, the company is crucial, and for me that always means as many children as possible. Finally, there should be no time frame – a perfect day should never be rushed.
The food should be as easy and simple as possible. I really love doing shared food and just placing it in the middle of the table. If you've got good bread and good wine then you're half way there. All you need are a few well chosen ingredients – the freshest possible. I know I talk about the importance of good ingredients allthe time, but for me, it really is the most crucial thing.
A holiday feast is special enough to give your usual supermarket a miss. Try shopping at your local greengrocer, fishmonger, butcher or farmer's market. Allow what you see to govern what you cook. I generally shop without any idea of what I want to cook. I find it almost impossible to plan a menu without good ingredients in front of me – only when my senses of touch, taste and smell are aroused do my ideas come flooding to me. It's that early-morning moment at the market when I smell the first wafts of the sweetest basil, freshest mint or ripe tomatoes that I know that these will all end up in a salad together.
I like small amounts of lots of different things – a little fish, some meat, vegetables salads and fruit. Keep it as simple as possible – just let the ingredients sing. For the meal photographed here, I served melon, perfectly ripe and lightly sprinkled with toasted, crushed fennel seeds and a splash or two of zambucca. I didn't bother to write a recipe for it as it's not a recipe at all – merely an idea. I served a delicious salad of green figs and sheep's ricotta, alongside seabass and basil oil and a gorgeous, summery bean salad. The whole lot was finished off with blackcurrant panna cotta.
At the moment, Petersham is looking gorgeous. I decided to hold this feast in our beautiful walled vegetable garden because everything is in full bloom. It's full of dahlias, sweetpeas, sunflowers six feet tall, borage and cosmos. There is an abundance of vegetables as well – corn, chard, courgettes and delicious French beans. The gardens of Petersham House are also particularly stunning.
In the early afternoon sun when there is a light breeze, everything smells wonderful. The only quibble is the number of bumble bees that all the flowers attract. I'd recommend a meal like this as a fabulous way to spend tomorrow's bank holiday.
Skye Gygnell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627. Her book 'A Year in My Kitchen', Quadrille, is the 2007 Guild of Food Writers' Cookery Book of the Year
Simple bean salad
Beans are at their very best at this time of year – both the podded variety such as borlotti and cannellini and the pencil-thin green variety known as French beans. Buy these ones as fine as you can. I don't enjoy them nearly as much as when they grow too big and they become stringy and chewy. This salad I have mixed through with a tablespoon of a lovely sweet summer mixture known as pepperonata – but it needs no further accompaniment than the best quality olive oil – a dash or two of red-wine vinegar and as much torn fresh basil as you like.
250g/8oz freshly podded borlotti beans
250g/8oz freshly podded cannellini beans
250g/8oz of the finest French green beans, topped but not tailed
Sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
50ml/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
2tbsp good quality red wine vinegar
A generous bunch of basil, leaves only
Simmer the borlotti and cannellini beans in unsalted water or until tender (this will take 20 minutes or so). Place a pot of well salted water on to boil. Once boiling, add the green beans and cook until tender (in my opinion there is nothing worse than undercooked beans). Drain and add to the other cooked, podded beans, dress with the rest of the olive oil and vinegar. Toss through the basil leaves. Adjust the seasoning and serve alongside the other dishes.
Pepperonata is simply sweet, ripe pepper cut into thick strips and stewed in olive oil, garlic, marjoram and ripe tomatoes. If you like, simply toss it through the beans.
This sludgy, verdant sauce lends a vibrancy to many of my dishes, making the ingredients sing.
3 large bunches of basil
1 garlic clove, peeled
Sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
200ml/7fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
Pull the basil leaves from their stalks and put them in a food processor with the garlic and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Process until the basil is finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly trickle in the olive oil through the funnel and blend until you have a beautiful, moss-green puree. Leave to stand for a few minutes, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Pour into a jar, cover and refrigerate until ready to use – for up to a week.
Roasted wild seabass with basil oil
Wild seabass is one of my favourite fish, it is succulent and delicate – perfect on a sunny summer's day. It is very different from its farmed equivalent, the flesh of which can taste rather like blotting paper.
1 wild seabass weighing 750g/1 lb
1 unwaxed lemon
1 bunch of marjoram
30ml/1fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
Sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
Ask your fishmonger to gut and scale the fish. Rinse it gently under cool running water – it is important that there is no blood inside the cavity – pat dry using kitchen paper. Using a sharp knife, make three incisions into the flesh of the fish – cutting right down until you can feel the bone. Season generously with salt and pepper, both inside and out. Slice the lemon into eighth-inch (3mm) thick pinwheels and place inside the fish's cavity with the marjoram. Place the fish on a baking tray and massage in the olive oil. Place on the middle shelf of the hot oven and roast for 10 minutes or until the flesh is opaque. Transfer to a serving dish and while the fish is warm, spoon over the basil oil. Serve.
Deep-fried green figs with sheep's milk ricotta
Set the deep-fryer to around 180C. If you don't have a deep fryer you can always use a deep-sided saucepan. I like to fry using corn oil as it is the most clean and tasteless variety you can get.
For the batter:
One egg white
375g/12oz plain flour
125ml/4oz olive oil
80ml/3fl oz water
A pinch of sea salt
For the salad:
The zest of one lemon
200g/7oz sheep's milk ricotta, you can get this in any good delicatessen
A pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
12 green or black figs
8 basil leaves
10 mint leaves
1 tbsp chesnut honey
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Beat the egg white until stiff. Place the flour in a bowl. Make a shallow well in the centre of it and pour in the olive oil. Whisk briskly until it makes a smooth mix. Add the water and fold in the egg white. Add a pinch of salt. This batter keeps well in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
Next make the salad. Firstly fold the lemon zest through the sheep's ricotta. Season with a little salt and pepper and spoon on to a serving plate.
Remove the batter from the fridge and dip the figs into it. Place in the deep fryer and cook until golden – this will only take a minute or so.
Remove and drain on paper towels – do this in batches if necessary. Place the warm figs on top of the ricotta, scatter over the herbs, drizzle over the honey and finish with the olive oil. Season with a little more salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.
Panna cotta with blackcurrants
Panna cotta is the perfect dessert with which to finish a meal on a warm summer's day. It is cool and soft and goes down easily. I think sweet, sharp blackcurrants are an exquisite accompaniment. The deep, rich colour of the berries looks gorgeous against the creamy texture of the cooked cream.
185ml/6fl oz whole organic milk
250ml/8fl oz double cream
100g/3 oz caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthwise
The peel of one unwaxed lemon
2 sheets of leaf gelatine (or 1 tsp of powdered gelatine)
For the blackcurrants
200g/7oz caster sugar
Place the milk and cream in a saucepan. Add the lemon peel, sugar and split vanilla pod. Place over a gentle heat and stirring with a wooden spoon, bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and set aside for 15 minutes to infuse. In the meantime immerse the gelatine sheets in cold water and leave to soften (if using powdered gelatine follow the instructions on the packet but be sure to add the gelatine to the water and not other way round).
Return the infused cream to a low heat and bring just to the boil. Remove from the heat. Squeeze the water out of the gelatine and add to the hot cream. Stir to dissolve and strain into a jug. Pour into four individual moulds. Allow to cool completely before chilling in the fridge (they will take an hour or so to set).
Pick over the blackcurrants, removing their fine, sharp stems. Wash in cool water and place in a saucepan – pour over the sugar and place over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, turn down and simmer for five minutes or so or until the blackcurrants have softened and split. Decant into a bowl and allow to cool completely before chilling in the fridge.
To serve, dip the base of each mould into warm water to loosen the base and edges. Then turn them out onto a plate. Spoon over the blackcurrants and serve.
The Forager by Wendy Fogarty
Petersham's food sourcer gives us a taste of the best Bank holiday events...
The New Chilli Festival: Selling chilli plants, products and sample foods from around the world. Bennington Lordship Gardens (Nr Stevenage), from 26 to 27 August, 10am to 5pm, tel: 08701 261 709.
Brecon Beacons Summer Fayre: A Bank holiday food and drink event at the Brecon Beacons National Park Mountain Centre, Libanus, tel: 01874 624 979, www.breconbeacons.org.
The Great British Picnic: Celebrating the British picnic tradition with food, entertainment and activities, including bottle-rocket trials and picnic-rug decorating Continues until tomorrow, 11am-4pm at Compton Verney (nr Stratford upon Avon), tel: 01926 645500.
Wirral food and drink festival: Showcases the best of all things home-grown, bringing together the region's finest producers, restaurants, chefs and farm shops. Runs until tomorrow afternoon, tel: 07877 921 276, www.wirralfoodfestival.co.uk.Reuse content