Dining out: Mark Hix creates an al fresco feast - Features - Food + Drink - The Independent

Dining out: Mark Hix creates an al fresco feast

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It's been a cracking spring, and let's hope that it stays that way so that we can all enjoy some al fresco eating this summer. The following recipes would be perfect eaten outside during a sunny weekend afternoon or on a hot summer's evening – just keep the barbecue to hand.

The advent of summer, of course, also means that it's time to fill the wine cellar and fridge with a good selection of rosé bottles. I'm really looking forward to stocking up with my new Tonnix rosé wine, which I have made in collaboration with my friend Mitch Tonks. It comes from the Quinta de la Rosa vineyard in the Douro and will be going into bottles very soon.

Fried halloumi with caponata

Serves 4-6

Caponata is a great spring and summer vegetable dish that is best served at room temperature and benefits from being made the day before. As well as being a good partner for grilled meat and fish, caponata is also a brilliant match for that salty, addictive Mediterranean cheese, halloumi. Although it can look a bit unappetising on the shelves in the shop, once grilled or fried it takes on a new look and makes a delicious snack or starter.

Chocolate might seem an unlikely ingredient, but in the same way as it is used in Mexican-based dishes, it adds a nice sweet and savoury touch.

200-300g halloumi, cut into rough 1cm chunks
1-2tbsp olive oil
A handful of small basil leaves or Greek basil

For the caponata

2 medium aubergines, cut into rough 1cm cubes
Vegetable oil for frying
4-5 sticks of celery, any stringy stalks peeled, cut into rough 1cm pieces
4-5tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 x 225g can of chopped tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp caster sugar
75ml white wine vinegar
1tbsp grated dark chocolate, minimum 70 per cent cocoa solids
40g salted capers, rinsed in cold water
12 large green olives, stoned and quartered

First make the caponata: heat some vegetable oil in a frying pan until very hot and cook the aubergines in a couple of batches, stirring every so often, until they are golden; then remove with a slotted spoon and dry on some kitchen paper. Fry the celery pieces in the oil that is left in the pan – or add a little more if necessary – and dry on some kitchen paper.

Gently cook the onion in the olive oil in a thick-bottomed saucepan for about 2-3 minutes, or until they've turned soft. Then add the tomatoes, season and simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the sugar and vinegar in a saucepan, add the chocolate, capers and olives and heat the mixture, stirring until the chocolate has melted. Add to the tomato mixture and simmer for another 5 minutes.Add the aubergines and celery to the sauce and continue to simmer for 20 minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.

To serve, heat the olive oil in a reliable heavy or non-stick frying pan and cook the pieces of halloumi on a high heat for a few minutes, turning them as they are cooking, until they are golden. Spoon the caponata on to a large dish, or individual serving dishes, then spoon the halloumi over and scatter over the basil leaves.

Barbecued salmon with soused cucumbers

Serves 4

The salmon and sea trout season is now well under way and thankfully a lot of rivers are showing many more fish than in the past. You may well not have access to wild fish, but there are some great organically and responsibly farmed fish on the market these days. I source my Freedom Food-accredited salmon from Loch Duart in Scotland.

4 portions of salmon weighing 150-200g, skinned and pin-boned
cucumber, halved lengthways with the seeds scooped out
2 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
A good pinch of cumin seeds
4tbsp cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp chopped fennel or dill
2tbsp rapeseed oil

Cut the cucumbers on the slant into ¼cm-thick slices and place in a non-reactive bowl. Put the shallots and cumin into a saucepan with the vinegar and a tablespoon of water, season well, bring to the boil, remove from the heat and pour over the cucumber and mix in the chopped dill or fennel. Leave to stand for about 4-6 hours or overnight.

Preheat a barbecue, season and lightly oil the salmon fillets and grill for about 3-4 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness and keeping them slightly pink.

To serve, drain the vinegar from the cucumbers and mix in the rapeseed oil. Spoon on to a serving dish and lay the salmon on top.

Pea tendril and spring onion salad

Serves 4

If you are a bit of a gardener, it's easy to harvest your own pea, broad bean or mangetout shoots to use in a salad, or you can now buy Vitacress (vitacress.com) pea shoots all ready to go in Sainsbury's. They have such a great flavour and you can either serve them on their own or in a mix with other leaves.

2-3 handfuls of pea shoots or tendrils, washed
6 spring onions, thinly sliced on the slant
1tbsp cider vinegar
tsp Dijon or Tewkesbury mustard
4tbsp rapeseed oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whisk the cider vinegar, mustard and rapeseed oil together and season. Mix the pea shoots and spring onions together and place in a salad bowl and spoon the dressing over just before serving.

Lemon curd cream with raspberries

Serves 4

This is a dead simple last-minute dessert with no real cooking skills involved apart from maybe using a whisk. You can make the lemon curd yourself or there are some really great quality ones available in the shops these days.

250-300g raspberries
300ml double or whipping cream, lightly whipped
4tbsp good-quality lemon curd

Blend half of the raspberries in a liquidiser and strain through a fine-meshed sieve. Gently fold the lemon curd into the cream so you have a rippled effect.

Spoon the raspberry purée on to serving plates, then spoon the cream mixture on top and scatter over the rest of the raspberries.

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