Cucumbers have a bare, green taste that shows through with subtle detachment in a Martini. You could insinuate the cucumber into the vodka by making a fresh purée, but the result is uniform and simplistic; you get a more haunting, edgier flavour if you muddle chunks of it with the vodka instead. The result is an elegant and calm drink.
To make one, take a two-inch chunk of cucumber, wash it and pat it dry. Halve and deseed it, but keep the peel on – there's a lot of flavour in the skin. Chop into slices about half-an-inch thick, then cut each slice into rough cubes. Put the cucumber in the bottom of a cocktail shaker, pour over 60ml/21/2fl oz of vodka from the freezer (Zubrówka, the Polish vodka made from rye and flavoured with bison grass, is particularly good, as the grassy herbaceousness makes a good marriage with the cucumber) and use a pestle to gently bash the cucumber. The idea is not to make a pulp, just to bruise the skin and split some of the chunks slightly. Add several cubes of ice and shake hard before straining into a cocktail glass. I like to serve this with smoked salmon on plain brown bread with a squeeze of lemon. It's a take on the classic afternoon tea with cucumber and salmon sandwiches. The bright pink of the salmon also looks stunning beside the pale-green drink.
Strawberries and demi-sec champagne
Like many other sweet drinks, demi-sec struggles to find its niche. When do you open something as expensive and indulgent? Not at the beginning of a meal, when the sweetness would kill your taste buds and send your blood-sugar levels into a frenzy. Yet to save it for the end, when you have already gorged and your taste buds are dulled with other wines, seems profligate.
If you've had a sturdy lunch, it makes a good stopping point at about 6pm. True, there aren't many afternoons in a year that suit this sort of indulgence, but on a sunny day, with a light evening stretching ahead of you, there is a blissful luxury in opening perhaps a half-bottle of demi-sec champagne, lolling around the kitchen or the garden and sipping a glass or two while picking at a big bowl of strawberries that will be brought to life by the chill warmth of the champagne. The other option is to factor it properly into a dinner, as I did on holiday once in France: we forwent the gin and tonics, ate a single course of rosemary-barbecued lamb with a bottle of Gigondas, then plunged into a dish of strawberries with a bottle of Billecart-Salmon demi-sec (one of the best) to finish.
It would be unfair to Moscato d'Asti to call it a poor man's version of the above. I love the drink, which is made in north-west Italy from the moscato grape, is blessedly low in alcohol (about 5.5 per cent), lightly fizzy, a little sweet, tastes of white peaches and Charentais melons, and smells of flowers. Delightful after a meal, when it brings alive the most jaded palate, you could pretty much lie by a pool and drink it all afternoon. Don't serve in flutes: pour copious amounts into large wine glasses and, if strawberries don't appeal, try it with apricot or mango tart.
Try Prunotto Moscato d'Asti Italy (Whole Foods or advintage-wines.co.uk) or Moscato d'Asti Nivole Michele Chiarlo 2007 Italy (Oddbins).
Peach in a glass of white wine
When I was an au pair in Florence, spending days playing pirates with three-year-old twins, slogging through piles of ironing, and mopping the kitchen floor eight times, just occasionally, as another sticky evening began, I would sneak into a hot bath with a fresh, juicy peach sliced into a small glass of leftover white wine. The wine gets into the peach and vice versa and eating it all is a blissful way to unwind.
The name doesn't do it justice, but this is a version of a forgotten classic called the Bloodhound. It looks like water that has run off deepest-pink peonies, taking the colour with it, and, thanks to the fresh berries, it smells intensely of summer.
Bloodhounds are usually made using strawberries but, to my mind, raspberries make a more piquant marriage with gin. Don't be tempted to skip the sweet vermouth, or to replace it with dry; the ingredients mingle perfectly as they are – this is one of those drinks that is more than the sum of its parts – and you need the sweetness to play against the raspberries.
This recipe makes two drinks. The proportions – three parts gin to one part sweet and one part dry vermouth – are what's important, and you can adjust to the size of the glasses used, remembering that water from the ice will mean you get more liquid out of the shaker than you put in.
Combine 25ml/1fl oz of both the sweet and dry vermouth and 75ml/3fl oz of gin (I prefer to use Plymouth) in a cocktail shaker. Add six ripe raspberries and, using the back of a spoon or a pestle, press them against the sides of the shaker to squash them. Now add ice and shake very hard and very well. Pour into two Martini glasses, double-straining the drink through the top of the shaker and a tea-strainer to get rid of the pips and other raspberry gubbins.
All recipes come from 'How to Drink', by Victoria Moore (Granta, £15.99).
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