Finally we have closed the door on winter, the weather is, at least as I write, much warmer; the sky is brighter and the sun is out. We're eating outdoors now at Petersham and the garden is glorious.
Rather than work with a single ingredient, I have decided for this column and my next in a fortnight, to celebrate the food that I love to eat right now. It's food that is lighter and cleaner in flavour. It's served at room temperature rather than piping hot. And it has flavours that I feel really comfortable with, perhaps because they they remind me of home. I'm talking about things such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, salads, herbs and cheese. During the warm months I feel a desire to eat small, refreshing mouthfuls, titbits that makes you feel cool inside, as well as out.
So this piece is about just that but it is, I also realise, a homage to Patricia Michelson, founder of La Fromagerie cheese shop in London's Highbury, who supplies our restaurant with all its cheese and dairy. Her produce is always exceptional and always a real inspiration to work with.
As regular readers will know, beautiful, seasonal produce is the single most important component in cooking for me. So producers and suppliers are invaluable. Without really even realising it, I have included some of her cheeses and dairy in all the recipes here. It was a subconscious decision; perhaps it's just that time of year.
Patricia, I fear, will not be pleased that I have paired citrus with cheese in the pink grapefruit salad she has told me in no uncertain terms, on more than one occasion, that the two do not go together. Although I accept her guidance on all matters dairy, I do think this combination is nice.
I hope she also does, and you do too.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, off Petersham Road, Richmond, Surrey TW10, tel: 020 8605 3627. A slow food event on conserving fruits and flowers with Romanengo products takes place at Petersham on 27 May
Burrata with tomatoes and basil oil
The first of the tomatoes are beginning to make their way over from Italy. l have used the beautiful, uneven, thin-skinned ones known as cuor di bue or bull's heart. Burrata is a wonderfully creamy cow's milk mozzarella that is one of my favourite things. If you can't find it use fiore di latte or a buffalo mozzarella.
2 ripe bull's heart tomatoes
Sea-salt and freshly milled black pepper
1 piece of burrata (or fiore di latte or buffalo mozzarella)
1 generous bunch of basil (leaves only)
70ml/3oz of extra-virgin olive oil
The zest of an unwaxed lemon
Slice the tomatoes into rounds. Season gently with the sea-salt and black pepper. Gently tear the burrata with your hands so that you have long, uneven shards. Place the basil into a blender and season with a little sea-salt and black pepper. Turn on the machine and pour the olive oil in. Purée until you have a green, sludgy sauce.
To assemble, lay the tomatoes on a plate. Sprinkle over a little of the lemon zest. Drape over the burrata and finish with the basil oil. I like to alternate the tomatoes with the cheese and basil oil to create a tumbling sort of "stack".
Tea-smoked wild trout with crème fraîche and chilli sauce
45g/2oz muscovado sugar
60g/21/2oz caster sugar
125ml/4fl oz tea
500g/16oz wild salmon
1 small bunch coriander, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 medium red chilli, roughly chopped (seeds included)
2tbsp palm sugar (or caster sugar)
1tbsp ginger, finely grated
3tbsp lime juice
2tbsp fish sauce
3 small cucumbers
4tbsp crème fraîche
1 handful of salad leaves
Combine the sugars and tea together in a bowl. Using aluminium foil, shape two small cups approximately 3in (7.5cm) across and 1in (2.5cm) deep. Pour half of the tea mixture into each and place the foil bowls at the bottom of a baking dish. Position a pudding bowl in each corner of the baking tray and lay a wire rack on top. Next, cut (omega) parchment paper roughly in the shape of the food you are tea-smoking and lay on the wire rack and place the food on top. If you have one, turn on your extractor fan and place the baking tray across two burners of the stove over a medium heat. It will take approximately 10 minutes for the smoke to get going at which point the food will begin to flavour. Smoke for a further three minutes then turn off the heat and allow the fish to sit for a further couple of minutes. Remove the lid and take out the fish and set aside until ready to use.
For the sweet chilli sauce, place the coriander, garlic, chilli, sugar and ginger in a pestle and mortar and pound together until well crushed and a paste is formed. Add the lime juice and fish sauce and stir to combine. Make the sauce as close as possible to the time you will be serving it.
Using a peeler, slice the cucumber lengthwise into thin slivers. Place the salad leaves and cucumber into a bowl and spoon over a little of the chilli sauce. Place half of the salad on the plate followed by the trout. Finish with a spoonful of crme fraîche and a final drizzle of chilli sauce.
Baked medlars with crème fraîche
Medlars, also known as loquats, are a delicious spring fruit which have a flavour somewhere between pear and apricot. They don't taste great raw and only really come into their own once cooked.
2 vanilla pods, split in half lengthwise
170ml/6fl oz of water
The juice of one orange
100g/31/2oz caster sugar
4tbsp crème fraîche
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Cut the medlars in half and take out the stones. Remove the tough inner skin that surrounds the stone. Split the vanilla pods in half lengthwise and place the medlars, cut side up, in an ovenproof dish. Pour over the water and the orange juice. Sprinkle over the sugar and the vanilla pods. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove, and allow to completely cool and serve with the crème fraîche.
Salad of pink grapefruit, toasted hazelnuts, roasted onions, avocado and castel rosso
For the roasted onions
2 red onions, peeled and sliced into rounds
2tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
40ml/2fl oz balsamic vinegar
2tbsp caster sugar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the salad
11/2tsp Dijon mustard
2tbsp of verjuice or good quality white wine vinegar
Sea salt and ground black pepper
80ml/3fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
A generous handful of mixed salad leaves
Sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pink grapefruit, skin removed, cut into segments
1 ripe avocado (l like hass), peeled and sliced
A small handful of hazelnuts, warmed in the oven to release flavour and roughly chopped
100g/31/2oz castel rosso (a semi-hard Italian cheese
2tbsp olive oil
A few drops of lemon juice
A handful of parsley, chopped
Heat the oven to 200C/440F/Gas6. Place the onions on a baking tray and pour over the olive oil and vinegar and sprinkle over the sugar. Season lightly with a pinch of sea salt and a few grindings of black pepper. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes, turning to coat once during the cooking time. Remove and set aside to cool.
Next, make the dressing. Place the mustard and verjuice in a bowl and stir. Season and whisk in the olive oil.
For the salad, place the leaves in a separate bowl, and season. Add the grapefruit, the avocado, the onions and hazelnuts. Squeeze over the lemon juice and olive oil and toss together. Transfer to a serving plate and pile the cheese on top. Spoon over the dressing and sprinkle the parsley over with a very light touch. Serve at once.