Sunny, strong flavours are so appealing right now – and these dishes have them in abundance. It is the time of the year for light dishes; fish feels right to eat, as do white meats such as chicken or guinea fowl. It's wonderful to use the tomatoes that are coming into season, alongside saffron, garlic, fennel and chillies that add warmth rather than heat.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com
Braised octopus with capers, olives, potatoes and cima di rapa
Octopus slowly cooked until it is meltingly tender is wonderful to eat and its long, languid tentacles have an extraordinary appearance on the plate. Scattered with black olives and capers, this dish really comes into its own. Octopus is the one thing I suggest you buy frozen: the extreme temperature of the cold tenderises the flesh and prevents it from becoming tough.
1 octopus weighing about 2kg/4lb
1 small bunch of thyme
1 small bunch of parsley
2 fresh bay leaves
15 whole peppercorns
350ml/12fl oz dry white wine
1 litre/13/4 pints water
100ml/31/2fl oz olive oil
11/2 tbsp capers, well rinsed
20 black olives
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Make sure the octopus is defrosted and rinse well under running water. Remove its beak – you will find this at the centre of its head; it will pop out easily. Boil a large pot of water; once boiling, plunge the octopus in and cook until the water returns to the boil. Remove and lay on a baking tray large enough to hold all the ingredients.
Scatter over the thyme, parsley, bay and peppercorns. Pour in the wine, water and oil. Cover securely with foil and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Cook for an hour-and-a-half. Scatter over the capers and olives, season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool to room temperature.
700g/25oz little roseval potatoes, sliced
A little extra-virgin olive oil to dress
The juice of 1 lemon
1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
1 bunch of cima di rapa or spinach
Rinse the potatoes well, slice into eighth-of-an-inch rounds and place in a saucepan with cold water and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then simmer until tender enough to pierce with a knife. Remove and drain. Dress while hot with the oil, lemon, parsley salt and pepper.
Rinse the spinach or cima leaves well, then boil a well-salted pan of water, add the leaves and cook for a minute for spinach, or a little longer if you are using cima. Drain and toss through the potatoes.
To serve, divide the octopus among four plates, spooning a little of the cooking liquid over as you do so. Arrange the vegetables alongside.
This is a luxurious curry, and somewhat of a treat due to its price. The dish's base is fairly mild, as it is important that the flavour of the lobster is not overpowered.
If you prefer, you can substitute the lobster with any firm-fleshed white fish – monkfish is perfect, although it is endangered. Sea bass would work, as well – though it need not be cooked beforehand, merely added right at the end so that it is no more than just cooked through.
4 live lobsters, weighing 500g/1lb each
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 white onions, peeled and finely sliced
2 red chillies, diced with seeds left in
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
5cm piece of root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp coriander seeds, roasted and ground
5 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp palm sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp tamarind water
400ml/14fl oz coconut milk (preferably fresh, though tinned will do)
75g/3oz dried coconut flakes, lightly toasted
Bring a large pan of well-salted water to the boil; once the water is boiling vigorously, add the lobsters and cook for seven minutes, then remove and set aside until cool enough to handle. To remove the flesh from the shell, make an incision all the way down the underside of the body. Remove the flesh in one whole piece. Crack the claws gently and remove the flesh there, also in one piece if possible.
Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan, add the onions and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Now add the chillies, garlic, ginger, coriander and tomatoes, then turn down the heat and cook for a further 10 minutes.
Add the sugar, fish sauce and tamarind water and cook for five minutes, then pour in the coconut milk. Raise the heat just slightly and cook for 10 minutes, then turn the heat to low and add the lobster. Cook gently for three to four minutes, then remove. Divide the lobster in its sauce between four warmed soup plates and garnish with toasted coconut. Serve with half a lime and flat bread or jasmine rice.
Chicken bouillabaisse with rouille
It may sound strange, but, the substitution of chicken for fish in bouillabaisse works very well – it is less complicated and quicker. However, it still needs to be served with the traditional side dishes of rouille and grilled bread.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and finely sliced
1 dried red chilli, crumbled
2 bulbs fennel, tough outer skin removed, and cut into eighths
1 small bunch of thyme, leaves only
The peel of one orange, in thin strips
1/2 tsp saffron
3 bay leaves
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
100ml/31/2fl oz Pernod
250ml/8fl oz dry white wine
300ml/10fl oz water
500g/1lb ripe tomatoes, sliced in half, seeds removed and chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 organic, free-range chicken breasts
For the rouille
2 organic eggs, yolks only
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
The juice of half a lemon
1 red chilli, placed over a grill until charred, seeds and skin removed
11/2 tsp Dijon mustard
200ml/7fl oz mild-tasting olive oil
75g/3oz soft white breadcrumbs
First make the rouille. Place the yolks, salt and pepper, lemon juice, chilli and mustard into a food processor. Place the oil in a jug and turn the motor on. Drizzle the oil very slowly through the funnel in the top until all the oil is in, by which time you will have a thick and unctuous, homogenised mayonnaise. Finally, stir in the breadcrumbs and adjust the seasoning – it will not need pepper but almost definitely will need salt.
Now for the bouillabaisse. Place a medium-sized, heavy-based saucepan over a low heat, add the olive oil and allow to warm. Add the onion, chilli and a good pinch of salt to the pan and cook for 15 minutes. Now add the fennel, thyme, orange peel, saffron, bay and garlic and cook for a further 10 minutes. Turn the heat up slightly and add the Pernod, wine and water. Allow to reduce by a third. Finally, add the tomatoes and water, and cook until everything is just soft.
While the base is cooking, season the chicken with salt and pepper generously all over. Place a little olive oil into a non-stick frying pan and when really hot, add the chicken breasts, skin-side down. Cook the chicken for two minutes or until golden-brown, then turn and cook the underside for a further minute. Using tongs, remove the breasts from the pan and add to the broth.
Turn the heat to quite low and cook the broth for eight to 10 minutes, by which time the breasts will be cooked through but not tough. Remove the chicken and turn the heat to high so that the flavours will intensify and the liquid reduces slightly. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Return the chicken to the pan to combine with the sauce then serve in warm bowls or on a large platter. Pass the rouille and some grilled bread around separately.