When I think of summer, I think of lazy food – long lunches and easy cooking. The produce during these months is sumptuous: raspberries, currants and strawberries and all the beautiful stone fruits, such as peaches, apricots and nectarines; then there are the vegetables: courgettes with their delicate flowers, peas, broad beans, summer savoury... And, of course, we mustn't forget all the fantastic herbs or all those leaves and sweet ripe tomatoes which make salads at this time of year such a delight.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com
Cucumber, tomato and bread soup
This soup is like gazpacho. The ingredients' quality is important – the tomatoes should be sweet and ripe, and the bread textured and dry. It needs to be made on the day of eating or it will lose its fresh, sharp, clean taste.
5 very ripe tomatoes
2 small, firm cucumbers
1 garlic clove
4 slices of day-old ciabatta
2 tbsp red-wine vinegar
2 tsp cool water
1 generous bunch of basil, leaves only
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Slice the tomatoes in half, scoop out the seeds and cut into small, rough pieces. Slice the cucumbers in half lengthwise, cut out the seeds and chop finely. Peel and chop the garlic. Place in a large bowl and toss.
Remove the crusts from the bread then tear into one-inch pieces and drizzle over the vinegar, along with two teaspoons of cool water. Allow to soak for five to 10 minutes. Squeeze out the bread and add to the bowl. Chop the basil leaves roughly and stir through. Now pour over the oil and add a good pinch of salt and plenty of pepper. Give it one final stir and serve.
Scallops with corn purée and chilli oil
Corn is at its best right now, sweet and firm. Look for cobs with the husks left on; the kernels should be plump and tight. This purée also works well with chicken, girolles and seafood – crab, prawns and clams.
For the corn purée
3 fresh corn cobs, husks removed
120ml/4fl oz water
One dried chilli, crumbled
1 tsp sugar
40g/1 oz butter
50ml/2fl oz crème fraîche
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Cut the kernels from the cobs by standing the cobs upright on a board and running a sharp knife down in sections. Put the kernels in a saucepan, pour over the water, add the chilli and the sugar. Place over a medium heat and cook until the corn is tender – this will take 20-25 minutes. Drain, discard the chilli and place in a food processor with the butter. Purée until smooth. Remove from the machine and return to the saucepan, then add the crème fraîche. Season with salt and pepper to taste and warm through again just before serving.
For the chilli oil
1 red chilli
80ml/3fl oz olive oil
A pinch of salt
Slice the chilli in half lengthwise and discard the seeds. Now chop it as finely as possible and place in a bowl, pour over the oil, add the salt and stir well to combine.
For the scallops
tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A squeeze or two of lime juice
Place a non-stick frying pan over a high heat. Add the olive oil and allow the pan to become really hot. Season the scallops with the salt and pepper and place them in the frying pan. Make sure they are not too close together as they will steam rather than brown. Cook for one minute on one side before turning and cooking on the underside for a further minute. While the scallops are cooking, gently reheat the corn. Remove the scallops from the heat and squeeze over the lime juice. Spoon the corn on to a plate and lay the scallops on top. Spoon over the chilli oil and serve.
Little new potatoes with risotto
This is the season to (re)discover potatoes, the time when the "new earlies" come into their own. As they are waxy and firm, their flavour and texture stand up well when added to soups, stews, risottos and pasta dishes.
1 litres/2 pints of chicken or vegetable stock
200g/7oz unsalted butter
1 medium red onion, finely sliced
1 dried red chilli, finely chopped
The heart of one celery, finely sliced
500g/1lb new potatoes, scrubbed clean and sliced into quarters
Sea salt and black pepper
400g/13oz arborio rice
400g/13oz cooked, wilted spinach
Freshly grated Parmesan
1 bunch of basil, leaves torn
Heat the stock in a small pan. In a separate, large, thick-bottomed pan, heat half of the butter until foaming. Add the onion, chilli and celery and cook until soft but not coloured. Add the potatoes and a good pinch of salt and cook for five minutes.
Now add the rice and stir until each grain is coated with butter. Add enough of the stock to cover the rice and allow it to be absorbed.
Add more, ladle by ladle, stirring gently but continuously. Continue until the rice is cooked through but still has an al dente bite. This should take about 20 minutes. Stir in the remaining butter, spinach and Parmesan.
Adjust the seasoning and turn off the heat. Place a lid on the pan and let sit for five minutes before serving. To serve, tear up the basil and sprinkle on top.
Samphire with red chilli and olive oil
This is a very simple dish, and is delicious served with barbecued lamb, roasted sea bass or salmon.
Enough water to cover the samphire
A good pinch of sea salt
1 red chilli
40ml/2 fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
625g/1¼lb samphire, washed and trimmed
1 lemon, quartered
Place a large pot of water on to boil, then add a good pinch of salt. Slice the chilli in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Cut it into fine strips then chop across so that you have neat, even shapes. Place the chopped chilli in a bowl and pour over the olive oil and stir.
When the water is boiling, add the samphire and cook until the water returns to the boil – it should take no more than a minute. Drain in a colander and place in a serving bowl. Spoon over the chilli oil. Serve piping hot with a wedge of lemon.
Poached chicken salad with candlenuts and nam jim
Nam jim is a sauce found in Thai cooking that can be used to accompany many cold dishes and salads. Its hot, sour, salty, sweet flavour is delicious. It is, however, important to balance the flavours so that no one taste dominates the others.
I really love this crunchy salad, which is something I often make for myself at home. I like to eat it alongside simple steamed rice, which offers a gorgeous contrast.
For the nam jim
1 bunch of coriander
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
A pinch of salt
2 green bird's-eye chillies, chopped
2 tbsp palm sugar or caster sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp lime juice
2 red shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 small chicken
1 small knob of ginger
3 kaffir lime leaves
For the salad
2 small carrots
2 small cucumbers (or half a large one)
8-10 candlenuts or cashew nuts
A handful of coriander leaves
10 or 12 basil leaves
To make the nam jim, pound the coriander stalks (the roots and stalks of coriander are used in cooking; the leaves are reserved for garnishes and salads), with the garlic and salt using a pestle and mortar until well crushed. Add the chillies and continue to pound. Mix in the sugar, fish sauce and lime juice, then the chopped shallots. Set aside.
Wash and pat dry the chicken, then place in a large pot. Add the ginger, coriander and lime leaves, and cover with cold water. Place over a medium heat, bring to the boil then turn to a simmer – you want the chicken to cook gently. Poach for 40 minutes.
Take the pot off the heat and allow it to cool for a while, before removing the chicken from the cooking broth. Poaching is a lovely way to cook k chicken that's to be served at room temperature – it remains deliciously soft and moist.
For the salad, peel the carrots and cut into fine matchsticks. Slice the cucumbers in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon then cut into fine matchsticks. Gently roast the nuts until golden-brown. Remove and allow to cool, then chop roughly.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the flesh from the bones and shred with your fingers. Place in a bowl alongside the carrots, cucumber, coriander, basil and toasted nuts. Dress with the nam jim and serve immediately.
Aubergine and white-bean curry with crème fraîche
I love to use crème fraîche because I don't like heavy-based sauces. It is rich and unctuous, but it's also incredibly light to cook with, almost disappearing into the air. It has a particular depth that enhances dishes, rather than obscuring them – it's irreplaceable.
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 onion, peeled and finely sliced
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 cloves garlic
4 fresh curry leaves
3 kaffir lime leaves
The juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp palm sugar or caster sugar
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 aubergine, cut into eighths
1 tin good-quality chopped tomatoes
1 tin coconut milk
120g/4oz of cooked white beans
1 small bunch coriander, stalks and roots finely chopped
80ml/3fl oz crème fraîche
Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the onion. Grind the coriander and fennel seeds with a pestle and mortar and add to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the garlic, curry and lime leaves, lime juice, sugar and fish sauce. Add the aubergine and cook for 10 minutes, then add the tomatoes and coconut milk and cook on a low heat for 15 minutes. Add the white beans and cook for a further 10 minutes. Spoon into a large bowl and serve with crème fraîche.
This quintessential English dessert is easy to make and benefits from a little time in the fridge to make it easier to take from the mould. The proportions of the fruits used are less important than the selection. You need a mix of tart and sweet – red or blackcurrants are a must, as are raspberries, blackberries and strawberries.
8-10 slices of good-quality bread such as pain de mie (a soft traditional white bread enriched with butter and sugar). Don't use a shop-bought sliced white bread; it tastes no better than sodden cotton wool
1kg/2lb your choice of berries
220g/7 oz caster sugar
Remove the crusts from the bread and cut it into quarter-inch-thick slices, then into 2-inch fingers. Line the base and sides of an eight-inch pudding bowl.
Hull and quarter the strawberries and pick over the other berries, then place into a bowl. Add the sugar and toss lightly to combine. Now put the berries into a heavy-based, non-reactive saucepan and place over a medium heat. Warm the berries until they soften and become juicy and the sugar has dissolved.
Spoon the berries into the lined pudding basin while they are still warm and place a final, whole piece of bread on top to create, in effect, a lid, patching here and there with smaller pieces to ensure that there are no spaces. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Place a plate on top to help weigh down the fruit and place in the fridge for two hours to allow the natural pectin to set and the pudding to firm.
To serve, invert the pudding on to a plate. It should unmould very easily. Serve as it is – this blood-red dome looks most beguiling brought to the table – and pass around a jug of pouring cream.
Poached greengages, peaches and strawberries
This is the simplest dessert; it should be served very cold – we chill it in the freezer for an hour or two before serving so it's nearly icy. It slips down the throat, perfectly refreshing, a really nice end to a meal.
4 ripe white peaches
4 tbsp icing sugar
The juice of one lemon
12 ripe greengages
3 tbsp caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthwise
1 tbsp rose water, optional
1 punnet ripe English strawberries
Split the peaches in half and place in a saucepan with the icing sugar and lemon juice. Place over a gentle, low heat and cook, stirring occasionally until they fall apart – this will take about 20 minutes. It should almost be a purée, with large chunks of whole peaches. Remove from the heat and spoon into a bowl. Allow to cool completely then chill in the fridge for an hour or so. Do exactly the same to the greengages, adding the vanilla and sugar, and cooking gently until soft and falling apart. Remove, cool, add the rose water (if using), then freeze.
To serve, wash and gently pat dry the strawberries. Slice in half lengthwise. Divide the chilled peaches among four plates, spoon the greengages alongside, scatter the strawberries over and serve.
Melon with ginger caramel
Deliciously scented and packed with juice, refreshing melons are a welcome sight come the summer months.
250g/8oz caster sugar
375ml/13fl oz water
A good pinch of salt
2 thumbs of ginger, finely sliced
1 canteloupe or charentais melon, chilled
Place the sugar and 125ml/4fl oz of the water into a small, heavy-based saucepan over a very low heat and, without stirring, allow the sugar to dissolve. Once dissolved, bring to the boil. Cook until the mix begins to colour – this will take at least five minutes. When it begins to brown around the edges, watch it carefully, as it will then darken quite quickly. Once the caramel has reached a deep mahogany, pour in the remaining water. Add the salt and ginger and stir frequently for a further two minutes to loosen the caramel. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature then pour into a container and cool in the fridge. This will make more than you need, but it keeps for ages in the fridge.
When it is cold, slice the melon in half and scoop out the seeds. Slice into chunks, removing the skin. Arrange on a plate, drizzle the caramel over it, and serve.
Fig and vanilla jam
Homemade jam is purer in taste and texturally far more interesting than the gloopy jams found in supermarkets. Always simmer very slowly to extract the pectin. Stir every now and then to prevent the fruit from catching and don't be afraid to top up with a little water if it becomes dry. Once you think the jam is ready, place a spoonful on a saucer in the fridge for a few minutes to cool. Run a finger through the jam: if it wrinkles, it's ready. If not, return to the stove and boil swiftly. When it's done, rest the pan with the fruit in it for 10 minutes until the preserve is setting around the edges. This helps even the distribution of fruit and juice throughout.
Makes approximately 1 litre (1¾ pints)
1kg/2lb ripe figs
The zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise
1kg/2lb caster sugar
Trim the figs and place in a bowl with the lemon zest, juice and vanilla seeds. Spoon over the sugar and mix. Steep for 2 hours, then cook on a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Next, turn up the heat and boil rapidly until the jam reaches setting point. Remove the pan from the stove, and cool for 30 minutes before spooning into warm, sterilised jars. Pack each jar with a vanilla pod.