To celebrate my recent award at the Guild of Food Writers – I was lucky enough to win Cookery Book of the Year, for my book, British Seasonal Food – we are this week publishing some delicious summer main courses and puddings.
These focus of some of our finest seasonal ingredients – from tender wood pigeon and freshly caught mackerel to local blueberries, blaeberries and wild strawberries. August marks the beginning of the game season, so I have included here a recipe for the humble wood pigeon. Although it is often regarded as being at the other end of the spectrum to the glorious grouse, in my opinion it makes very good eating none the less.
Pigeons are at their best during July and August when they've been munching on farmers' crops and, of course, this is the obvious time to shoot them. They're also useful target practice before the game season really gets going, as they can fly as fast as most game birds.
When I was growing up in Dorset, I was unaware of the existence of our celebrated local blueberries. We put imported blueberries into our shopping baskets right through the year, even though they rarely taste of much, forgetting that we have them growing here to enjoy right now.
Blueberries are as versatile as any other summer berry and like the other darker berries – tayberries, blackberries and elderberries – their season runs into autumn. If you're a mad-keen forager you can also find wild blueberries, or blaeberries as they are called in certain parts of the country. These are half the size (or less) of a standard blueberry and perfect to toss into a game salad or sauce, or to combine with other berries for a fruity dessert or brunchy pancake.
Wood pigeon with blaeberries
Like other game birds, a wood pigeon can easily be overcooked, which is as disastrous as a "well-done" fillet steak. I strongly recommend that whatever you decide to serve with your pigeon, you get it ready almost to the point of serving before you pop the birds into the oven. You don't have to rush around getting accompaniments together at the last minute, as the bird will continue to cook as it rests.
4 wood pigeons
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 sprigs of thyme
100g butter, softened
150ml chicken stock
1 small cup of blaeberries
Preheat the oven to 220C/gas 7. Season the wood pigeons inside and out and put a sprig of thyme inside each cavity with a generous knob of butter. Rub the rest of the butter over the breasts, then roast the birds for 7-8 minutes. Transfer to a platter and set aside.
Add the flour to the roasting pan. Stir in the port, then gradually stir in the stock to avoid lumps forming. Bring to the boil, stirring, and simmer over a medium heat for 4-5 minutes or until the sauce has reduced and thickened.
Meanwhile, cut the birds in half and cut away the backbone, leaving just the breasts on the bone with the legs attached (you can take the breasts off the bone if you wish). Place the pigeon halves in the sauce with the blaeberries, cover with a lid and simmer for 3-4 minutes, turning the birds after a minute and keeping them a little pink.
Serve with buttered greens or braised cabbage if you prefer.
Farmhouse salad with Scotch duck's egg
80-100g piece of smoked streaky bacon
180-200g good-quality black pudding, skinned
2 thick slices of bread
4 duck eggs
200g good-quality Cumberland sausagemeat
1tbsp plain flour
1 egg, beaten
40-50g fresh white breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
3-4tbsp vegetable or corn oil
4 rabbit saddle fillets (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
80-90g small salad or herb leaves
100ml tarragon vinaigrette (see the following recipe)
Cut the bacon, black pudding and bread roughly into 1cm chunks and set aside.
Lower the duck eggs into a pan of simmering water and cook for 3-4 minutes to soft-boil them, then refresh in cold water. Once cool, carefully peel the eggs. Divide the sausagemeat into 4 balls and flatten them into patties. Wrap each patty around an egg, moulding it with your hands.
Have three shallow containers ready, one containing the flour, one with the beaten egg and the third with the breadcrumbs. Coat the duck eggs with the flour first, then put through the beaten egg and finally into the breadcrumbs, turning them to coat all over and re-moulding as necessary.
Heat a 6cm depth of oil in a deep-fat fryer or other suitable large, deep, heavy-based pan to 140-150C. Deep-fry the eggs for 3-4 minutes, turning them every so often so they colour evenly. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a frying pan and add the chunks of bacon, black pudding and bread, together with the rabbit fillets if using. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until lightly coloured, then remove with a slotted spoon and keep warm. Dress the leaves with some of the dressing, season and arrange in wide bowls or on plates. Cut each rabbit fillet, if using, into 4 or 5 slices, then scatter over the salad leaves with the fried bread, bacon and black pudding. Cut the Scotch eggs in half and arrange on the salad. Drizzle over the rest of the dressing and serve.
Makes about 100ml
1tbsp cider vinegar
1tsp English mustard (Tewkesbury or Norfolk)
1 garlic clove, peeled
A few sprigs of tarragon
2tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil
3tbsp vegetable or corn oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put all the ingredients into a clean bottle or jar. Give them a good shake and leave to infuse for at least an hour, preferably overnight, at room temperature. Strain the dressing before tossing with your salad.
Barbecued or griddled mackerel with wild fennel
If you are barbecuing on the beach, mackerel is the perfect fish to cook. Wild fennel is a prolific wild herb which can be found growing in most seaside locations. It's perfect for stuffing whole fish, or for chopping into a sauce, salad or dressing.
4 small mackerel, heads removed and gutted
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
2 handfuls of wild fennel
For the fennel salad
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, feathery fronds reserved
2tbsp good-quality cider vinegar
1tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil
First prepare the salad. Quarter the fennel bulb, then, using a mandolin or extremely sharp knife, shred it as finely as possible. Tip into a bowl, add the cider vinegar and some salt and white pepper, and toss to mix. Leave to stand for 30 minutes. Roughly chop the reserved fennel fronds.
Drain off most of the vinegar from the salad and add the rapeseed oil and chopped fennel fronds. Toss well.
Heat up the barbecue or ridged griddle pan. Score the mackerel 4 or 5 times across their width through the skin, season with salt and pepper and brush with a little oil. Stuff the wild fennel into the cavities. Cook the mackerel on the barbecue or griddle pan over a medium heat for 5-6 minutes on each side. Serve with the fennel salad.
I've used blueberries for this cheesecake, but you could also substitute raspberries, blackcurrants or strawberries.
200g caster sugar
For the base
250g digestive biscuits or Hobnobs
80g butter, melted
For the filling
300ml double cream
100g caster sugar
500g cream cheese, such as Philadelphia
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1tsp vanilla extract
Put 200g of the blueberries (use the softer ones) into a pan with the sugar and 175ml water. Slowly bring to the boil to dissolve the sugar, then simmer for 7-8 minutes. Mix the cornflour with the remaining 25ml water and add to the pan, stirring. Simmer, stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine sieve into a bowl, pushing the berries in the sieve with the back of a spoon to extract as much juice as possible. Leave to cool.
Meanwhile, line a 17-18cm round springform cake tin with greaseproof paper. Crush the biscuits in a food processor until they are the texture of coarse breadcrumbs. (Or smash them in a plastic bag with a rolling pin.) Mix the biscuit crumbs with the melted butter and pack into the cake tin, firming it down with the back of a spoon.
Whip the cream and sugar together until fairly stiff. In another bowl, beat the cream cheese to soften, then fold in the whipped cream with the lemon zest and vanilla extract. Lightly fold through half of the blueberry syrup (not too thoroughly, though, as you want a rippled effect). Spoon the mix on to the biscuit base and place in the fridge for 2-3 hours until firm.
Mix the rest of the blueberries with the remaining blueberry syrup. To take the cheesecake out, run a hot knife around the edge, then release the side of the tin and slide the cheesecake on to a board. Cut into slices and serve each portion topped with a couple of spoonfuls of the blueberry sauce.
Makes about 1 litre
Don't even think of making vanilla ice-cream on the cheap. For this recipe, you'll need lots of egg yolks and cream, plus a nice creamy milk such as Gold Top, Guernsey or Jersey to make the ice-cream rich and delicious.
400ml milk, such as Gold Top or Guernsey or Jersey
1 good quality vanilla pods
teaspoon vanilla extract
400ml Jersey or clotted cream, or a mixture of both
6 egg yolks
150g caster sugar
Put the milk into a heavy-based saucepan. Split the vanilla pods lengthways with a sharp knife and scrape out the seeds with the tip of the knife into the milk; add the spent pods, too. Slowly bring the milk to the boil, then remove from the heat.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl, then gradually pour on the hot milk, whisking well. Return to the pan and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, for about 5 minutes until slightly thickened, but don't let it boil.
Pour the custard into a bowl and whisk in the cream. Leave to cool, then churn in an ice-cream machine until thickened. Scoop into balls to serve.
Wild strawberry trifle
The trifle I remember as a kid consisted of tinned diced fruits and sherry-soaked sponge under a pile of Bird's Custard. Since then, I've discovered that trifle is an interesting, versatile dessert that can be adapted to take all sorts of fruits (preferably not tinned). Summer and autumn berries are perfect. Here, I've been a bit extravagant and used wild strawberries, but if you can't find any, just use ordinary British strawberries.
A trifle as delicate as this one doesn't need to be spiked with sherry, as the intense flavour of the strawberries in the jelly should shine through. I've even left out the sponge in this recipe and folded a bit of meringue into the cream topping, but you can put a sponge layer on the bottom if you like.
100-150g wild strawberries (or sliced ordinary strawberries)
For the jelly
150g ripe strawberries
80g caster sugar
6g leaf gelatine (2 sheets)
For the custard
300ml single cream
5 egg yolks
60g caster sugar
For the topping
250ml double cream
40g caster sugar
50-60g cooked meringue
For the jelly, put the water, strawberries and sugar into a pan, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, soak the gelatine in a shallow bowl of cold water for a minute or so until soft. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the strawberries through a fine sieve, pushing some of the pulp through. Squeeze out the water from the gelatine, then add to the hot strained syrup and stir until dissolved. Leave the jelly to cool, but do not let it set. Divide a quarter of the strawberries among four individual glass serving dishes or place in one large glass dish and pour over half of the cooled liquid jelly. Leave in the fridge to set. Repeat with another quarter of the strawberries and the rest of the jelly and leave to set.
Meanwhile, make the custard. Put the single cream into a small saucepan. Split the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape out the seeds with the point of a knife and add to the cream. Slowly bring to the boil, then remove from the heat and leave to infuse for about 10 minutes. In a bowl, mix the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour together.
Take out the vanilla pod and pour the cream on to the egg mixture, mixing well with a whisk. Return to the pan and cook gently over a low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens; don't let it boil. Remove from the heat and give it a final mix with a whisk. Transfer to a bowl, lay a sheet of clingfilm on the surface of the custard to prevent it forming a skin and leave to cool for about 30 minutes. Once the jelly has set, spoon the cooled custard evenly on top, then cover and leave to set in the fridge for half an hour or so.
For the topping, whip the double cream with the sugar in a bowl until fairly firm and put into the fridge until the custard on the trifle has set. Break the meringue into pieces and fold into the cream mixture. Spoon over the custard layer and then scatter the rest of the strawberries on top of the trifle.
Recipes from 'British Seasonal Food' by Mark Hix (published by Quadrille), £25. To order a copy at a special price, including p&p, call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897