Tutti frutti

Pick up a punnet of berries and get your creative juices flowing in the kitchen, says Mark Hix
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Indy Lifestyle Online

You see them all year round, but so often they're just for show. Don't be fooled into thinking they'll taste of anything until the time is right. A strawberry is not a strawberry unless it's red all the way through and bursts with juice and flavour in your mouth.

You see them all year round, but so often they're just for show. Don't be fooled into thinking they'll taste of anything until the time is right. A strawberry is not a strawberry unless it's red all the way through and bursts with juice and flavour in your mouth.

Each variety of summer berry has its own individual and delicate little rush of flavour, and right now the tastiest and most colourful ones are ripe and ready. Of course you can cook with them, but as often as not I prefer them au naturel. In fact they often taste best straight from the plant. Ask any child let loose in a pick-your-own field - or let their sheepish red faces be the proof that no one can resist a ripe berry warmed by the sun eaten seconds after picking.

A fruit farm (look up www.pick-your-own. org.uk or www.farmshopping.com, or call 0845 230 2150 for your nearest) will offer a variety of fruits for the picking and is a great way to gather berries for jams, parties or for the freezer. Keep them for my quick dinner-party fix - frozen berries with hot white chocolate sauce.

It's a shame, though, that the arrival of the first of the season's berries just doesn't seem as exciting as it did only a decade ago. Fruit, vegetables and herbs are available all year round now. You can pop them in your shopping trolley any month of the year and be totally oblivious to the seasons. Unfortunately there's little we can do to stop this trend except go to farmers' markets and local reliable shops.

Some restaurants add gratuitous little piles of raspberries to your dessert (with the obligatory mint leaf and delicate dusting of icing sugar) just to look pretty. A season-conscious restaurant will offer you a bowl of raspberries when they are at their best with a spoonful of raspberry sorbet or thick cream to help them down. Wouldn't you rather eat berries when they're in their prime and full of flavour than have them all year round tasting of nothing.

Raspberry flummery

Serves 4

Researching this weirdly named and sadly neglected dessert of milk thickened with some sort of starch only produced confusion about how to make it. With so many variations in even the most trustworthy cook books, I decided I'd better do my own thing. From my collection of old recipes, the one that made most sense came from Food in Vogue, published in 1976. It called for a base of semolina, rather than oats as used in many of the older books, and has a thick custard poured over the top made from the spare yolks. I do like recipes that use the whole egg, otherwise what do you do with the rest? Make meringue, I suppose.

150ml milk
A small piece of lemon peel
2tbsp caster sugar
1tbsp semolina
100g raspberries
3 egg whites

for the custard

60ml milk
50ml double cream
A few drops of vanilla essence
3 egg yolks
1tbsp caster sugar
1tsp cornflour

Bring the milk to the boil with the lemon peel and 1 tablespoon of the caster sugar, then whisk in the semolina and stir occasionally on a low heat with the whisk for 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and leave to cool.

While it's cooling make the custard. Bring the milk and cream to the boil with the vanilla essence. Meanwhile whisk the egg yolks, caster sugar and cornflour together, then pour on the just-boiled milk and cream and whisk together. Return to the pan and stir over a low heat for a couple of minutes until the mixture thickens. Transfer to a clean bowl and cover the surface of the custard with a sheet of clingfilm to stop a skin forming.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff (preferably in a food processor; first clean the bowl with boiling water and dry with kitchen paper or a clean tea towel.) Then add the other tablespoon of caster sugar and continue whisking for a couple of minutes until shiny.

When the semolina is cool, give it a quick whisk and gently fold into the egg whites until well mixed, then fold in the raspberries. Spoon the mixture into 4 moulds, such as soufflé rings or ramekins, or pour into serving f glasses until two-thirds full. If the mould is open-bottomed put them on a tray lined with clingfilm first.

Leave to set in the fridge for a couple of hours. To serve remove the moulds and transfer the flummery to serving plates and spoon over the custard so that it just coats it. If you're serving the flummery in glasses, just spoon the custard on top.

Lamb salad with redcurrants

Serves 4

I don't normally get off on meat and fruit combos, but some fruits do have an affinity with meat - apples with pork and orange with duck, for example. Redcurrant jelly goes with roast lamb, of course, but these currants look better than they taste, and there's not a lot else you can do with them apart from adding a few to a summer pudding. I thought combining these acidic berries with lamb in a salad would make a nice change for a hot summer's day. For this recipe the cut I'd use would be the fillets under the saddle, as they cook in a couple of minutes and just melt in your mouth. You only get two small fillets of about 100g each per animal, so your butcher may not have them. The trimmed eye of meat from the best end or saddle, or even the rump, will work well instead - although either of these will take a little longer to cook.

8 lamb under fillets or alternative cuts (as above) weighing 250-280g each
60-80g extra fine French beans, cooked in boiling salted water for 3 minutes and drained
60-80g corn salad (lambs lettuce) or similar
40g redcurrants, removed from the stalks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying

for the dressing

1tbsp good quality red wine vinegar, such as cabernet sauvignon
5tbsp olive oil

If you can't get really fine French beans you can tear thicker ones in half lengthways down the natural seam to make the salad a little more delicate. Season the lamb fillets, heat about a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a frying pan until almost smoking and fry them for about 1 minute on each side, then transfer to a plate to catch any juices.

Whisk the vinegar, oil and lamb juices together and season. Put the corn salad, beans and redcurrants into a bowl and toss with half of the dressing, then arrange on four plates. Slice the lamb thinly and arrange the slices on the salad then scatter over the redcurrants.

Pavlova with summer fruits

Serves 4

There has always been some confusion as to the origin of the Pavlova. The Australians claim it was created in 1935 by Herbert Sachse, head chef of the Esplanade Hotel in Perth, and named after the Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, who toured New Zealand and Australia in 1926. A contemporary Australian author conceded that the actual dish had made a prior appearance in New Zealand as early as 1919, but suggested it was named in Australia. It all sounds a bit of a palaver to me for a meringue nest filled with cream and fruit, but Pavlova does have a better ring to it.

An important note on making meringue: the bowl and whisk must be absolutely clean as the slightest evidence of fat will prevent the whites from whipping to a stiff consistency. Clean your bowl and whisk with boiling water and washing detergent and rinse well before making meringue.

for the meringue

3 egg whites
100g caster sugar
1tsp cornflour
1tsp white wine vinegar

to serve

200ml double cream
A few drops of good quality vanilla essence
1tbsp caster sugar
200-250g mixed berries - the best and ripest you can find

Pre-heat the oven to 120°C/gas mark 1. In a mixing machine with a whisk attachment or by hand (though this will take a while), whisk the egg whites until stiff. Add the caster sugar and continue whisking until they are really stiff and shiny. Add the cornflour and vinegar and whisk again for about 30 seconds. Spoon the mixture on to a clean baking tray, lined with silicone or greaseproof paper, into 4 round domes, making an indentation with the back of the spoon in the middle of each. Alternatively make one big meringue.

Cook in the oven for 1 12 hours so the meringue is crisp on the outside and soft in the middle, but don't let the outside colour - you want it nice and white. You may need to cook it a little longer depending on your oven. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Meanwhile whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla essence. To serve, hollow out the meringues by carefully pushing the centre in with the back of a spoon to make room for the cream. Fill the cavity with cream and scatter over the berries. If you like, blend some of the berries to make a sauce to drizzle over.

Prosecco granita with strawberries

Serves 4

You have probably discovered what happens when you try to cool down a bottle of wine or champagne quickly by shoving it in the freezer then forgetting about it until the following morning. Well now you know how well wine freezes, why not do it deliberately (and without the broken glass) to make a dessert?

Granitas can be made with all sorts of fruit purées mixed with water and sugar depending on their sweetness. I have added just enough water and sugar to the prosecco not to destroy the flavour and make it too sweet.

400ml prosecco
100ml water
60g sugar
200-250g strawberries

Bring the water to the boil and add the sugar, remove from the heat and leave to cool. Mix with the prosecco and pour to a depth of 2-3cm into a flat, steel or Pyrex tray - something that won't crack when it freezes. Put into the freezer and give it a stir every 30 minutes or so until it's slushy. This could take anything up to 3 hours depending on your freezer, so don't make it before you go to bed, unless you're having trouble sleeping.

Serve the granita spooned into iced bowls or plates (chill them in the freezer) with the strawberries on top.

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