Health kick: Mark Hix creates easy dinner-party dishes using the pick of the summer's vegetables

Saturday 18 June 2011 00:00 BST

Summer presents the perfect opportunity to eat some light, healthy food and take advantage of some of the interesting vegetables that are around at this time of year. You can choose to create light dishes that can be served on their own or as an accompaniment to meat or fish.

The best way to find great vegetables is to scour your local farmer's market for produce or, if you're lucky enough, harvest your own crop from your garden. I should admit here that I have been on a bit of a health kick recently as I discovered that my cholesterol level has been a little high – and it's made me wonder why I haven't been more conscious about the importance of healthy eating in the past.

Barbecued cuttlefish with broad beans, bacon and flat-leaved parsley

Serves 4

I'm determined to get the general public eating more cuttlefish and it's a real shame that so few fishmongers actually offer it to us. Cuttlefish is even more abundant in our waters than squid – and tastes somewhere between octopus and squid. So come on, fishmongers, start buying cuttlefish for all our summer barbecues and save our squid!

250g cleaned weight of cuttlefish
A 150g piece of rindless smoked bacon cut into cm-1cm chunks (or buy pre-cut pancetta or bacon pieces)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little vegetable or corn oil for brushing
150-160g podded weight of broad beans, cooked (any large ones shelled)
A handful of flat-leaved parsley

For the dressing

The juice of 1 small lemon
2-3tbsp olive oil

Lightly score the cuttlefish with lines about 1cm apart with a sharp knife. Put the bacon in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of minutes, then drain.

Heat a little of the vegetable oil in a frying pan and cook the bacon on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, turning them as they are cooking, until crisp. Drain on some kitchen paper.

Preheat a barbecue or ribbed griddle pan, season the cuttlefish and brush with a little oil. Cook for about 1 -2 minutes on each side and about 4-5 minutes for the tentacles, then transfer to a chopping board.

Cut the cuttlefish into 2cm chunks and toss in a bowl with the bacon, broad beans, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil. Season and serve.

Vegetable casserole with artichokes, fennel, peas, broad beans and leeks

Serves 4

If you're expecting vegetarian guests for dinner, they would be very happy with this dish as a starter. This is also delicious served with fish. You can use whatever young summer vegetables you like from the selection below or you could also add cooked globe artichokes or young carrots.

200ml or so of vegetable stock
4 bulbs of baby fennel
80g podded weight of peas
100-120g podded weight of broad beans
6-8 young leeks

For the sauce

2 medium shallots, peeled, finely chopped
100ml dry white wine
1tbsp double cream
180-200g cold unsalted butter, diced
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1tbsp chopped chives
Any green ferns from the fennel, chopped
Lemon juice (optional)

Cook the fennel in the vegetable stock until tender; remove with a slotted spoon to a plate. Use the same water to cook the peas, broad beans and leeks, reserving the stock. Remove the outer skin from the large broad beans if you wish and halve or quarter the fennel bulbs depending on the size, or leave them whole.

To make the sauce, put the shallots in a pan with the wine and the reserved stock, bring to the boil and simmer until there is about a tablespoon of the liquid left. Add the cream, bring back to the boil, remove from the heat and whisk in the butter until the sauce is emulsified. Season to taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice if you wish. To serve, gently heat the vegetables in the sauce with the chives and fennel tops, but don't boil the sauce as it may separate. Serve in deep soup plates or pasta-type bowls.

Duck livers and summer vegetables

Serves 4

Duck or chicken livers make good-value starters and main courses and they also contain a lot of protein. Avoid buying frozen livers as they can be mushy – which is fine for pâté but when you cook them on their own you need them to be firm. Make sure you remove any green sacs and sinew from the livers with a sharp knife.

250g duck livers, trimmed
50g butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
60g podded weight of peas, cooked
80-100g podded weight of broad beans, cooked with the large ones shelled
8 or so baby leeks, cooked
Some small salad leaves

For the dressing

1tbsp cider vinegar
1tsp Dijon or Tewksbury mustard
3-4tbsp olive or rapeseed oil

Season the livers, heat the butter in a heavy or non-stick frying pan until it begins to foam and cook the livers on a medium heat for a couple of minutes or so on each side, keeping them nice and pink; then transfer on to some kitchen paper.

Whisk the ingredients together for the dressing and toss with the vegetables and the salad leaves in a bowl, season and arrange on serving plates. You can keep the livers whole or slice them and arrange on the vegetables.

Pea and leek fritters

Serves 4-6

Pea fritters are a bit of a rare sight these days except when you come across them in the odd fish and chip shop. Traditionally they would have been made with marrowfat or mushy pea leftovers but using fresh or frozen peas works equally as well.

You can serve these as snacks with drinks or as an accompaniment to meat or fish dishes, or even as a starter with a mayonnaise-based sauce.

150g podded weight of peas
1tsp caster sugar
60g butter
1 medium leek, trimmed, halved, finely shredded and washed and dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for frying

For the batter

3tbsp Doves Farm gluten-free self-raising flour, or just self-raising flour
About 150ml beer or cider to mix

Cook the peas in boiling salted water with the sugar for 8-10 minutes until well cooked, then drain and blend in a food processor until smooth.

Transfer into a piece of muslin or a clean cloth and squeeze out any excess water. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pan, add the leeks, season and gently cook on a medium heat for a couple of minutes, stirring every so often. Transfer to a bowl, mix with the peas and season. Line a tray with clingfilm and spoon heaped teaspoon-sized pieces of the mixture on to the tray. Place in the fridge for a couple of hours or so, until set. You can give them a blast in the freezer if you wish to speed up the process. To make the batter, mix enough beer or cider with the flour in a bowl to make a fairly thick batter; season.

Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or an electric deep-fat fryer. Carefully, with a spoon, drop the pea mixture into the batter then remove and drop straight into the hot oil, a few at a time, turning them with a slotted spoon for a couple of minutes until golden; then remove and drain on some kitchen paper.

Mark Hix has just been awarded the Evelyn Rose Award for Cookery Journalist of the Year by the Guild of Food Writers

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