Now truly is a lovely time of the year, as the floodgates of summer foods are well and truly open and produce is pouring in daily. There are courgettes, aubergines, artichokes and fennel, fresh herbs, salads and whisper-thin French beans. There are young, brightly coloured beetroots, perfect for roasting, and tomatoes are dripping from the vine. All these foods are bursting with freshness and only restricted in their use by the imagination of the cook.
July is also the best month of the year for soft fruits, berries and currants. It is PYO (pick your own) time, too. So there’s no excuse for hanging out with the Sunday papers when an outing to a local farm, an afternoon of fresh air and exercise and a bountiful basket of jewels to bring home beckons.
And what to do with this bounty once home? To capture the best of these luscious fruits, they should be dealt with as quickly as possible. Most freeze well, with the exception of strawberries, apricots and cherries, which are best eaten or cooked soon after picking. So if there’s no time for the jam pan, get out the freezer bags instead.
Fat, hairy gooseberries can be washed and thrown in a saucepan with a good splash of white wine and sugar. Cover with a lid and cook just until you hear them pop. Eat with a generous dollop of whipped cream or warm custard, or freeze.
And if you are put off beetroot by memories of limp slices swimming in a bath of vinegar, you’ll change your perceptions after trying these two delicious recipes.
Oven Roasted Beetroot
Roasting brings out the full sweetness and nutrition of beetroot.
8 tennis-ball size, fresh beetroots
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp Maldon or sea salt
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Preheat the oven to 200°C
Wash the beetroot carefully under cold running water and pat dry with kitchen paper. Cut away leaves, leaving at least 1” of stalk.
Place the beets in a large, roomy roasting tin, sprinkle with the olive oil, roll the beetroots in the oil then sprinkle with the salt and the thyme.
Bake in the preheated oven for 40–45 minutes or until the beets are soft but not shrunken. Leave to cool, rub the skin away with a piece of kitchen paper, cut away the root and stalks and use as desired.
Roasted beetroots work well with soft goat’s cheese and seasonal greens; in a salad; gently warmed and served on pasta with fresh rocket; or as a side dish with any meat. They are also delicious simply on their own with an extra drizzle of olive oil. Yum.
Pea, Beetroot, Roasted Red Pepper and Goat’s Cheese Tart
Plain flour for dusting
500g ready made puff pastry
1 free-range egg, lightly beaten
100g peas, shelled
100g ready cooked red peppers in oil, drained
100g goat’s cheese, crumbled
100g cooked or roast beetroot, cut into chunks
Small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, picked
4tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1tbsp Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C
Lightly dust a work surface with the flour. Roll out the puff pastry to 4mm thick. Cut out 4 discs with an 11.5cm round pastry cutter. Lightly score around the pastry discs 1cm away from the edge, trying not to cut through the pastry.
Brush with the beaten egg, place on a non-stick baking tray and cook for 20 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Remove the inner part with a small knife.
While the pastry is cooking, bring a pan of salted water to the boil, cook the peas for 2 minutes, drain and refresh under cold water for another minute, drain and set aside.
Cut the peppers into thick slices and place into a medium-sized bowl with the peas, goat’s cheese, beetroot and parsley.
In a small bowl, mix together the extra virgin olive oil and Balsamic vinegar, add 2 tbsp to the vegetables and goat’s cheese, season with salt and pepper and mix well.
Place the pastry discs on 4 plates and fill with the vegetables and goat’s cheese, drizzle the rest of the dressing around the plates and serve.
Based on a recipe from LoveBeetroot.co.uk