AND am loving these midsummer days in the kitchen. Cooking feels suddenly easier and more relaxed; lunches are often longer, dinner less urgent. I make food that can be eaten hot or warm, that fits in with the slower pace of life. No one will be demanding that you come to the table “now”.
The bowls of preserved artichokes at the deli counter are a wonderful thing to have in the fridge. (You can make your own if you have artichokes in the garden and all day to fiddle with them.) In our house they may find themselves dipped in tempura batter and then dunked in deep, bubbling oil or else browned on the grill; they are sometimes mashed with lemon and torn basil leaves to give an effortless pasta sauce, or whizzed to a purée to spread on crisp, thick toast. This week I grilled some from the deli and ate them with waxy potatoes I had baked in oil and the faintest hint of garlic.
I am making the most of our short cherry season. One week in a crumble-topped pie, the next cooked with elderflower cordial and anise. This was offered to all with freshly baked orange shortbreads – tiny sugar-encrusted cookies to dunk in the claret-colored cherry juice.
This is a meal to be eaten at ease, just as good cool as straight from the oven. A lunch made for these lazy summer days, a calm and tender moment before the scorching heat of late summer.
Artichokes with olive oil potatoes
I use yellow, waxy potatoes for this, but any small potato is fine. Keep the skins on and cut the potatoes into coins that will soak up the olive oil and its seasoning. If you don’t have fennel fronds, use whole thyme sprigs instead. Serves 3-4
potatoes 750g, small and waxy
olive oil 6 tbsp
fennel 10g, stems and fronds
garlic 1 large clove
preserved artichokes 250g
Preheat the oven to 200 / gas mark 6. Wash the potatoes, then slice them into rounds about as thick as a £ 1 coin and put them in a mixing bowl. Pour in the olive oil and season with salt and black pepper.
Chop the stems of the fennel and put them, together with the fronds, in the bowl. Peel and crush the garlic clove, add to the potatoes, then mix well. I find this easier using my hands, but a spoon will do. Tip everything into a roasting tin or shallow baking dish.
Thinly slice the lemon and tuck among the potatoes. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the potatoes are golden on top and soft enough to pierce effortlessly with a skewer.
Get a grill or griddle pan hot. Drain the artichokes of their oil. If they are whole, then cut them in half. Place the artichokes, cut side down, on the griddle and let them heat through and brown lightly on the cut edges. It will help if you press down firmly on each one.
Lay the artichokes on top of the potatoes and bring to the table.
Elderflower cherries with orange shortbreads
I like to dip my shortbreads in the cherry syrup as I eat. Serves 4
star anise 3, whole
granulated sugar 125g
elderflower cordial 125ml
Pull the stems from the cherries. Put the fruit into a stainless-steel saucepan. Using a vegetable peeler, slice a couple of thin strips of peel from the orange, slice away any white pith that may have come with it and drop the peel into the pan. Add the star anise, then sugar, the elderflower cordial and the water, and bring to the boil. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cherries and simmer for 8-10 minutes until the fruit is soft.
Remove the cherries with a draining spoon and set aside in a bowl, then turn up the heat and let the cooking juices boil for 4-5 minutes until they have thickened to a syrup. Pour over the cherries and set aside. The fruit will keep, refrigerated and in a storage jar for several days.
Orange shortbread biscuits
Makes about 30 small biscuits
butter 180g, softened
icing sugar 180g
plain flour 340g
baking powder 2 level tsp
egg yolk 1, large
orange zest 2 tsp finely grated
orange juice 1-2 tbsp
caster sugar to roll
Line a baking sheet with parchment. Set the oven at 160C / gas mark 3.
Put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat to a soft cream with a wooden spoon, or else in a food mixer fitted with a flat beater, if you prefer.
Mix the flour, cornflour and baking powder together. Stir the egg yolk into the butter and sugar, then mix in the flour, orange zest and juice. Work gently and take care not to overmix.
Remove the dough from the bowl and knead lightly on a floured board. Do this briefly, as over-working will toughen the biscuits. You just want a smooth dough. Break off pieces about 18-20g in weight and roll them into balls.
Tip a little caster sugar into a small bowl and roll each ball in sugar, then place on the lined baking sheet, giving them a little room to spread.
Bake the shortbread for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven. They will have barely colored and will be very fragile. Let them cool for 5 minutes, then lift them off the tray with a palette knife and roll them in more of the caster sugar. Offer them with the cherries.
The shortbreads will keep in a tin for several days, though are best eaten on the day they are baked.
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