June is here…and longed for summer has come…it almost seems to be the same sequence every year, first home grown strawberries that have always been an indication of the end of a school year (at least for me), the crops have grown showing their strength (giving high hopes for the bountiful harvest yet to come) releasing their particular recognisable smell and colours especially for those who have spent summers or at least some time in the countryside. Every year I wait for one of my favourite summer soups: polish “botwinka” that calls for beetroots grown in a particular way in my mother’s orchard accompanied by heaps of fresh dill that I can’t have enough of….freshly picked from the garden and chopped with its smell so addictive like no other herb.
I look out for the first cherries that become darker and sweeter day by day while sunbathing in the sun…..which after having been collected will end up in a “cherry clafoutis”….a classic French soft cake, just perfect for summer and early autumn fruit: raspberries, apricots, plums…
But there is nothing wrong about the repetitive sequence of the seasons that have always dictated what we eat (at least in those parts of the world where the supermarkets are not providing the same produce the whole year round or when we make our own choice of eating seasonal food). Moreover, waiting for summer, its flavours and summertime dishes using the ingredients at their best has something mesmerising and romantic about it.
As much as I enjoy eating and making the very well known summer classic desserts, cakes and puddings that I grew up with, I remain open to new flavour propositions that I come across whilst travelling or just living abroad. They are not better or worse, they are just bit different to what I got used to and play an equally important part in our diets.
In the past, I only used fresh rosemary for making savoury dishes, but one day I decided to combine these earthy flavours with a apricot and frangipane (a creamy almond filling) tart. The flavours just complement each other, they are delicate and not overpowering plus the apricots become so tender but still hold their shape.
Cooking with red and white wine is not purely reserved to meat and fish dishes or even risotto. A mixture of wine with spices (like cinnamon or cloves ), sugar, fresh herbs and orange zest (for example) cooked with fresh fruit: plums, peaches or pears enriches the fruit giving it a particular and delicate flavour derived from the choice of spices and herbs used.
Fresh rosemary again plays an important part in one of the plum desserts that I actually love serving anytime. My personal choiceI are plums that are still firm in texture. Cooking or baking them while already soft will result in a mushy texture and subsequent loss of their shape. Here is my version of plums baked in white wine with rosemary, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, orange and lemon zest.
Plums release more flavour through the heating and the spices enhance their taste.
The wine during the baking process will reduce and turn into a lovely dark coloured syrup that I sprinkle generously over the plums. But the full indulgence begins when I serve the plums with some whipped ricotta (or mascarpone cheese) with sugar.
Many years ago while spending an unforgettable summer holiday with a truly warm Italian household, I was introduced by a very dear and just wonderful person, Rita, to “Macedonia”.
A fruit dish thats success depends on the variety of the ingredients. There would always be apples, pears and bananas, as well as lemon and orange juice sweetened with a small amount of sugar to taste. To that base you can add all the seasonal fruit of your choice.
I sometimes add some fresh mint and whipped ricotta or mascarpone with a small amount of sugar to create a more decadent dessert that is just perfect for or taste.
According to some acclaimed food writers, peaches are the most beautiful and delicious of all fruits. Well, I will not disagree. I enjoy them mostly fresh, macerated in wine, added to “Macedonia” or used in cocktails.
There are very few cocktails that I enjoy drinking nowadays. They have to be simple, not overly complicated, well balanced and consist of good quality ingredients. When fresh fruit is used it should be ripe and naturally sweet, so there is no need for extra sugar and you can focus just on the flavour of the main ingredients. One of those cocktails, Bellini (that automatically means that peaches are used), is a wonderful example of a summer drink. A secret to a very good Bellini is the quality and choice of the peaches.
I would much rather wait and enjoy a Bellini using sweet, ripe and juicy peaches when they are in season which also adds to the romance of waiting for this simple yet delicious fresh summertime drink. The cocktail that was invented in Venice at Harry’s Bar in 1948 calls for fresh white peach (use yellow ones if white peaches are not available) flesh and Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine that is gaining in popularity and conquering the rest of Europe literally day by day. There are other “spumante, bollicine” (sparkling Italian wines) that can be used instead of Prosecco but I would avoid using champagne here. Prosecco is an easy, not very complex sparkling wine with a hint of sweetness that just perfectly matches the taste of a ripe white peach…