Do you like oysters? For me it was love at first sight. Or even love before first sight. People seem to eat oysters all the time in books and I was sure I was going to do the same. The sound of the word 'oyster', together with a somewhat vague idea of what an oyster could be, always resulted in serious oyster cravings. I saw myself enjoying an oyster platter and a bottle of fine champagne in a noisy Parisian restaurant. Do I need to mention that I was about 11 at the time?
I have a history of craving the unknown and it hasn't always been a success path. The same crazy feeling responsible for my love towards oysters, made me think that roasted chestnuts and I were made for each other. My first time with chestnuts turned out to be a bitter disapointment - they tasted like potatoes. Don't get me wrong, I love potatoes with all my heart. But I excpected something more from chestnuts. I like chestnuts, but it's a relationship without fireworks.
Oysters, however, that's another story. I have instantly fallen in love with their delicate texture and the briny taste of the sea. I usually eat them simple, with a dash of lemon juice. The mignonette sauce is a traditional condiment for oysters, made of shallots, vinegar and black pepper. Try a platter of oysters with mignonette, a fresh loaf of bread and champagne (prosecco or cava will do) or beer. It's better than chestnuts and better than potatoes.
Recipe: Oysters with mignonette sauce
Serves: 2 (or one eager oyster lover)
6 fresh oysters
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/4 cup apple vinegar
one tsp frehs thyme leaves
1/2 tsp freshly crushed black pepper
1/2 tsp brown sugar
a pinch of salt
Combine all the ingredients of the sauce and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours.
My version of custard is thick and sweet. The texture of chilled dessert resembles creme brulee. Baked with a a handful of summer berries, it's a perfect treat for the end of summer. I went for a mixture of raspberries, blueberries and blackberries to break the sweetness of the cream.
Recipe: Baked custard with summer berries
250 ml heavy cream
3 egg yolks
4 tbsp sugar
a handful summer berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries)
Heat cream and sugar in a small saucepan until almost boiling.
Set aside and let cool slightly.
With an electric mixer, beat the eggs with sugar until thick and pale, but not fluffy.
Gradually whisk cream into egg mixture.
Again, try not to incorporate too much air into the mixture. It should be smooth and glossy
Divide the batter between two shallow baking dishes.
Bake at 100C for 20 minutes.
Top with berries and bake for another 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven, let cool and refrigerate for at least and hour before serving.
You can also enjoy the dessert hot or warm.
The perfect dessert: quick, pretty and delicious. Ideal for garden parties and rooftop dinners. Meringues and summer berries are a match made in heaven - in terms of looks as well as taste. Trust me and invite your friends for this delectable meringe pots.
Recipe: Summer berries meringues
1/2 cup raspberries
1/2 cup blueberries
tsp cane sugar
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Combine berries with sugar and cardamom.
Place them in four ramekins.
2 egg whites
100 g sugar
tsp corn starch
tsp white wine vinegar
Beat the egg whites until stiff.
Beating, gradually add sugar.
Add vinegar and potato starch and continue beating for 2-3 minures.
Pile the meringue on top of the fruit and swirl on top.
Bake for about 15 minutes, until the meringue is puffy and golden.
The Victoria sponge was name after Queen Victoria, who enjoyed a slice of cake with her afternoon tea. It is still one of the most popular cakes in the UK. The traditional version consists of two sponges, layered with whipped cream and raspberry or strawberry preserve. If you top it up with some seasonal fruit and serve with a glass of champagne instead of a cup of tea, it truly becomes a royal dessert. You can increase the number of sponges (I made four) to make it even more queenly. Multi-storey Victoria sponge is a frequent guest at British weddings.
Recipe: Summer Victoria Sponge Cake
400 g flour
200 g sugar
400 g soft butter
3 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
4 tbsp milk
You will need two baking tins: 20cm and 18cm.
Obviously, if you happen to have four tin, that's even better.
Preheat the oven to 190C.
Line both tins with parchment paper.
Mix half of the ingredients to makea soft, smooth batter.
Divide the mixture between the tins, smooth the surface with a spoon.
Bake for about 20 minutes
Remove from the oven and cool completely.
Having removed the sponges from the tins, repeat everything.
You should end up with two larger and two smaller sponges.
Arrange the sponges on top of each other, adding layers of whipped cream and strawberry preserve in-between.
Roasted vegetables are great as a light lunch or dinner. Try roasted asparagus with basil and sea salt pesto, baby artichokes with feta dip and round courgettes with cherry tomato sauce.
Surely, they would be even greater, if grilled and consumed in a garden, by the lake or in a park. Unfortunately, that is not always possible. For instance, one might not have a garden, a lake or a grill. Unexpected rain can also disrupt an al fresco dinner. Another reason could be a group of wasps.
It was during my sailing holidays in Croatia. I have spend the entire day gutting fish, squid and octopus that I'd bought on a market, geatting ready for a BBQ evening. When we'd finally managed to find a picturesque little bay and tie up the boat, we realised there were countless wasps coming to our yacht and we had to run away. We ended up staying in a marina where barbecueing was not permitted and I had to make the squid and octopus in the oven.
What lesson can be learned from this story? Probably the fact that anything that you might want to barbecue, you can also make in the oven. It doesn't always work the other way around, but in this case it does - I have prepare these recipes for the oven, but you can make the vegetables on the grill too.
Recipe: Roasted asparagus with basil and sea salt pesto
a bunch asparagus
one tsp. olive oil
Recipe: Basil and sea salt pesto
one cup basil leaves
1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
Blend basil with olive oil.
Add salt, combine.
Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Trim asparagus' ends. Coat asparagus with olive oil.
Roast at 180C for about 20 minutes.
Serve with pesto.
Recipe: Roasted artichokes with sizzling feta dip
4-6 baby artichokes
one tsp olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
one tsp lemon zest
Recipe: Sizzling feta dip
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
tsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
Prepare a bowl with cold water with lemon juice. To prevent artichokes from discoloration, keep the cut ones in the bow before you're ready to roast them.
Cut the stalks off the artichoke. Pull off the tough leaves. Cut the artichoke in half. Spoon out the inner leaves and the fuzzy choke. Very young artichokes might not have the choke.
Combine oil and lemon juice, coast artichokes with the mixture. Place them in a baking dish and top with lemon zest.
Roast at 200C for aboit 25 mintes.
Combine feta with oil and lemon juice.
Place in a ramekin and bake with the artichokes for 20 minutes.
Recipe: Roasted round courgettes with roasted tomatoes sauce
4 round courgettes
1/2 tsp chili flakes
tsp olive oil
Recipe: Roasted tomatoes sauce
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
tsp brown sugar
a pinch of salt
Cut the tomatoes in halves and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and sugar.
Roast at 150C for about 45 minutes.
Cool down and blend.
Cut the courgettes in halves and coat with oil. Place them in a baking dish and top with chili flakes.