Salads and chilled soups are my solution to avoiding having to cook during a heatwave. Big, multi-textural salads with grains like cous cous, bulgar and barley, roasted and boiled vegetables, sometimes nuts, olives, capers and interesting dressings like creamed feta or orange and lemon vinaigrette. Roasted tomato halves are something to get ahead with early in the morning; they are endlessly useful in salads and picnic sandwiches, as well as with pasta. I’ve become a past master at Al Desko salads made mainly with leftovers; peas, a few beans, scraps from a roast, pickled cucumber and black olives, chicken, lettuce and cherry tomatoes, usually with a halved hard-boiled egg and dollops of mayonnaise. The idea is to make the box look colourful and attractive, be filling but not too filling, with plenty of textures and flavours going on. A cooling jar of a chilled soup, often one of the salad soups like Gazpacho with Trimmings or my faux version No Fuss Gazpacho by liquidizing tomatoes, cucumber, garlic and red pepper with a handful of breadcrumbs, chilled water, even ice cubes, with a generous splash of olive oil. I’ve been cheating with Brindisa’s excellent version in a carton, introduced by one of my sons on a pic-nic. This is particularly good with a shot of vodka. Either way, be sure to chill gazpacho thoroughly and for slick, smooth finish like the Brindisa version, pass the soup through a sieve to catch pips and pith. I always, de-seed the peppers, peel the cucumber, halve it lengthways and scrape out the seeds. I picked up a neat trick for speeding up the sieving business from Glynn Christian’s useful new book, Kitchen Hacks and Hints: 350 tips. Glynn suggests using the bowl of a soup ladle to work the sieve rather than pounding away as I usually do with a wooden spoon.
Firing up the barbecue for al fresco supper in the garden or park is the usual route for food in a heat wave, but someone has to tend the fire. To avoid flare-ups, be sure to reach white ash stage before the cooking begins. Kebabs cook quickly but langoustine, neatly lined up and soon turned is always a treat and so are raw prawns stretched out and threaded on kebab sticks. Both take moments and are delicious with a squeeze of lemon and dollop of mayonnaise with a leaf salad and maybe another of tomatoes. Oily fish like sardines and mackerel suit bbq cooking, both needing nothing more than a generous squeeze of lemon and crusty bread and butter. Mediterranean vegetables like long slices of courgette and strips of red pepper burnished on the bbq are quickly turned into a colourful salad with a crumble of feta cheese, capers and garlicky vinaigrette. This combination becomes a meal rather than a side dish by adding a sachet of cooked Puy lentils tossed with a couple of tablespoons of vinaigrette and chunks of boiled beetroot. Or by bulking it up with torn roast chicken or cooked prawns. Cous Cous hydrated with a squeeze of lemon and splash of olive oil will bring flavor to a blank canvas, perfect for building instant salad suppers. I like masses of peppery chopped rocket or watercress, leftover boiled potatoes, chopped tomatoes, peas, prawns or chicken, adding a mixture of chopped herbs. A few mint or dill leaves will lift the flavours spectacularly. Think mezze, raiding the deli counter building up meals with cold cuts, luscious tomato salads, olives, white cheeses and a pot of pesto to add excitement. Make diy fruit salad platters, strawberries, raspberries, chunks of melon or pineapple, decorate with sprigs of mint and serve with thick yoghurt and a quickly made soft fruit sauce, also good with ice cream from the freezer.
Here’s a few other super-simple, quick and easy summer recipes; Fresh Crab on Toast, Chicken Escalope with Guacomole, Fusilli Prawns with Peas, Roast Butternut Squash with Tomato Vinaigrette and Greek Feta and all time favourites, Leeks Vinaigrette with Egg, Piedmontese Peppers, A Simple Potato Salad and Smoked Mackerel and Lemon Potato Salad when I tell you why you should be looking out for Cornish Early potatoes.