As the evenings get lighter, the daffodils bloom and it’s occasionally warm enough to go outside without a scarf and gloves, it’s time to turn your attention to the approach of a long-awaited summer.
Now is the time to get ready for all of those hot-weather throw-together feasts, to prepare yourself for lazy evenings gathered around the barbecue coals and to ensure your kitchen is prepped and ready for summer. Stocking up on a few time-saving ingredients and preparing a few recipes in advance will make your life easier when the sun really starts to shine, enabling you to make the most of it and spend your time outside, not slaving away over the hob. Many of these recipes can be frozen or will last in the cupboard for ages, and can form the basis of delicious, easy meals for friends and family. Enjoy these time-saving ideas, knowing that summer is only a few weeks away.
Stock up on these time-saving ingredients:
Jars of roasted peppers, artichokes, olives and soft cheeses in oil and herbs can be the basis of a wonderfully relaxed summer dinner. Just add some good bread, a bottle of wine and a green salad and you have a Mediterranean-style feast. These keep for ages in the cupboard, so are useful to have around. They can also be used in salads: try boiled new potatoes with roasted artichokes, marinated olives, soft boiled eggs and watercress, with (optional) bacon and a mustardy vinaigrette, or roasted peppers with chickpeas (see below), griddled aubergine, feta and fresh mint.
Endlessly versatile: blitz these into a quick hummus with garlic, lemon juice, tahini and olive oil, or roast them with spices for a quick starter, or use them as the basis of a hearty and punchy salad with roasted peppers, goat’s cheese or feta, and rocket. They’re great for bulking up stews and curries for unexpected guests, too.
Feta and halloumi
These two cheeses keep for months in the fridge, unopened, and can also be turned into a delicious meal in minutes. Halloumi is best simply pan-fried with a squeeze of lemon, and is excellent served with a chickpea salad, or roasted vegetables. Feta also works well with all vegetables, and is very good with lamb and chicken. Both cheeses can turn a salad into a substantial main course, or can be served as a starter or part of a mezze selection.
Buy when on offer in the supermarket (try and look for sustainably sourced seafood) and freeze for a summer’s evening. They defrost quickly, and then just need to be quickly pan-fried or threaded onto skewers for the barbecue. Prawns have so much flavour that you don’t need to do much to them – a quick dip in garlic, lemon juice and smoked paprika is ideal. Serve simply with an avocado salad, or a satay sauce.
Olive oils and fruit vinegars
A good olive oil or vinegar can make or break a summer salad, and salad season is a great time to get experimental. Nut oils like hazelnut or walnut are excellent in salads to serve with cheeses, particularly when combined with mustard in a vinaigrette. Garlic-infused olive oil is a useful thing to have around, adding a drizzle of instant flavour to pasta dishes, roasted vegetables and potatoes. Rapeseed oil is a good all-rounder, particularly because it’s much better for cooking and roasting than olive oil as it has a higher smoke point. Raspberry vinegar is an excellent store cupboard ingredient, adding an unusual twist to goat’s cheese salads, duck dishes and even desserts – try a drop on strawberries with a pinch of sugar, or add a little to a summer berry compote to serve with sponge cakes or meringues.
Prepare these useful recipes in advance:
Blitz pitted black olives, garlic, lemon juice and thyme with some olive oil (and a couple of salted anchovy fillets, if you like) to a coarse paste for an instant dip packed with flavour. Wonderful on its own with crudités or bread, but also excellent served with lamb or chicken.
Homemade bread without the wait: mix 500g flour (I use a mix of wholemeal and white), 100g rolled oats, 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl. Rub in 25g cubed butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Pour in 400-500ml buttermilk or natural yoghurt loosened with milk to form a soft, slightly sticky dough. Shape into a round, cut a deep cross in the loaf and bake at 180C for 35 minutes. Leave to cool then enjoy sweet or savoury: it’s fabulous with jam or marmalade, but also excellent with strong cheeses and chutney, or smoked salmon and horseradish. Soda bread freezes very well, and can be defrosted quickly as the basis of a meal or to serve alongside soups, especially if you freeze it in slices or chunks.
Smoked salmon or mackerel pate
Good with the soda bread above, and also freezes well. Blitz hot-smoked salmon or mackerel fillets in a food processor with cream cheese, chopped dill, lemon zest and juice and lots of black pepper, seasoning to taste. Freeze in small tubs. This makes a good starter or light lunch with bread or a baked potato.
Roast tomato and pepper soup
A good freezer standby, and very summery. Roast halved tomatoes and peppers on a baking tray until caramelized and soft. Soften an onion in a large pan, add the roasted vegetables, cover with stock and simmer for a few minutes. Season with fresh herbs (thyme and basil are good), then blitz in a blender until smooth.
Always useful to have in the freezer for almost-instant summer desserts. Rub together 160g plain flour and 80g cold butter. Stir in 80g demerara sugar, a pinch of salt, 80g rolled oats or chopped nuts, and a little ground cinnamon or ginger (this is enough for a crumble for four people). Freeze in containers to be scattered over fruit and baked – try with strawberries and rhubarb, apple and summer berries, or pear and chocolate.
These keep well in the cupboard for a couple of weeks, or ages in the freezer, in an airtight container, so can be made in advance for quick pavlovas and summer berry desserts – simply serve with whipped cream and fruit. Whisk four large egg whites to soft peaks using an electric whisk (you should be able to lift the bowl above your head without the mixture moving). Whisk in 110g caster sugar, a third at a time, until the mixture is thick and glossy. Sift in 110g icing sugar, a third at a time, folding in using a large spoon between additions. Dollop the mixture onto non-stick baking parchment, either in small nests or one large round, and bake for 1 ½ to 1 ¾ hours at 100C. Leave to cool with the oven door open.
Elly McCausland is a food writer and blogger at Nutmegs, Seven. She has a passion for all things gastronomic, with a particular emphasis on fruit, breakfast and proper British puddings. When not concocting recipes, she is studying for a PhD on children’s literature and the Arthurian legend at the University of York.