High heat, high sun, high times, high summer – the best part of the year! Ten years ago exactly, on a heat-wave week like this one just past, we arrived in London from Australia and wound our way into town underground. At 5am we emerged into already bright sunlight from Clapham Common tube. It was a ‘short walk’ to the house of a friend, or so she had told us, but with all our worldly possessions on our backs, and a chunky IBM laptop bag wearing a hole in my shoulder (no Macbook ‘Air’ back then!), it didn’t feel so ‘short,’ and so we found ourselves, while trudging, with plenty of time to reflect on other instances we’d been led astray by her characteristic optimism!
But, it wasn’t so bad, and by 5:30 we were there, feeling a little more balmy than I would have liked (‘muggy – very muggy!’ everyone heartily agreed), but delighted to have arrived, and to have arrived, moreover, on that rare and wondrous thing – a perfect London summer's day! It was, looking back, the very best possible start to a wonderful stay – one that ended up lasting a little over seven years…
Other things I remember from that first day – tennis on the TV, Wimbledon actually taking place just a few tube stops away, people spread across the Common, picnicking, playing games, enjoying the late light. That night, we slept with the windows wide open, only to be startled awake by unfamiliar and horrifying sounds – foxes we were assured the next morning, who knew! The next day, with some appointments to keep, I braved the overground trains for the first time. Thwarted by ‘heat-buckled rails,’ and general system meltdown, I was late everywhere I went, but high on the chaos, practically giddy, along with everyone else, enjoying the euphoria, or perhaps delirium, that a very hot day in an otherwise mildly mannered climate inevitably brings…
In another city that I have called home, one in the opposite hemisphere, and on the other side of the world, the summers are not too remarkably dissimilar. Tennis on the TV there too, bouncy blue courts, as opposed to Wimbledon’s clipped lawns, beer and bbq on the menu, not Pimms and strawberries, and no Melbourian has ever used the word ‘muggy’ to describe a hot day! But otherwise it’s all there – the freshly sprinkled lawns, baking hot car interiors, parched pavements, and white cotton happiness. Because as Melbourians and Londoners alike well know, best enjoy it today, while you can, because tomorrow it's likely to be ten degrees cooler, and bucketing with rain once again!
Tomato, Watermelon, & CUCUMBER Gazpacho
This Andalusian soup is one of my favourite things to eat on a hot day. It’s served cold from the fridge, (with ice cubes in to keep it that way as you eat!), and is made from raw ingredients (or virtually raw in the case of the tomatoes). Because of this, it’s important that the ingredients that you use are super-fresh and at their perfectly ripe best…
- 800g ripe tomatoes
- 600g (cut weight) seedless watermelon – diced
- 1 small cucumber – peeled
- 4 spring onions – white part only, finely sliced
- 1 small garlic clove
- 100ml extra virgin olive oil
- 85 ml white balsamic vinegar
- Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
- Ice cubes to serve
- Flowering basil tips (to garnish, if available)
Begin by briefly blanching the tomatoes in a large pot of boiling water in order to loosen the skins. Only add the tomatoes to the blanching pot once the water is at a steady boil, and cook for just a couple of minutes.
Drain the tomatoes in a large colander and when cool enough to handle, slip off and discard the skins. Halve each tomato using a sharp knife and remove the seeds to a fine sieve, positioned atop a bowl – press the seeds to extract as much juice as possible. Next, roughly chop the flesh of the blanched tomatoes, and add this to the bowl containing the juice.
Halve the peeled cucumber lengthways and use a pointed teaspoon to remove the seeds. Roughly dice the flesh of the cucumber and add this also to the bowl containing the tomatoes.
Place the watermelon cubes in a blender or liquidiser (if your watermelon contains seeds, make sure to remove all of these before doing so). Then add the tomatoes and cucumber to the blender, along with the sliced spring onions, crushed garlic, olive oil, and vinegar.
Blend at high speed until completely smooth – no little bits should be visible and the texture should be thick and velvety.
Add a little salt and pepper to season, then blend again to combine. Taste the soup once you’ve done so, if it needs any further seasoning adjustment, or even a little more vinegar (the flavour should be every so slightly tangy), add it now...
Then pour into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until completely chilled.
Serve in shallow bowls, with a few ice cubes plopped in each. Drizzle over a little oil olive, and garnish with flowering basil if you'd like.
Rockmelon, Feta, & Tarragon
This is too easy to make to qualify as a recipe, it’s more of an idea… salty white cheese, sweet melon, a nice grassy note from the tarragon, and a citric hit of lemon. Substitute honey dew for rock melon if you’d prefer things in a cool green colour palate, or for a more classic combination, use watermelon and mint in place of the rock melon and tarragon…
- Half a medium-sized rockmelon (cantaloupe)
- 200g good-quality sheep’s feta
- A few sprigs of tarragon
- Juice of half a lemon
- Splash of extra virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
Cut the melon into large wedges, remove the seeds and skin, then cut into generous bite-sized pieces.
Arrange these on a pretty serving platter, then scatter with feta cheese, broken into chunks by hand.
Pull the tarragon leaves from their stems and scatter these atop as well.
Squeeze over the juice of half a lemon – drizzle with olive oil – season with a little freshly ground pepper. E voilà!
White Peach & Prosecco Granita
A frozen bellini, is there a more prefect thing to eat while sitting on a lawn in the sun?
- 6 ripe white peaches
- 150ml prosecco
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- 75ml water
Halve the peaches along their centreline, and remove the pits. Roughly chop the flesh (don't worry about removing the skin), and add to a blender along with the prosecco, caster sugar, and water.
Pulse until you have a smooth liquid, it will be flecked with tiny bits of peach skin, but that’s ok!
Pour into a shallow freezer-proof dish or tin, and chill in the freezer for about half an hour to 40 minutes. After this time, some little ice crystals should have formed in the corners and around the edges. Using a fork, break the ice crystals up, and stir the granita around a bit, before returning to the freezer again.
Check it frequently, every 40 minutes to an hour or so, stirring to break up the ice every time. After about 3 hours, the granita will have frozen into a delicious scoop-able rubble and be ready to pop into some glasses and serve!
(The granita will last until the next day in the freezer, but won't like being left much longer than that... shouldn't be an issue!).