Summer brings not only the promise of warmer weather and longer evenings but delicious seasonal produce that is perfect for outdoor dining. Philippa Davis shares some of her al fresco favourites
As you sit out watching the summer sun gradually descend in your garden, one may forgive you for thinking that a light meal would go down very well with the sight. Why not try some of our favourite al fresco dishes cooked up by Philippa Davis.
The Field’s al fresco favourites
With the promise of dining al fresco, grilling over glowing charcoals and feasting on platters of fresh, flavourful fruit and vegetables, I am totally summer ready. This month’s offerings include a barbecued aubergine and strained yoghurt salad, a stunning fig and pistachio tart as well as a recipe for one of the most beautiful summer vegetables – the artichoke.
Artichokes are attractive enough to adorn flower beds but are too delicious simply to look at. They can be a little fiddly to prepare; the simplest way is to steam them whole, then pull the leaves off one by one to eat. However, if you are game for a challenge, try my recipe inspired by the classic Italian dish carciofi alla romana, or Roman-style artichokes. Traditionally, it is made using the thinner violet artichokes, but the fatter globe variety works just as well.
BARBECUED VENISON WITH STRAINED YOGHURT, GRILLED AUBERGINE, CHILLI AND BASIL SALAD
10 tbsp plain whole yoghurt
1 tsp fine sea salt
4 venison steaks
2 tbsp olive oil
8 sprigs of thyme
2 aubergines, striped with a peeler lengthways, then sliced into 1½cm thick rounds
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp runny honey
1 small garlic clove, peeled and finely minced
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ to 1 red chilli, finely chopped
30g fresh basil, roughly chopped
With plenty of punchy flavours coming from the aubergine salad, I’ve simply seasoned the venison steaks and grilled them with a little fresh thyme for aromatics.
In a small bowl, mix the plain yoghurt with the sea salt. Lay a muslin cloth over a sieve set over a bowl, spoon in the yoghurt and leave to drain for at least 1 hour in the fridge.
In a large bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, runny honey, red chilli, extra virgin olive oil and half the basil.
Sprinkle both sides of the aubergine slices with a little salt and leave for 5 minutes.
On a medium to hot barbecue, grill the aubergine slices on each side until marked and starting to soften.
Once grilled, toss the aubergine slices in the balsamic dressing.
Season the steaks and rub with oil.
On a medium to high heat, grill for a few minutes each side along with the sprigs of thyme. I like mine still pink.
Leave to rest for a couple of minutes on a plate with the grilled thyme.
Spoon the strained yoghurt on to a plate and lay the marinated aubergines on top along with the venison steak, any extra dressing and the rest of the basil.
FIG AND PISTACHIO TART
150g sweet pastry
120g demerara sugar
120g salted butter, room temperature
2 medium free-range eggs
120g pistachios, finely ground
25g plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp baking powder
2 tbsp fig jam
6 fresh figs, cut in half
You will need a 9in/23cm loose-bottomed, fluted tart tin
I had been resigned to the fact that my fig tree at home would never bear ripe fruits. It was there to look pretty and for me to use its leaves to infuse in ice cream or wrap around roasting fish. However, last year it decided to produce a bumper crop, and so I suddenly had to come up with lots of fig recipes, one of which was this delicious tart.
Roll out the sweet pastry and line the tart tin, lightly prick with a fork and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C fan/gas mark 4, line the pastry with baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the beans and parchment and cook for a further 10 minutes or until lightly golden. Leave to cool on a rack and turn the oven down to 150°C fan/ gas mark 3.
Beat the sugar and butter until pale and fluffy, then add the eggs and finely ground pistachios.
Gently mix in the flour, cinnamon and baking powder until just combined.
Spread the fig jam on the pastry, then do the same with the filling.
Lay the halved figs on top, cut side up.
Bake for 50 minutes or until it has just lost its wobble.
Leave to cool before slicing and serving.
Serve with whipped cream or yoghurt.
FRIED ARTICHOKES WITH GARLIC, MINT AND PANCETTA
Serves 4 (as a starter or side dish)
100ml olive oil
100ml dry white wine
4 small garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
4 slices pancetta, chopped
Pinch of dried red chilli flakes
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp mint, finely chopped
1 tbsp oregano, finely chopped
Only the hearts of the artichoke are used in this recipe, but you can steam the discarded outer leaves and eat their fleshy parts dipped in mayonnaise or a mustard vinaigrette.
Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon into a bowl of cold water.
Cut off the top of the artichoke and remove the outer leaves, scoop out the furry inner core and trim and peel the stem to leave just the heart.
In a heavy-based pan with a lid, add the olive oil and snugly fit in the artichoke hearts. Season with salt and pepper then add the wine, scatter over the garlic, pancetta, chilli and half the parsley, mint and oregano. Place a cartouche on top and pop on the lid.
Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down a little and cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until the artichokes are just soft.
Remove the lid and cartouche and turn up the heat. Cook until the wine has evaporated and the base of each artichoke has gone golden and crispy. The pan or artichokes may need moving around to cook evenly.
Spoon on to a platter, squeeze over the remaining lemon juice and scatter the rest of the herbs on top. Eat hot or at room temperature.