Sybil Kapoor explores how a sense of seasonality in your cooking can be enhanced through colour, forms, textures and aromas, which together create an emotional resonance, evoking a time and place
July has a timeless feeling. As the days turn sultry and the holidays approach, I find myself recreating the tastes of my childhood. Perhaps it’s the abundance of home-grown produce that brings back youthful memories of podding peas and stirring pans of bubbling blackcurrant jam. Or maybe it’s the sleepy sound of wood pigeons cooing on a summer’s afternoon that makes me want to eat crab sandwiches and raspberry ripple ice cream.
I could create seasonal dishes by just drawing on such recollections, but I love experimenting with different techniques. No matter how simple or complex the meal I’m planning to make, I try to consider its texture, temperature and appearance. How best can I combine these elements to create a refreshing selection of dishes that capture the essence of July?
I begin by drawing up a list of some of my favourite seasonal ingredients. These will form the basis of my meals. Peas, beetroot, runner beans and salad leaves, for example, are all in their prime now, as are raspberries, currants and dessert gooseberries. English cherries, including morellos, are in season, as are intensely flavoured English apricots. For further evocative July notes I add edible flowers and summer herbs such as chamomile flowers, nasturtiums, pot marigolds (Calendula), mint and lovage.
Hints of the sea
Then I introduce other seasonal elements. For hints of the sea I’ll take samphire, crab, herring, hake and Dover sole. To deepen a sense of lush country meadows, I'll use dairy products such as clotted cream, soft fresh cheeses and unpasteurised butters. They’re good served both plain and flavoured with herbs.
Out go hot dishes and in come tepid, cool and chilled dishes. Tepid food has the maximum taste and flavour, so is perfect for hot weather when appetites are jaded. We perceive less sweetness and more saltiness when food is chilled, so it’s important to factor this in when making quiches, pates, fools and ice creams.
If chilled, soft, slippery textures are surprisingly refreshing when it’s sultry. Chilled buckwheat or wheat noodle salads, for example, are gorgeous flavoured with soy sauce, sesame oil, chilli and lemon. Add snipped nori, tofu, ginger and spring onions or experiment with other vegetables such as blanched spinach or roast aubergine. Tepid or cold pasta salads are equally delicious—for example, pasta shells tossed in a herb shallot dressing with peas, rocket, and feta.
The silken texture of chilled soups, sweet and savoury custards and, of course, ice creams and sorbets all soothe the eater in July. A delicate chilled cucumber or lettuce soup, for example or a cool pea or crab and parmesan custard—served in a small soufflé dish—make a delicious summer lunch.
The creamy textures of fruit fools, sweet custards and ice creams are also sublime. Among my favourites are apricot crème brûlée, blackcurrant rosemary fool and raspberry and rose water ice cream. Jellies and sorbets are even more refreshing. Everyone loves home-made morello cherry sorbet and I can’t resist fragrant sweet jellies, such as redcurrant, or chamomile and lemon, just drizzled with a little cream.
Such creaminess needs to be counterbalanced by other firmer textures. Succulent barbecued fish and meat, crunchy salads and pickles and crusty bread act as perfect contrasts. Simple examples might be home-made pâté with crusty bread and cornichons, or delicate sponge biscuits dipped into a raspberry strawberry fool.
More complex combinations might include lightly salted but still unctuous herring fillets grilled over charcoal then accompanied by pickled gooseberries or a pretty beetroot and lovage salad; or grilled chicken breasts, served with warm tagliatelle tossed in a savoury butter of chives, shallots and chopped nasturtium flowers, perhaps accompanied by a cherry tomato and nasturtium leaf salad.
Last but not least, I try to combine tempting colours to counteract any loss of appetite in warm weather. A simple salad of beetroot, mint, peas and soft goat’s cheese arranged prettily on a dark plate, for example, will tempt most reluctant eaters, as will a small white dish of pink potted crab set on a white plate with melba toast and pickled vegetables. Follow with home-made blackcurrant ice cream or raspberry ripple, scooped into a cone for an exquisite taste of summer.