There’s nothing quite like the feeling of a summer time gathering with friends and family. The days are longer, warmer and brighter, and the smell of fresh cut grass fills the air. I’m always a little envious of teachers at this time of year, getting to spend the warm summer months holidaying or just relaxing.
I love to cook for my friends and family, especially when it’s a lazy sunny Sunday and you can just cook up some sharing plates and leave people to help themselves throughout the day. Sharing dishes in the summer time can be a little tricky though, especially if you plan on enjoying the meal over a few hours. Salads can wilt if left for too long, bread can get stale and hard if left out, and while everyone loves a barbecue, sometimes it’s nice to have food pre-made and not have to cook to order.
Ratatouille is one of those dishes that everyone has heard of, but not a lot of people have made. Of course many people associate the dish with the movie (a great movie at that), but it is also delicious, simple and vibrant. Classically, you would sauté your vegetables separately and then bind them and stew them with tomato purée, leaving you with different textures and a rich tomato taste.
I prefer to use ratatouille as a garnish, as in this slow braised lamb recipe. Topping the lamb with the finely sliced and layered vegetables leaves you with a beautiful dish, and the flavours work wonderfully together. It’s also perfect to leave in the oven and allow people to help themselves as they please.
The shallot tart Tatin I’m sure will be a new one for some people, with Tatin usually reserved for fruits (the apple and calvados tart Tatin in my restaurant, Mae, is for sure our most well-known dish).
This recipe makes a beautiful, sweet, rich and interesting Tatin, and you can swap out the shallots for tomatoes if you wanted to try something less onion focused. It’s also delicious hot or cold, and perfect for vegetarians.
This brings us to the ultimate summer classic – the Victoria sponge cake. The stars of this dessert are the strawberries, which are juicy, sweet and abundant at this time of year. The compote makes a delicious cake filling, and you can make a big batch and store it in the fridge in jars for up to three months.
The freeze-dried strawberries make a great decoration, and you can pick some up at many good food shops. Fresh strawberries will also be delicious on top if you can’t get your hands on any freeze-dried fruits.