Long, balmy nights spell relaxed summer cooking: cue this simple but elegant menu from food writer Diana Henry’s latest book, How to Eat a Peach
“These dishes don’t take masses of effort, but they work brilliantly together and capture the flavours of Italy and the South of France: that says summer for me”
“I was 16 when I put together my first dinner-party menu. I made prawn cocktail, then braised beef in red wine, followed by pineapple water ice, served in a pineapple shell, which was cool in 1980! Although I thought it was very sophisticated at the time, it didn’t really work as a complete meal. After that, I started putting a menu notebook together; I just liked thinking about what dishes went together. When I eventually had my own home, I kept notebooks of the menus I cooked for friends. I still have them, and they inspired How to Eat a Peach.
“When it comes to planning a menu, I don’t like to think of strict rules. But there are guidelines I follow: I tend to not repeat ingredients, for example. I try to not use a lot of cream, as it’s too rich. And don’t leave too many dishes to cook at the last minute, or you’ll be frazzled. Try not to go over the top: you do not need a trolley of puddings.
“The title for the book was inspired by my first trip to Italy in my early twenties. I went to a restaurant on the last night, and the diners at the next table had a bowl of peaches and a bottle of Moscato for dessert. It taught me something about appreciating ingredients, about not overdoing things.
“This menu is an elegant dinner, a bit Provençal, a bit Italian. The crostini, ironically, takes the most effort, but you could always leave it out. The melon with lavender dressing is unusual – I’ve seen it in Provence, but nowhere else – while the sea bass with aioli is very grand looking, but simple to cook. Then there’s the pudding, which is the dessert I saw in Italy: just really cold wine and beautiful ripe peaches.”
“An indulgent, ‘height of summer’ drink that makes you want to kick off your shoes to feel cool grass under your feet. Children can drink glasses of the raspberry purée topped up with lemonade”
50-75g icing sugar, to taste
Juice of 1 lemon
175ml orange juice
6-8 tbsp vodka
6-8 tbsp Cointreau
1 bottle sparkling white wine, very cold
Put the icing sugar, lemon juice and raspberries into a food processor and whizz to a purée. Push this through a nylon sieve to get rid of the seeds. Add the orange juice to the purée.
Divide the purée between 6-8 glasses and add 1 tablespoon of vodka and 1 tablespoon of Cointreau to each. Top up with the sparkling wine to serve, adding it slowly as it will froth.
Crostini with crushed broad
beans and ’nduja
“’Nduja is a spicy Calabrian paste, rather like a soft, spreadable chorizo, but spicier, and without the smokey flavour. Peas can be used instead of broad beans here”
250g broad beans (podded weight)
2 small garlic cloves, 1 finely chopped, 1 left whole
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp white balsamic vinegar
8 mint leaves, torn
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the crostini
Sea salt flakes and black pepper
6 medium slices of sourdough bread, or 12 slices of a smaller loaf, such as ciabatta
100g ’nduja, broken into little chunks
Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6. Cook the broad beans in boiling water until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain, then rinse under cold water. When they’re cool enough to handle, slip off the skins.
Put the bright green kernels in a food processor with the chopped garlic clove, lemon juice, white balsamic
vinegar, mint and extra virgin olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Pulse until you have a coarse mash. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Put the slices of bread on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. The bread should turn pale gold – keep an eye on it so it doesn’t go too far – but you won’t have to turn the pieces over.
Slice the remaining whole garlic clove in half and lightly rub it over the slices of bread, then sprinkle each piece with a little extra virgin olive oil. Spoon the broad bean crush on to the toasts, then carefully place a few chunks of ’nduja on top of each.
Melon and goat’s curd with red
wine and lavender dressing
“This is a very good example of plain ingredients – melon, cheese – elevated by a bit of thought, rather than by a complicated process”
2 lavender sprigs
200ml red wine
3 tbsp lavender honey or regular honey
3 tsp good-quality white or red wine vinegar
2 small, ripe, perfumed melons (ogen or charentais)
375g goat’s curd, or soft goat’s cheese
Fruity extra virgin olive oil
Put the lavender in a jug. Heat the wine in a saucepan with the honey and vinegar, stirring until the honey melts. Pour it over the lavender. Season with sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper, then leave to cool.
Halve the melons and scoop out the seeds, cut into slices and peel each piece. Put these on to a platter. Spoon on the dressing, leaving behind the lavender.
Break up the goat’s curd and dot it among the slices of melon. Season, then sprinkle with the extra virgin olive oil.
Roast sea bass with fennel
and anise aioli
“Roast sea bass is not an everyday dish, but it’s great to serve to friends, as it pretty much looks after itself once it’s in the oven”
Ingredients For the sea bass
1 whole sea bass, 2.5-2.7kg, scaled, gutted and trimmed
2 large fennel bulbs
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp fennel seeds, toasted in a dry pan and crushed
Regular olive oil
Sea salt flakes and black pepper
2 broad strips of orange zest
A bunch of dill, stalks and leaves separated, leaves chopped
5 tbsp orange juice
For the aioli
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Sea salt flakes
2 egg yolks
1 tsp Dijon mustard
225ml fruity extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp fennel bulb, very finely chopped
Fennel fronds (from the fennel above), very finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6. Rinse the fish in cold water and dry it inside and out with kitchen paper. Halve the fennel bulbs lengthways and remove the tough outer leaves from each piece. Remove any leafy fronds and keep them for the aioli. Trim the bases and cut each half into 2cm-thick wedges, keeping them intact at the base.
Put the wedges into a bowl with the lemon juice, tossing them in it as soon as they’re cut otherwise the flesh will discolour. Add the garlic, half the fennel seeds, 4 tablespoons of regular olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix well.
Put the sliced fennel into a roasting tin in which the fish can also fit, tucking the orange zest in among it. Cover with foil and roast the vegetables for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and toss gently to stop the fennel from sticking to the base. Fill the cavity of the fish with the dill stalks and half the dill leaves and season generously.
Put the sea bass on top of the fennel, sprinkle with regular olive oil and the remaining fennel seeds and roast for up to 35 minutes, or until the fish flesh is no longer ‘glassy’ and comes away from the bone easily.
Five minutes before the end of the cooking time, pour the orange juice over the vegetables and scatter on the rest of the dill. Transfer the hot fish and vegetables to a warmed serving dish – you need to be careful with the fish as you move it – or leave to cool a little before moving.
To make the aioli, crush the garlic with a little salt, scrape into a bowl and add the egg yolks and mustard. Mix the yolks with the garlic until they are shiny. Beating, either with a wooden spoon or an electric whisk, start adding the oil in tiny drops. Make sure each drop has been incorporated before you add the next. Keep beating and adding oil in a steadily increasing stream.
White peaches in
“When I first saw this dish being eaten in Italy, I was bowled over that something so simple could be considered as desirable as slaved-over patisserie. I like white peaches – they tend to be more fragrant”
6 ripe white peaches
1 bottle of Moscato, well chilled
This dish requires no cooking at all but you need really cold wine and beautiful ripe peaches. Let each person pit and slice their peach, drop it in a wine glass and top it up with the Moscato. Leave this for a little then eat the slices with a fork and drink the wine.