Summer will always be my favourite season for cooking. There is an abundance of ingredients to choose from, and since I began growing my own vegetables a few years ago, the link between the seasons and my plate has only been heightened.
With even the smallest amount of space you can grow some truly wonderful ingredients; some of the most satisfying things I have grown are salad leaves, peas, broad beans, beetroot and strawberries.
The recipes here are a great way to celebrate some of these ingredients. Gnocchi plays second fiddle to the mighty garden pea in a simple summer starter, while beetroot beefs up some great burgers. To finish it all, there's a summer celebration dessert, strawberry and elderflower cake.
As we reach the last of the long summer evenings, I hope that these recipes will help you savour the best of it.
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Pan-fried gnocchi with garden peas, buffalo mozzarella and Basil oil
If you find the thought of making homemade pasta daunting, gnocchi is a good stepping stone. You could use store-bought gnocchi, though, if you don't feel up to it.
Either way, the combination of golden gnocchi nuggets with creamy mozzarella, sweet garden peas and basil oil is a breath of summer air.
This makes a superb starter or a light supper.
YOU WILL NEED
For the gnocchi 500g floury potatoes, peeled (about 4 medium)
200g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 large egg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper For the basil oil 50g basil
200ml olive oil
Pinch of salt To finish 250g buffalo mozzarella
150g freshly picked garden peas
Handful of pea shoots, to garnish
Place the potatoes in a large saucepan of cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, or until soft when pierced with a fork. Take off the heat and drain.
Put the potatoes through a potato ricer, then add the flour, egg and a generous amount of salt and black pepper. Mix to a dough, then turn out on to a floured work surface and knead gently for two to three minutes.
Divide the dough into four and roll each piece into a sausage, about 50cm long. Cut each sausage into 15 pieces and, using the tines of a fork, press each piece gently to shape the gnocchi, leaving a dent from your thumb or finger on one side and fork marks on top. Place on a floured plate and continue to shape the rest.
Fry the gnocchi in a little bit of oil until golden brown.
To make the basil oil, put the basil in a hand blender and mix with the oil and some salt until smooth.
To serve, place half a mozzarella ball in the middle of the plate and arrange the gnocchi and peas around it. Top with the basil oil.
Blushing Beetroot Burgers
Beetroot are easy enough to grow, and there is a huge selection of varieties to choose from – pale pinks, candy-striped and even golden yellow ones. These vegetarian burgers are a great way of showing them off.
I've served them here in baps but they are just as delicious served on their own with a healthy bulgur-wheat salad.
Makes six burgers.
YOU WILL NEED
3 tbsps olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 raw beetroot, peeled and grated
1 courgette, grated
2 large carrots, grated
100g porridge oats
400g tin chickpeas, drained
3 tbsps tahini paste
1 large free-range egg
4 spring onions, finely sliced
3 tbsps chopped coriander
To serve Bread baps
Heat about one tablespoon of the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Sauté the onion and garlic for four to five minutes, or until softened. Add the grated vegetables and cool, stirring, for about five minutes until wilted, then drain off any liquid.
Place the oats, chickpeas, tahini paste and egg in a food processor and pulse to combine. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, stir through the grated vegetables, spring onions and coriander, and season generously.
Form the mixture into eight patties and chill for about 30 minutes (or up to 24 hours). Heat the remaining oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and cook the burgers, in batches if necessary, for about two to three minutes each side until golden.
Serve the burgers in baps with a dollop of sour cream and some lettuce, red onion and tomatoes.
Strawberry and Elderflower Cake
Although elderflower has a short season, elderflower cordial is a perfect pantry ingredient that bottles summer and allows you to savour the flavour long after the last flower has fallen.
Strawberries are a quintessential summer ingredient and this strawberry and elderflower cake is a wonderful dessert to savour the last of the summer.
YOU WILL NEED
225g caster sugar
4 large eggs
3 tsps vanilla extract
225g self-raising flour
3 tbsps milk, to loosen batter
6 tbsps elderflower cordial
250ml double cream
1 jar good-quality strawberry jam To finish Dusting of icing sugar
Good handful of fresh strawberries
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 then grease and line 2 x 21cm springform tins.
In a standalone mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Then beat in the eggs one by one, before adding the vanilla extract.
Using a spatula, fold in the flour until you have a smooth mixture. Use a little bit of the milk if you need to loosen the mixture. You want the mixture to be a bit loose.
Divide the mixture into the two springform tins, flattening the top with a spatula if needed. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, until it's nice and golden.
When the bases are cooked, take them out and let cool for a few minutes before you take them out of the tin to cool completely.
Pierce the top of each sponge with a stick and pour half of the elderflower cordial over each sponge and let it sit and soak.
While the bases are cooling, whip the cream.
To assemble the cake, spread some strawberry jam on one of the bases before topping with cream, then add the second base, sprinkle with icing sugar and top with some strawberries.