Friday 24 November 2017

RECIPES: Brenda Costigan on a perfect summer menu

Make the most of the warm weather this summer, says Brenda Costigan, with easy ideas to grace any picnic cloth, from crab rillettes and chunky pate to mackerel dip and hummus


The good thing is that the kind of food we like in the summer months is fun and easy to make. It's also delicious. Eating al fresco, going on picnics or just grazing in the long evenings is what it's all about..

Spread a tablecloth on the grass, lay out the pates and dips outlined below, a bottle of wine, some beautiful people and you'll feel you're in Manet's painting, Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe



Potted crab, as the English might call it, this recipe is a simple combination of cooked crabmeat, tossed in some melted butter and flavoured with cayenne pepper and other bits, then placed in a dish and covered with a little clarified butter to keep it fresh.

Spread on crisp toast or crackers as a snack or starter for a summer treat. Makes about 250ml (9fl oz).

You will need:

50g (2oz) butter

2 teaspoons onion, very finely chopped

½ small garlic clove, chopped

200g (7oz) cooked crabmeat (white and/or brown)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pinch cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon herbes de Provence or oregano

To store, you will need:

Clarified butter (see note)

Bay leaf


To clarify butter, heat in a saucepan and then pour off and use the clear fat from the top, discarding the white milk solids that are left behind.

Heat the butter in a frying pan and gently fry the very finely chopped onion and the chopped garlic until soft. Add the cooked crabmeat, the salt and freshly ground black pepper, the cayenne pepper and the herbes de Provence or oregano, whichever you are using, and cook gently for a couple of minutes to allow the flavours to mingle.

Put into a dish. If you need to store the rillettes, cover with a layer of the clarified butter and the bay leaf.


This recipe is so simple to make and very tasty. Because it uses cottage cheese instead of butter, it is not only low fat but it is also made with an oily fish, which is good for the heart. Serve with vegetable crudites or with crisp toast.

You will need:

1-2 smoked mackerel fillets, the peppered ones are very good

200g (7oz) cottage cheese

1 teaspoon mustard or lemon juice, or both

A little freshly ground black pepper

A hint of salt, if necessary

1-2 tablespoons cream or mayonnaise (optional)

Crudites, to serve

Remove all the skin and any bones from the smoked mackerel fillets. Put all the ingredients into the food processor and buzz until well mixed. Serve in a bowl surrounded by crudites -- raw carrot, celery and cucumber sticks.


Baked in a loaf tin, this chunky pate is very easy to make, with slices of fresh pork combined with chicken and chicken livers. If using a food processor to mince the meats, only do it in very small amounts at a time to retain a somewhat chunky quality -- if too much is buzzed together, half of it will turn to mush before the other half is done. As with all pates that are eaten cold, the mixture should be well seasoned. Serve at room temperature with salads and crusty bread. It will keep for about a week in the fridge and it can be frozen.

To check if there is enough seasoning, fry a teaspoonful of the prepared mixture in a pan to cook it, and taste it.

You will need:

8-10 streaky rashers, to line the loaf tin

450-500g (16-18oz) streaky belly of fresh, uncooked pork

225g (8oz) uncooked chicken (breast or thigh meat)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon herbes de Provence or oregano

1 egg

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

450g (1lb) chicken livers, rinsed and well drained

3-4 tablespoons brandy or whiskey

1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

1-2 bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 180°C, 375°F, Gas 4. Line a 1lb tin with the streaky rashers. Cut the streaky belly of fresh pork into small chunks and buzz a little at a time in the food processor, transferring to a mixing bowl as it is done. Do likewise with the uncooked chicken. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, adding the ground nutmeg, the allspice and the herbes de Provence or oregano, whichever you are using. Add the egg.

Fry the finely chopped onion and the chopped garlic in some of the olive oil until soft and very lightly golden. Lift out with slotted spoon and add to the meats.

Adding more oil to the pan if required, fry the chicken livers in small lots, just to brown the outside, then transfer them to a separate bowl. When they are all done, add the brandy or whiskey, whichever you are using, to the pan and cook, briskly stirring to gather all the bits. Buzz the chicken livers a few at a time to chop very coarsely, and add to the other meats with the brandy from the pan. Add the lemon juice.

Mix everything together well and pile the mixture into the tin, smoothing it down. Put the bay leaves on top and cover with greased foil or paper. Sit the tin in a roasting tin half full of hot water and cook in the preheated oven for about 1½-2 hours until well cooked. Leave in the loaf tin, sit another 1lb loaf tin on top of the pate and set on top some cans of beans, or something else heavy, to compress the pate. When cold, loosen the sides with a knife and turn out.


Native to the cuisines of the Middle East, this makes a delightful dip served as finger food or as a starter. Toasted pitta or naan bread, torn into little squares is delicious with this dish. The basic hummus ingredients are very simple. A well-drained tin of chick-peas, buzzed to a coarse puree in a food processor, is mixed with tahini and lemon juice.

For a change, you can add some extra ingredients such as flat-leafed parsley, capers or a small, hot red chilli to give a delightful speckled appearance to the hummus. Another interesting variation is to mix in the flesh of a roasted red pepper. Makes about 300ml (½pt).

You will need:

1 can of chick-peas, about 410g (14oz), drained

2 tablespoons tahini paste

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1-2 tablespoons sunflower oil

1-2 garlic cloves, crushed (optional)

2-3 teaspoons sesame oil (optional)

Toasted pitta or naan bread, to serve

Optional extras:

2 tablespoons flat-leafed parsley, chopped

2 tablespoons capers, drained

½-1 small red chilli, finely chopped, seeds discarded


Tahini paste is available in most well-stocked supermarkets. It is a paste made of ground sesame seeds.

Put the chick-peas into a food processor and buzz to a coarse paste. Add in the tahini paste, the lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper, sunflower oil, and the crushed garlic and sesame oil, if you are using them, and buzz together. If using any of the optional extras, buzz them through at the end. Serve with toasted pitta or naan bread, torn into little pieces.


Legend has it that this famous Middle Eastern appetiser was invented by the ladies of the sultan's harem, who vied with one another for his favour. Choose fresh, shiny aubergines, not older, wrinkled ones.

You will need:

2-3 aubergines

2 garlic cloves, crushed

30-60ml (2-4 tablespoons) tahini paste

Juice of 1-2 lemons

1-2 teaspoons paprika, plus a little extra for garnishing

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon cold water (optional)

To serve, you will need:

Fresh parsley, chopped

A drizzle of olive oil

A few green or black olives

Pitta bread or crudites

Preheat the oven to 190°C, 375°F, Gas 5. Slit the skins of the aubergines to allow the steam to escape while they are cooking. Place the aubergines on a flat baking tin and bake for about 30-40 minutes, until the skins start to split.

Place the aubergines on a chopping board and allow to cool slightly. Carefully peel away and discard the skin. Put the flesh into a bowl and mash it into a coarse paste, or buzz it in a blender. Add the crushed garlic, the tahini paste, the lemon juice, the paprika, salt and freshly ground black pepper, and mash or buzz to a chunky or a smooth paste, according to taste. If very thick, the paste can be thinned by the adding of up to a tablespoon of cold water.

Spoon the mixture into a dish and garnish with the chopped fresh parsley, the olive oil and the olives. Serve with the pitta bread or the crudites.


The sweet, vinegary flavour of this onion mixture is delicious with cheese or cold meats. Easy to make, it will keep in the fridge for a month. Thinly sliced and gently fried until delightfully tender, be prepared for just how much the onions shrink down when cooked. Brown sugar, a little balsamic vinegar and red wine all add to the delightful flavour. This version is inspired by Sarah Raven's recipe in her Garden Cookbook.

You will need:

450g (1lb) red onions

2 garlic cloves, chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons red wine

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon brown sugar

A few sprigs of fresh thyme

Peel the red onions, cut them in half and thinly slice them. Put them with the chopped garlic into the olive oil in a saucepan and cook very gently for about 20 minutes without browning. It is helpful to cut a circle of baking parchment to fit the size of the saucepan and place it directly on top of the onions to prevent them drying out as they cook.

When the onions are soft, add the salt and freshly ground black pepper, the red wine, the balsamic vinegar, the brown sugar and the fresh thyme. Continue cooking slowly, discarding the circle of baking parchment, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir occasionally. This will take about another 20 minutes.

Pour into a clean, sterilised jar or jars. Cover and store in the fridge when the mixture is cool.

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