When you have unpredictable weather like we do in Ireland, you learn to be fairly spontaneous. I think, as a nation, we’re great at last-minute planning. If the sun shines unexpectedly, barbecues all over the country are whipped out and set alight in readiness for some impromptu grilling.
Thankfully, summer lends itself perfectly to casual and easy-going entertaining, and serving food buffet-style is ideal for a relaxed evening with friends and family. While there's a bit of work involved in getting the food prepared, once it's done, you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour.
Whether you're slow-roasting a shoulder of lamb, cooking burgers and sausages on the barbecue or grilling a fish, a few delicious salads are just what are needed at this time of the year.
I love this tomato, sumac and sourdough salad. This salad - which is not dissimilar to an Italian panzanella or the Middle Eastern fattoush - uses sourdough and tomatoes with punchy capers and anchovies. If the sourdough is a bit stale, all the better, as it'll soak up the juices wonderfully.
This fennel and mango salad is an old favourite and goes so well, not only with the lamb shoulder, but also with roasted chicken or fish.
You will need:
1 shoulder of lamb with the bone in
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
A few good pinches of sea salt flakes
A few good pinches of coarsely cracked black peppercorns
A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
A small handful of fresh coriander leaves, to serve
1 Preheat the oven to 150°C, 300°F Gas 2.
2 Place the lamb shoulder on a roasting tray and use a small sharp knife to score the fat in a criss-cross pattern - ensuring you don't cut through to the meat. Next, make the spice mixture. Put a frying pan on the heat and tip in the cumin seeds and the coriander seeds. Cook the seeds, tossing them regularly, until they are toasted, look a couple of shades darker, and are nice and fragrant.
3 Take the pan with the seeds off the heat and crush them using a pestle and mortar. Mix the crushed cumin seeds and the crushed coriander seeds in a small bowl with the pinches of sea salt and the coarsely cracked black peppercorns.
4 Drizzle the extra-virgin olive oil all over the prepared lamb shoulder so that the spices will stick, then scatter the spice mixture over the shoulder.
5 Cook the lamb shoulder for 5-6 hours until the meat is meltingly tender and almost falling off the bone. If the delicious exterior is not rich and golden in colour when the meat is cooked (it will depend on your oven) then take the lamb shoulder out of the oven and turn the oven temperature up to 220°C, 450°F, Gas 8.
6 When the oven has heated up to the higher temperature, pop the lamb shoulder back in for about 10 minutes or until it's browned. Turn the oven off and let the lamb sit somewhere warm (in the oven with the oven door slightly ajar, if you like) for at least 20 minutes, though it would be happy to sit there for an hour.
7 To serve the lamb, carve it into chunky shards (it won't slice into perfectly thin slices as it'll be so tender) and serve it with the fresh coriander leaves scattered over the top.
When you have unpredictable weather like we do in Ireland, you learn to be fairly spontaneous. I think, as a nation, we're great at last-minute planning. If the sun shines unexpectedly, barbecues all over the country are whipped out and set alight in readiness for some impromptu grilling.
You will need:
A large handful of hazelnuts
2 small mangoes
2 fennel bulbs
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g Greek-style cheese or feta cheese
1 Toast the hazelnuts by cooking them in a dry frying pan over a medium-to-high heat for 4-5 minutes until they are golden under the skins. Alternatively, you can roast them in a moderate oven for 5-7 minutes. Once they're golden, put them in a tea towel and rub vigorously to remove the skins. Discard the skins and roughly chop the nuts.
2 Peel the mangoes, then cut the flesh off the spherical-shaped central stone. Dice the mango flesh into 1cm pieces.
3 Trim the feathery fronds off the top of the fennel bulbs, and set them aside for later. Trim and discard the base of the fennel bulbs and slice the fennel thinly.
4 Put the diced mango and the sliced fennel in a mixing bowl and add in the extra-virgin olive oil, the lemon juice and the chopped fresh mint. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and put the salad on a plate or in a serving bowl.
5 Scatter the chopped hazelnuts over the top of the salad, then crumble over the Greek-style cheese or the feta cheese, whichever you're using. Garnish with the fennel fronds you set aside earlier, and serve.
You will need:
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 x 25g tin of anchovies, drained and roughly chopped
50ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 large 2cm-thick slices of sourdough bread
500g ripe tomatoes (cherry tomatoes also work well)
Finely grated zest and juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon capers, drained (or rinsed, if salted) and roughly chopped
1 generous teaspoon ground sumac - see Rachel Recommends, far right
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, shredded or torn
1 tablespoon fresh coriander leaves - see my Top Tip, right
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Put the crushed garlic, the chopped anchovies and the extra-virgin olive oil into a small saucepan on a low heat. Cook very gently for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the garlic and the anchovies soften, being careful not to let the garlic burn.
2 While the garlic and the anchovies are cooking, toast the two large slices of sourdough bread. Allow them to cool, then cut them into 2cm chunks.
3 Put the garlic, anchovy and extra-virgin olive oil mixture in a large bowl and toss in the chunks of toasted sourdough bread. Make sure the bread chunks are well coated with the oil, then set aside.
4 Cut the tomatoes into 2cm chunks (or if they're cherry tomatoes, cut them in half). Add them into the bowl you set aside earlier, then add the finely grated lemon zest, the lemon juice, the roughly chopped capers, the sumac, the shredded or torn basil leaves, whichever you're using, and most of the coriander leaves. Gently toss everything together to combine.
5 Taste for seasoning, adding sea salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary and a little bit more lemon juice if it is needed.
6 Transfer the salad to a serving plate and scatter any remaining fresh coriander leaves over the top.
Sumac is a delicious lemony-tasting spice that is used a lot in Middle Eastern cooking. The berries are picked from the sumac tree, dried and then sometimes ground (I use ground sumac in the tomato, sumac and sourdough salad pictured above left). Try your local Middle Eastern grocer or a health food shop for the spice.
If you're not a coriander lover, then replace it with flat parsley leaves in the tomato, sumac salad and sourdough salad; and use mint instead if you're making the slow-roasted shoulder of lamb with cumin and coriander recipe.