In the kitchen
As we continue to celebrate the seasons, and eating with nature’s flux, we’re shining the spotlight on three hero ingredients we cherish during the long, languid Summer months.
Nothing signals the start of summer like a bountiful harvest of fresh courgettes. Cheap, tasty, quick-growing and endlessly versatile, it’s not hard to see why we’re infatuated with courgettes. Whether tossed through a bowl of pasta, baked into a cake, pickled in a jar, or grilled on a smoky BBQ, the uses for this summer veg come in as many shapes and sizes as the courgette itself.
Courgette (Cucurbita pepo) is a member of the cucumber and melon family. Inhabitants of Central and South America have been eating courgette for several thousand years, but the variety we’re familiar with today was developed in Italy. As with aubergines, the courgette was brought to the attention of Britons in the mid-twentieth century, thanks to the writings of Elizabeth David. Along with a passion for spinach and tomatoes – amongst other simple produce – Elizabeth introduced the Mediterranean style to British kitchens, after travelling extensively through the sunnier climes of southern Europe.
In a culinary context, the courgette is considered a vegetable, but botanically speaking it’s a type of botanical berry called a ‘pepo’, which is the swollen ovary of the courgette flower. In Britain dark green courgettes are most easily accessible, however the larger, pale green varieties streaked with cream – a common sight during the Summer in Italy and southern France – are becoming more popular, especially in farmers’ markets. As with most vegetables, courgettes can be sourced year-round, but the sweet spot is from June to October, when the humble veg is at its peak. When harvesting, it’s usually recommended to pick early, before it grows too large and loses its nuanced flavour.
Wine partner: Pouilly-Fuissé, Domaine Ferret
Prized by anglers and chefs alike, sea bass is a quick, silver-scaled fish with a fetching sheen and sweet, textured flesh. Once only favoured on the continent, celebrity chefs – think Rick Stein, Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver – have created an appetite for bass here in the UK, where once cod was the mainstay of the seafood aisle. In fact, sea bass is now one of the most popular fish options in restaurants across the UK, with any venue worth its salt having it on the menu. Whether stuffed with herbs and BBQed whole, or is fillets are pan-fried with a squeeze of zingy lemon, we as a nation surely do love our bass.
While there are several species of bass, the one most commonly found in the UK is the Dicentrarchus Labrax, the European sea bass, which inhabits waters all the way from the Mediterranean to the UK. Not so long ago, the Channel Islands were its farthest reach but now, as sea temperatures have risen, it lives in significant numbers as far north as Scotland's Western Isles. While bass can be caught throughout the year, the height of the season runs from June to August, when the seas have warmed and the species moves into shallower waters and within range of sea anglers.
The rapidly increasing popularity of sea bass has led to restrictions being implemented to cap the number of wild-caught fish – farmed fish are not affected – to ensure the species survives. As such, it’s recommended you should avoid eating sea bass captured by nets that trawl the bottom of the sea, and target spawning and pre-spawning fish. Line-caught seabass is a more sustainable choice.
Ideally, sea bass should be cooked when fresh, so look for bass with clear eyes, intact fins and bright red gills, firm to the touch and free of an undesirable fishy smell. A whole small sea bass weighs about 400 - 500g. Larger sea bass, often wild sea bass which have had time to develop in both size and flavour, can be purchased from smaller suppliers and fishmongers.
Wine partner: Espirit Gassier Rosé, Château Gassier
Brits love to BBQ. But contrary to what the hordes of grilling enthusiasts filling every inch of green space at the first hint of sun would have you believe, the more skill and practice you put into the exercise, the better the meat will taste.
Barbecuing is one of the defining features of a country's cuisine and, in many ways, its national pride. From Argentina and Korea to South Africa and Australia, nearly every country does it, and thinks their way of grilling reigns supreme. But it's more than just a weekend lunch – it's a celebration of humanity. Gathering around a fire to eat and share stories is as much a ritual today as it was when the earliest humans did it.
For the UK, the first reference of the barbecue as we know it today – that is as an outdoor, male-dominated activity, involving grilling meat – comes from London in 1707 in Ned Ward's ‘The Barbacue Feast’ (also known as the Three Pigs of Peckham), which is a remarkably fanciful account of what we now would recognise as a barbecue.
At its most basic, barbecue is an alchemy of wood, smoke and meat, so the fuel you use can dramatically affect flavour. Your best bet is to use lumpwood charcoal, made from high-quality hardwoods, with none of the chemicals that help lesser charcoals burn.
The main rule with a charcoal barbecue is: don't rush. Contrary to popular belief, it is not fast food. You don't just wait for the flames to disappear before cooking. Only when the charcoal has entirely turned to grey ash do you apply meat to grill. Moreover, the meat does not have to be hamburger, sausage and (ugh!) chicken legs.
Not only a summertime layman rigmarole, barbecuing is in favour amongst an increasing number of restaurants across the UK. In London alone, some of our go-to grillers include Blues Kitchen, Temper, Hawksmoor and Pitt Cue.
Wine partner: Las Fincas Rosado, Chivite