The scorching red days of high summer mean plates of roasted scarlet peppers and basil, vermilion salads of tomatoes or watermelon and bowl after bowl of arterial red cherries. There is the summer pudding too, with its pink-purple dome of juice-soaked bread, crushed redcurrants and raspberries. The colours suit the temperature and shake us from our late-summer laziness. (It has been seven days of salads in this kitchen.) I did make a dazzling pissaladière too, throwing strips of scorched red peppers among the caramelised onions and olives. We ate it outside, burning our backsides on the hot stone of the kitchen steps.
To refresh us in the summer heat, I dug out an age-old recipe from a handwritten notebook of mine (penned in the 80s, I think, inspired by a recipe from the late Katie Stewart) for lemon curd slice. In many ways it is the predecessor of the lemon tart but less fragile and more useful for cutting into squares to feed a crowd. The base is a soft, sweet shortbread made all the more tender for its addition of cornflour. The filling: a mouth-puckeringly sharp curd made with butter, lemons and eggs. I sliced peaches on top and added raspberries and rose petals too.
Red peppers were served as one of those salads you bring to the table warm. The peppers need time to cool a little so you can skin them without burning your fingers, and the whole dish seems more relaxed that way. There were chickpeas included in the basil dressing, though they could just have easily been flageolet beans or cannellini. The only watchpoint here is to be brave when roasting the peppers and leave them in till their skins are sporting patches of dark brown, almost black, ensuring the flesh hiding underneath is truly soft and silky.
Roast red peppers with chickpeas and basil oil
A dish more substantial than it appears. You could use butter beans in place of the chickpeas if you wish.
Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 with other dishes
peppers red, large 750g
olive oil a little
chickpeas canned or bottled 150g
For the oil:
basil 50g (leaves and stems)
garlic a small clove, peeled
olive oil 100ml
water 2 tbsp
caster sugar a pinch
lemon juice a few drops
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Cut the peppers in half from stalk to tip then pull out and discard the core, seeds and stem. Put the peppers cut-side up in a roasting tin, then moisten with a little olive oil – a couple of tablespoons should be enough. Roast the peppers for about an hour till their skins are puffed and, here and there, blackened by the heat of the oven. Remove the tin from the oven and place a tea towel or plastic bag over the top to encourage the peppers to steam as they cool. It will make them easier to skin.
Put the basil leaves and stems into a blender or food processor and blitz to a fine paste with the garlic. Pour in the olive oil and the water, a little at time, to give you a sloppy, deep-green paste. Season with a little salt, a tiny pinch of sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. At this point the flavour will be quite robust and peppery.
Drain and rinse the chickpeas and add them to the dressing. Peel the skins from the peppers and discard, placing the peppers in a mixing bowl, then add the dressing and chickpeas. Include any roasting juice from the tin, however meagre – it will be sweet and intensely caramelised. Toss gently to lightly coat the peppers. The sweetness of the roasted peppers will soften the pepperiness of the dressing. Transfer to a serving dish.
Lemon and raspberry squares
You need a stiff curd here. Keep the heat low to moderate and stir intermittently.
For the pastry:
caster sugar 100g
plain flour 175g
For the filling:
lemons finely grated zest of 2
lemon juice 200ml
caster sugar 200g
egg yolks 2
rose petals optional
You will need a 24 x 30cm baking tin lined with baking parchment.
Make the pastry crust: preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Put the butter into the bowl of a food mixer, add the caster sugar and cream them (using the flat paddle beater) till light and fluffy then add the flour and cornflour. Mix to a soft dough.
Tip the dough into the lined baking tin and press it down gently until you have filled the base. Take care not to compact it. Bake for 25 minutes till pale-biscuit coloured, then remove from the oven.
Put the lemon zest and juice, sugar and butter, cut into cubes, into a heatproof bowl. Place over a pan of simmering water, making sure that the bowl fits neatly into the top of the pan and the bottom of the basin doesn’t touch the water. Stir with a whisk until the butter has melted.
Mix the eggs and egg yolks lightly with a fork, then stir into the lemon mixture. Let the curd cook, stirring regularly, for about 20 minutes, until it is thick.
Remove from the heat and stir occasionally as it cools. Smooth the curd over the shortbread, taking it right up to the edge of the tin. Leave to set in the fridge, covered, for 2 or 3 hours, till firm.
Halve, stone and slice the peach into 12 thin pieces. Cut the tart into 12 and place a slice of peach and a raspberry on each. If you wish, a few rose petals too on each.
Follow Nigel on Twitter @NigelSlater
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