As we drift into summer, the way we cook begins to change. We can hear the warm breeze calling us to step out of the kitchen and cook something outside for a change. In June, I love to cook the first mackerel of the season over the fire – it’s one of the best ways to eat them – but it’s not difficult to make fresh, seasonal vegetables the focus of your outdoor cookery, too. There are so many that lend themselves beautifully to the searing heat of charcoal and the gentle aroma of wood smoke.
Barbecued heritage tomatoes with red onions, fennel seeds, crumbled Italian sausage, capers and mascarpone (pictured above)
Prep 30 min
Cook 20 min
4 good pork sausages (free-range or organic, for preference)
1 good pinch dried chilli flakes
2 garlic cloves, crushed or grated
2 tsp fennel seeds, toasted and lightly bashed
Leaves from 1 small bunch thyme
Salt and black pepper
2 red onions
600-700g ripe heritage tomatoes (a mix of colours and sizes, if possible)
2-3 sprigs rosemary, leaves stripped
4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
2 tbsp baby capers
1 small bunch chives
Split the sausages, peel off and discard the skins and crumble the meat into a bowl. Add the chilli flakes, garlic, half the fennel seeds and half the thyme leaves, then season and mix well to combine.
Prepare your fire and, when the flames have died back and you have a good, even bed of hot embers, set a grill in place.
Cut each onion into eight wedges and halve the tomatoes around their equators. Put the onion wedges and tomatoes in a large bowl with the rosemary, the remaining fennel seeds, two tablespoons of olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper.
Put the onions and tomatoes on the hot grill and cook, turning regularly, for 12-15 minutes – it’s fine if they blister and smoke, but don’t let them burn. You want the onions to be nice and soft and the tomatoes charred and juicy.
Meanwhile, set a pan over the fire and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Crumble in the sausage meat in little bits and fry, turning regularly, until it starts to crisp in places. Add the capers, toss once or twice, and keep warm.
Mix the mascarpone with the chives, a tablespoon of olive oil and a little salt and pepper; if the mix seems a little too thick, loosen with a teaspoon or two of cold water.
To serve, spread the mascarpone over the base of a large platter. Arrange the barbecued tomatoes and onions on top, then sprinkle over the sausage and capers. Scatter over the remaining thyme leaves and a final trickle of olive oil, and serve.
Grilled courgettes and spring onion bruschetta with basil mayonnaise, salted anchovies and chilli
Prep 30 min
Cook 30 min
4 tbsp mayonnaise
1 small bunch basil, leaves picked and finely shredded
5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt and black pepper
50g salted anchovies in oil (I like Fish4Ever), roughly chopped
1 small bunch dill, chopped, plus a few extra whole fronds to finish
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
½ tsp dried chilli
3–4 medium courgettes
1 large bunch spring onions
4 good slices fresh sourdough bread
In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, basil, one tablespoon of olive oil and half the lemon zest, season to taste and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the anchovies, half the chopped dill, the grated garlic, two tablespoons of olive oil and half the chilli flakes, and set aside.
Top and tail the courgettes, cut them in half across their length (giving you two round cylinders), then cut each half lengthways into 3-4mm-thick strips about 3-4mm thick. Trim the spring onions, halve them from tip to root and put them and the courgettes into a large bowl and season. Add two tablespoons of olive oil, the remaining dill and lemon zest, and tumble together.
Light your barbecue. When the embers are glowing hot, lay the courgettes and spring onions on the grill and cook for eight to 12 minutes on each side, or until lightly and evenly charred with some caramelisation. Tumble the hot vegetables through the anchovies and garlic mix, adding the lemon juice and a little more seasoning if needed.
Toast both sides of the bread on the barbecue, then trickle each slice with some of the garlicky oil from the courgettes. Pile the grilled veg on to the toasts, top each one with a big spoon of basil mayonnaise, a sprinkling of chilli and a scattering of dill fronds, and serve at once.
Barbecued little gems with crispy pork, soft blue cheese and wet polenta with lots of garden herbs
Prep 25 min
Cook 35 min
Sea salt and black pepper
4 little gems, halved, washed and patted dry
2 tbsp olive oil
4 x 2-3cm-thick pork belly strips (about 500-600g; organic, for preference)
About 800ml vegetable stock
150g fine polenta
50g hard sheep’s cheese or cheddar, grated
1 knob butter
2 handfuls chopped herbs (chives, parsley, basil, thyme, lovage, oregano)
75g soft blue cheese
A few fennel tops, if available
Light the barbecue. Season the little gem halves, drizzle them with a tablespoon of the oil and, once the coals are glowing nice and hot, lay the lettuce cut side down on the grill and cook for five to 10 minutes on each side – you want them to soften, take on some colour and caramelise; a little charring improves the dish.
Season the pork belly strips and put them on the grill next to the lettuce. Cook them for six to eight minutes on each side, or until nice and dark and crisp.
Keep the lettuce and pork belly warm while you make the polenta. You can do this over the fire, but it might be quicker on the hob. Either way, bring the stock to a gentle simmer in a large, heavy-based pan. Pour in the polenta in a slow, steady stream, stirring as you add it. It will thicken quite quickly, but will need gentle simmering for six to eight minutes, until the grain is cooked properly. If it becomes too thick, add a dash more stock. Stir in the cheese, butter and chopped herbs, then season to taste.
Divide the wet polenta between four plates, or spoon it out over one large, oval platter. Arrange the barbecued lettuce halves on top of the polenta. Cut the crisp pork into little pieces and scatter over the lettuce, crumble over the blue cheese and finish with a scattering of fennel tops, if you have them, and a trickle of the remaining olive oil.
Barbecued asparagus and spring onions with buttered new potatoes, broad beans and dill hollandaise
Prep 10 min
Cook 50 min
Sea salt and black pepper
2-3 handfuls broad beans in the pod, podded
1kg Cornish new potatoes, scrubbed
1 small bunch mint, leaves picked and stalks reserved
24 asparagus spears
1 medium bunch spring onions, trimmed
1 tbsp olive oil
For the dill hollandaise
150g unsalted butter
2 very fresh egg yolks (organic, for preference)
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 good pinch toasted, crushed coriander seeds
1 small bunch dill, finely chopped
Bring a medium pan of salted water to a boil. Add the broad beans and cook for two to three minutes, until just tender. Drain, then refresh under cold water. (If the beans are big, try popping them out of their outer skins, because they have a tendency to be tough; if they’re little beans, don’t bother.)
Meanwhile, halve the potatoes if they’re on the large side and put them in a pan with the reserved mint stalks. Cover with well-salted water, bring to a boil, then simmer for eight to 15 minutes (the cooking time will vary according to how fresh your potatoes are and the variety), or until just tender, then drain and return to the pan; discard the mint stalks. Add the butter, the cooked broad beans and season well. Chop the mint leaves, add to the pot, then stir everything and set aside.
Make sure the fire is nice and hot before you cook the asparagus and spring onions. Snap the woody base off each spear, then put the asparagus on a plate with the trimmed spring onions. Trickle with the olive oil, season, then grill for two to four minutes on each side, or until nicely charred.
To make the hollandaise, gently melt the butter in a small pan. Meanwhile, put the egg yolks, vinegar, coriander and a pinch of salt in a large heatproof bowl with a tablespoon of water. Set the bowl over a pan of just-simmering water and whisk for three to four minutes, until pale and thick. Trickle in the hot, melted butter, whisking as you go – if the sauce becomes too thick, add a dash of warm water. Add the dill, season to taste and keep warm.
Divide the warm, buttery potatoes and beans between four large plates. Arrange the asparagus and spring onions alongside, spoon over the hollandaise and serve.
Barbecued baby beetroot, white bean hummus and roasted nuts and seeds
Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr
10-12 golf ball-sized beetroot
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 small bunch mint, leaves picked
For the roasted nuts and seeds
25g sunflower seeds
25g pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
1 good pinch dried chilli flakes
2-3 sprigs rosemary
1 garlic clove, peeled and bashed
½ tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp runny honey
For the hummus
1 x 400g tin haricot or butter beans, drained
Juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely grated
1 tsp toasted ground cumin
2 tbsp tahini
4-5 tbsp water
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
First make the seed mixture. Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/350 F/gas 4. Put all the seeds and nuts in a bowl, add all the other ingredients and toss to combine. Spread the mixture out over a large, flat baking tray, then bake, turning with a spatula a few times, for 12–15 minutes, until fragrant and toasty-looking. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Meanwhile, put the beans into the bowl of a food processor with the lemon juice, garlic, cumin, tahini and water. Whizz everything up while adding the olive oil – you might need to scrape down the sides of the bowl and whizz again to make sure it’s smooth. Season with plenty of salt and black pepper, then add more lemon juice, garlic or cumin, if you think it needs it.
Light the barbecue and, once the charcoal has burnt down and you’re left with lovely, hot glowing embers, it’s time to cook the beetroot. Trim the tops from the beetroot, scrub them in fresh water, but don’t peel them. Trickle the beets with a tablespoon of olive oil, then season. Put the beetroot on the grill over the hot embers and cook, turning regularly, for 30-45 minutes. Don’t worry if the skins blister and blacken in places, because this adds to the flavour and texture.
Spoon the hummus over a large platter. Halve the beetroot, arrange them cut side up on top of the hummus, then trickle olive oil over each half and season. Scatter over the seed and nut mixture, finish with a small scattering of mint leaves and serve.