The glorious weather we’ve been enjoying this May seems to be continuing into June and although the lack of rain is not so good for farmers and my garden with its newly planted hedges, it means dining al fresco is a pleasure. With so much wonderful choice at the market, preparing a meal couldn’t be easier as at this time of year produce needs little enhancement to be enjoyed at its best.
Tomorrow, June 3rd, I’ll be cooking mackerel with Paul from Arcade Fisheries for our annual Fish Day at Penshurst Farmers Market. This silvery summer fish is perfect for outdoor eating. Cheap, tasty and best served as simply as possible, its natural oils keep the fish from drying out on the barbecue or griddle pan. It can be baked whole in the oven or served raw as sashimi or ‘cooked’ in lime juice for a ceviche.
Serve with something acidic to counteract the richness of the flesh – a simple squeeze of lemon juice, traditionally with a seasonal rhubarb or gooseberry sauce, or with a salad of wafer-thin fennel tossed with chopped fresh dill and a dressing of cider vinegar and rapeseed oil.
We are all being encouraged to eat oily fish at least once a week for its many health benefits. Mackerel is rich in healthy omega 3 fatty acids that lower the risk of heart disease, contains high levels of potassium which is beneficial to maintain healthy blood pressure levels, and is an excellent natural source of vitamin D. Studies have found it could help reduce the risk of dementia and prostate cancer. So make mackerel your fish of choice this summer. Buy at the market where your fishmonger can prepare it for you (ask him to butterfly or fillet for easy cooking and no bones) to ensure it’s at its freshest and best, .
What else to look out for this June
By the summer solstice on June 21st the sun will be rising by 4am and setting at 10pm as we mark the middle of the summer. Longer days mean growers and producers are at full stretch, and the fruits of their labours should now be in glorious evidence at your local market. Spring lamb, mackerel, asparagus, broad beans, new potatoes, strawberries and cherries – all the ingredients of a perfect midsummer celebration and at their very best this month so head off into the countryside on a quest for the best.
There are also early cucumbers, peas, French beans, spinach and courgettes, alongside all kinds of salad leaves now in season. It’s also the ideal time to plant out ‘ready to plant’ herbs and summer bedding plants. And don’t miss the last of the asparagus as the short season comes to a close this month.
The long days and the warmth also herald the start of the great English soft fruit season with strawberries in abundance – one of the great advantages of local markets is the chance to try some of the finer flavoured varieties rather than the more robust berries grown to withstand the rigours of the supermarket supply chain that may not have the same flavour. Gooseberries (wonderful paired with elderflower) are a seasonal pleasure in fools, crumbles and for jam, and it’s also the month to get summer puddings in the freezer, making the most of raspberries and currants for a traditional treat.
Local eggs are also full of flavour now as chickens enjoy the lush summer grass. A short supply chain means market eggs are really fresh. I buy a tray from Jennie’s Eggs at Penshurst every month, laid the day before the market, so they are good to eat boiled or to cook with until the next market. A frittata is a summer favourite – try this broad bean and pea version below.
Spring lamb is now at its finest, local crabs and lobster are meaty and full of flavour, and if you can find wild salmon or sea trout, simply bake them whole smeared with butter and serve with samphire, asparagus and new potatoes for the finest of English eating.
Broad bean and pea frittata
Perfect for a simple lunch or picnic, this Italian egg cake makes the most of summer flavours
Serves 4/Prepare 15 minutes/Cook 25 minutes
3 tbsp olive oil
3 – 4 spring onions, thinly sliced
6 – 8 cooked new potatoes, sliced
100g each podded fresh peas and broad beans
6 free-range eggs
50g hard local goat’s cheese, cubed
3 tbsp chopped fresh chives or mint
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Preheat the grill. Heat half the oil in a large frying pan and add the onions, potatoes and seasoning. Cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes, turning, until golden brown. Blanch the peas and broad beans in boiling water for 2 minutes then drain Add to the onions and potatoes and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in the goat’s cheese and chopped herbs.
2 Beat the eggs with the seasoning and add what is in the pan. Heat the remaining oil in a frying pan until smoking and pour in the egg mixture. Cook over a medium heat for 4 – 5 minutes until the egg is set and the base is golden. Put the pan under the grill to cook the top. Turn onto a plate and serve warm or at room temperature.