The last salad of summer

Yesterday I saw a woman walking down the street in a winter coat. It was a profoundly depressing sight, even if though it was a lovely coat and she’d accessorised with a natty beret. March 1 is the official start of autumn here and there’s no escaping that the summer is over. I’ve nothing against autumn per se, but things are melancholy enough at the moment and I’d prefer a few more days of sunshine first.

Seeing Miss Winter stride down the street reminded me that I haven’t shown you what we’ve been eating on an almost daily basis lately. I don’t claim to have invented this combo, but I feel as passionately about it as anything I’ve come up with myself. It’s the soul of summer – cold, salty and refreshing – so eat it with the heating turned up or wait for a really dazzling day.

Watermelon, Feta and Olive Salad
I never measure anything when I make this so excuse the vague approximations. Use the best feta, olive and watermelon you can find. The old Chinese lady at the market last week told me to look for watermelons with a black stem (or what remains of one) as this indicates that they are properly ripe.

About half a small watermelon, chopped into chunks (and deseeded if you can be bothered)
About 300g feta, chopped into chunks
About 1 cup black olives, stoned (I use the Pelion brand of kalamata olives in the distinctive khaki tin)
A couple of spring onions or 1/2 a red onion, finely sliced
A few handfuls of basil leaves
Olive oil
Black pepper

Toss everything together gently in a pretty bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and grind over lots of black pepper. Serve cold on a hot day. This also makes a great take-to-work lunch, the sort that everyone will envy.

Holiday slideshow

Want to see what we did last week? Imagine looking at these images in a darkened room, accompanied by an interminable commentary, and it will be just like a proper old-fashioned slideshow…

The Small Girl makes a run for it

Peacherines, bought in a cardboard box from a taciturn orchardist

My latest favourite find (the wine, not Big Teddy)

Holiday cooking rule #1: when in doubt, barbecue everything

Holiday cooking rule #2: When in even greater doubt, get fish and chips
Life’s great mysteries answered by the Waimarama fish ‘n chip shop

 That was our holiday, more or less. What have you been up to while I was away from the kitchen?

A peck of unpickled peppers

Sunday was supposed to be the hottest day of the summer. Yeah, right. While parts of the country sweated it out in 40C-plus, we were stuck indoors while gale-force winds whistled around the house and rattled the windows. Now, with rain coursing down, I feel extremely cheated of the summer we were promised.

One good thing about all this rain though is that our vegetable patch is becoming incredibly lush and jungle-like. Sure, most of the cherry tomatoes probably won’t survive the rain, but the peppers and chillies are producing amazing crops and the basil has grown into a veritable forest. We’ve been picking the peppers while they’re still green – it’s not hot enough here for them to go red – and they’re so much nicer than the tough, bitter ones available in the shops. Having said that though, peppers of all colours are now really cheap so I’ve been buying red and orange ones, then tucking our precious green ones in between when I make this baked peppers dish.

Newtownese Peppers (with apologies to Elizabeth David)
This can be adapted to suit the number of people you are feeding (and how greedy they are). If it’s the main vegetable component of a meal, I’d go for two peppers per person (especially if they are homegrown ones).

Peppers of assorted colours
Garlic, peeled and finely sliced
Cherry tomatoes
Basil
Olives
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C. Cut the peppers in half and strip out the seeds. Lie them on a shallow-sided baking dish (they will shrink as they cook, so it’s fine for them to be quite snug). Put a few slices of garlic, a few cherry tomatoes and a few olives into each half. Drizzle over some olive oil, then grind over some salt and pepper. Bake for about 30 minutes. Eat them hot, room temperature or cold, depending on how hot (or cold) it is outside. Strew with torn-up basil leaves just before serving.

An unfashionable pasta salad

A couple of days of bad weather and I’ve started to panic that summer is already over – and that I haven’t made the most of it. Ridiculous really, because we should have another month or so of sunshine and barbecues and – with any luck – a proper holiday by the sea to come yet.

In the meantime, I’ve been digging out some old summer favourites. Seasonal recipes can be like clothes – what suited you one season might look terribly outdated the next – but this is still worth another whirl. It might be horribly out of date by the time the northern hemisphere summer rolls around, but the rest of you should give it a bash at your next barbie (mate)…

Nectarine Pasta Salad

Pasta salads might be a bit uncool and I know the ingredients for this sound unlikely, but I urge you to put your prejudices aside. It’s fantastic barbecue fodder as you can make it several hours beforehand and it goes really well with barbecued chicken pieces or pork kebabs. For best results, make sure the nectarines are perfectly ripe and don’t overcook the pasta. Serves six.

500 good quality penne or fusilli, cooked in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente (follow packet directions if you’re unsure) and drained

3 carrots, peeled and cut into julienne strips

1 kg yellow-flesh nectarines, cut into wedges

4 spring onions, sliced

Handful of fresh mint leaves, shredded (strip the leaves from the stems, roll them up into a parcel and snip them into ribbons with a pair of scissors – you’ll feel just like a proper cook off the telly)

Dressing:

4Tbsp olive oil

4Tbsp soy sauce

4Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted in a dry frying pan

4Tbsp finely chopped root ginger

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Combine the cooked pasta, carrots, nectarines and spring onions. Shake the dressing ingredients together in a screw top jar and pour over the pasta mixture. Stir well, then tip into a serving bowl. This can be made a couple of hours in advance and stored in the fridge, but make sure it has at least 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.

Sweet sweet Friday: Banana Parfait

Last week, when I was moaning about my fruitless search for a banana and chocolate semi-freddo recipe, lovely Peggy of Fake It ‘Til You Make It fame reminded me of the world’s easiest (and best?) dessert. It’s been hideously humid and sticky here (sorry, northern hemisphere readers) and this is just heavenly.

Banana Parfait
Gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, fat-free, child-friendly, budget-friendly – there is a lot to love about this delectable dessert even before you taste it. You could always shave over some dark chocolate (or pour over some chocolate sauce (melt equal quantities of dark chocolate and cream), but it’s hard to beat as it is.

Are overripe bananas cluttering up your fruit bowl? Throw them in the freezer – you can peel them and wrap them in clingfilm if you like, but I just put them in, skin and all.
When you want to eat, take the bananas out (allow one per person) and peel off the skins with a sharp knife. Cut them into chunks and throw them in your food processor. Blitz until they have formed a smooth, icy puree (this makes a hell of a racket, but it’s worth it). Eat immediately. Chill out.

Do you have an end of the week sweet treat? Add a link to it here to spread the sweetness of Fridays…