By Well Seasoned, May 23 2018 11:53AM
We’ve had some fantastic weather already this year and as I look out the window across a hazy London skyline I can confidently say summer is finally in sight. It’s time for long, cooling drinks, barbecues and lazy days in the garden. These two recipes, from our May and June chapters will help you make the most of the sunshine.
Near us, the elderflowers are just coming into bloom and you’ve probably got two to three weeks to gather your haul. Likewise, the herb garden is at its peak right now, before the scorching hot weather arrives, which will often be too much for delicate basil plants, so it’s time to get picking and make a batch of pesto.
Harry McKew’s elderflower cordial (by Jon)
Harry McKew was my grandfather and a master maker of cordials, jams and pickles. He taught me a great deal of what I know about preserving. While I was researching the book, his original recipe, written on a tatty scrap of paper, fell out of the pages of an old paperback. It’s as if he wanted me to share it with you. The citric acid is essential if you want your cordial to last (it will help it keep for months rather than days) but not if you plan to drink it straight away.
makes approximately 1.5l of cordial
25 elderflower heads
4 oranges and 2 lemons, chopped
50g citric acid (available from chemists)
1. Cut off any leaves and inspect each elderflower head for any insect passengers. Pour the water into a large pan and bring to the boil. Take off the heat and add the sugar, stirring until dissolved. Add the heads, fruit and citric acid to the pan. Stir well then cover and leave to infuse for 24–48 hours.
2. Strain the liquid though a clean tea towel or muslin, then pour into sterilized bottles and seal.
3. To serve, dilute the cordial about 10:1 with still or sparkling water. (You can also add it to sparkling wine for a classy dinner-party aperitif.)
Basil pesto (by Russ)
As a taste of summer goes, basil has to be high in the charts; an association with Mediterranean holidays, maybe? On a warm summer’s day, is there anything much better than a plate of perfectly ripe tomatoes drenched in good olive oil, strewn with freshly torn basil leaves and finished with crunchy sea salt, perhaps with a chilled glass of good rosé to hand? There are various types of basil used in many different national cuisines but I guess the strongest association is with Italy and genovese pesto. In Dino Joannides’s excellent book on Italian cuisine, Semplice, he talks about the unique terroir where Ligurian basil is grown, the sweetness of its aroma and how the leaves are harvested young before being combined with pine nuts, pecorino cheese and the best sweet olive oil. As with other green sauces such as salsa verde, the actual recipe isn’t vitally important, as everyone has their own preference. The key is the best possible ingredients you can lay your hands on.
I have a love of Spanish Arbequina olive oil, a brand called Mestral, but you will have your own favourite. I like a little lemon juice in my pesto to give some acidity, but using a sharp pecorino cheese will help in this direction. Most recipes evolve over the years; when I was first taught to make pesto it was in large quantities in a food processor and we always toasted the pine nuts, but I have come to prefer using untoasted ones for a sweeter, creamier flavour. Old Winchester cheese is a good alternative to the Parmesan often used in pesto, but feel free to blend and experiment.
Making pesto is a great way of extending the season or using up a glut and isn’t the exclusive domain of basil. I find wild garlic pesto (see recipe on p. 70) keeps well in the fridge for several weeks, but basil pesto has more delicately nuanced flavours and is best served as fresh as possible. Equally important if you are using pesto in a hot dish is to add it at the last minute to preserve the colour and flavour.
serves 4 for a pasta main course
1 clove of garlic
1 tsp Maldon sea salt
30g pine nuts
50g basil leaves, roughly chopped
20g pecorino, coarsely grated
30g Old Winchester, coarsely grated
50–60ml light, fruity olive oil
1–2 tsp lemon juice
1. Using a pestle and mortar, pound the garlic, salt and pine nuts to a paste. Gradually work in the basil leaves, pounding and rotating with the mortar.
2. Once all the basil has been incorporated, mix in the cheese and then the olive oil. Check the seasoning and add a little lemon juice to taste. You can, of course, use a food processor for this – just check that the blades are sharp and use the pulse button.