Words by Jeremy Lee, Chef Proprietor at Quo Vadis in Soho.
Nothing ignites a twinkle in the eye quite like the promise of lunch. A cook thrives on the prospect of a gathering round the table and conjuring a menu. To then plot a course to and through all the favourite shops, markets and suppliers necessary to hone the thoughts of recipes considered, is a joy in itself.
A lunch any day of the year is a treat, and summer cooking for a merry lunch is a wonder. The sheer ebullience and abundance of summer fare is nigh on overwhelming. As is often the case, produce is what sparks the choice of dishes, and with it a considerable nostalgia. Childhood memories abound of Mum’s cooking and that boundless appetite of youth, whipped by the sea air of the east coast of Scotland or the wild Atlantic air of the Hebrides. Ah, those summer days of childhood that never ended, the darkest the sky ever attained, a deep violet, with us kids running wild beneath, along the beaches of whichever Hebridean Island our parents had chosen that summer… We would gather driftwood that had somehow eluded tides and rain to remain dry enough to catch light for a fire to warm ourselves. The flames were fed by the blowing winds, and they licked at sausages sizzling on sticks. These blistered marvels were always enthusiastically charred and scoffed in a trice, stuffed into folded slices of toasted bread.
Such memories come unbidden; they are never far from the surface. Most often they arise when sat at a table piled with produce bought from a favourite market stall or two, or three for that matter. Or a few favourite shops, and most likely a few other detours that were deemed utterly necessary for the business of readying lunch. I say unbidden but I confess I often think of times past, conjuring lunches from the past while podding peas and broad beans, topping and tailing beans, snapping spears of asparagus and chopping courgettes, picking herbs, grating lemons and chopping rhubarb.
Done the day before is all that can be prepared to ensure a pleasant morning in the kitchen. Come the day, there is a tart baked and in the fridge, all the company a tart requires, bowls and jugs of jersey cream, whipped cream, custard, curd and compote made with rhubarb. Sadly, my little kitchen in a flat in Hackney struggles to produce a beach, firewood and glowing embers. I have become urban. And I confess, an appetite for sausages waned, unless someone else cooks them. In their stead, I look to beautiful meat, reared with all the consideration required for good produce. I switch on the oven… to high. If not on embers, I can ensure a deep salted crust on a heated cast iron skillet warming in the oven in readiness for a butterflied leg of lamb, strewn with pepper, lemon, garlic and herbs. A dish as old as the hills and as wonderful. And to accompany, all the summer vegetables, greens in every hue, simmered gently until tender and put aside to cool until just warm, vigorous with herbs, tumbled into a large dish to accompany the lamb to table.
With these preparations in hand, it is time to consider a warm salad of squid with sea vegetables. A kindly fishmonger may well prepare the squid. Once these preparations are concluded for a delightful salad to start the proceedings, all there is left to do is encourage a giddy crew to a table laid with the happy announcement that lunch is served. JL
The following are all British summer ingredients. We recommend Natoora and H G Walter for the very best.Squid, Monksbeard, Samphire and Lemon Salad
- 250g Squid, prepared, cleaned and cut into thin strips
- The juice of half a small unwaxed lemon
- 1 bunch monksbeard, cooked for 15 seconds in boiling water
- 50g Samphire, cooked for 15 seconds in boiling water
- 1 bunch Spring onions, trimmed and sliced finely
- 75g young bunch or leaf spinach
- 1 small bunch flat leaf Parsley
- 1 small bunch Rocket
- The finely grated zest and juice of the other half a small lemon
- 120g Green olives
- 2 cloves Garlic
- 1 tbsp Cider vinegar
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2kg Leg of lamb, butterflied and trimmed
- A small bundle of thyme
- 4 Bay leaves
- 4 cloves of garlic
- The finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
- 3 tbsp of best red wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- I head fennel
- 2 small brown onions
- I heart of celery, plus leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 bunch Asparagus
- 2 Courgettes
- 120g Peas
- 120g Broad beans
- 4 small Artichokes
- 100g Green beans
- 150g new Potatoes
- I small bunch flat leaf parsley
- 250g plain flour
- 125g unsalted butter
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp cold water
- 4 sticks of rhubarb
- 1 orange
- 1 vanilla pod
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 250g whole peeled almonds
- 250g unsalted butter, softened
- 125g caster sugar
- 2 whole best eggs
- 3 lemons, finely grated, halved and juiced
- 75g caster sugar
- 75g unsalted butter
- 2 large eggs
- 250ml milk
- 3 egg yolks
- 50g caster sugar
- 50ml double cream
- 1 vanilla pod
- A bowl of whipped cream
And now what to do.
Pudding can be prepped the day before, the tart baked earlier in the day.
Rub the cold butter and flour together until a crumb forms. Add the sugar. Then the egg and water. Mix deftly to a dough then knead lightly. Form into disc, wrap and refrigerate. Roll out on a lightly floured surface and line a tart case. Chill.
Beat the sugar and butter until well mixed. Beat the egg and add slowly, stirring all the while. Stir in the almonds. Cover and chill.
Set a pan of water to simmer on a gentle heat. Melt the butter in a bowl sat over the water, but not touching. Add the sugar, lemon zest and juice. Mix, then whisk in the eggs. Mix well and stir gently until thickened, say 10-12 minutes. Remove from the heat. Decant, cover and chill.
Split the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds adding both to a pan with the milk. Place the pan on a moderate heat and bring to a simmer to infuse. Stir the egg yolks with the sugar. Pour on the infused milk. Return to the pan and stir over a gentle heat until thickened. Pour in the double cream. Stir and remove from the heat. Pass through a sieve, stir well, cool, cover and chill.
Wash and trim the rhubarb. Slice into pieces about 2 cm long. Split and scrape the vanilla pod. Finely zest, halve and juice the orange. Mix all together and place in a pan to cook gently, stirring from time to time until the rhubarb is tender. Remove from the heat, cool and refrigerate.
To bake the tart.
Heat the oven to 150oC. Spoon the frangepane evenly into the tart case. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour until golden brown.
Remove from the oven and let cool until just warm.
Remove the tart from the case and place on a handsome dish. Strew with slivered toasted almonds and dust with a little sugar.
Decant the lemon curd, custard, rhubarb and whipped cream into bowls and jugs.
To cook the lamb.
Heat the oven to 250oC
Place a cast iron skillet or roasting pan in the oven to heat. Liberally and evenly rub the skin side of the butterflied leg with sea salt and a tablespoon of olive oil.
Liberally and evenly rub the flesh of the lamb with freshly ground pepper. Remove the heated skillet or tray from the oven and cover the bottom with a light film of olive oil. Lay the salted side of the meat gently in the oil then finish seasoning the peppered flesh with a little more salt. Place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes or so until the meat is cooked to a mild blush.
Chop the thyme, bay leaves and garlic coarsely and mix with the lemon zest, red wine vinegar and olive oil.
When the leg is cooked, remove carefully from the oven. Spoon the herbs, vinegar and oil evenly over the meat and into the pan, having a care for any furious sputterings. Let the pan cool for 10 minutes before lifting the lamb with care, two pairs of tongs are most recommended for this manoeuvre.
Turn the lamb two or three times, with much care and move gently in the skillet to ensure an even coating of marinade. Let the lamb sit, perhaps covered with a lid or tin foil to keep the lamb that bit warmer than ambient.
The rest is vital, the lamb sitting for at least half an hour.
To cook a pot of green vegetables.
Peel the onion and coarsely chop along with the fennel and celery.
Peel and thinly slice the garlic.
Cook these gently in a wide pot in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, placing a lid atop. When ready, add each vegetable to the pot, stirring well.
Lightly scrub the potatoes and halve or leave whole depending on size.
Peel and slice the artichokes. Chop the courgettes. Pod the peas. Pod the broad beans. Top and tail the green beans. Add a few spoonfuls of water if required. Simmer gently together until tender, say 20-25 minutes, adding sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Pick and chop the parsley and add to the pot for the last 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
Lift the lamb onto a board and carve into slices. Lay the sliced lamb onto a handsome dish and spoon over all the juices gathered in the pan. Decant the pot of green vegetables into a bowl and serve.
To cook the squid.
Pick the parsley and chop finely. Slice the rocket finely. Chop the olives coarsely. Finely grate and juice the lemon. Finely chop the garlic. Mix all with the finely grated zest and juice of lemon, a big pinch of freshly milled pepper and place in the bottom of a large bowl. Add the cooked samphire, monksbeard and sliced spring onion.
Rinse the prepared and sliced squid and let drain. Dress with lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt and freshly milled pepper. Mix well.
Heat a wide frying pan and add in the squid. Cook undisturbed for 1 minute then toss lightly, cook for 1 minute more then add to the bowl. Mix well, heap onto a large dish and serve swiftly.