Not much beats the bliss of biting into the first strawberries of summer, roasting autumn squashes or the colourful sight of clementines at Christmas. We all have a favourite food that defines the very essence of that season for us. But what about all of the other ones?
For every sweet strawberry there is a tart gooseberry waiting for the chance to shine in a buttery crumble. Turning our attention to unfamiliar ingredients gives us the chance to extend our cooking skills and palates, paving the way for new tastes and knowledge.
Here is a selection of summer underdogs making their way to a market near you.
With a juicy tartness that only rhubarb can rival, gooseberries are the perfect baking fruit of summer. They arrive in June, tart and firm, and grow sweeter as summer progresses. By August you can eat them with the same abandon as sweets. Great in desserts and baking, but delicious too in savoury dishes along with the fatty, robust flavours of mackerel and pork. However you choose to get in the spirit of gooseberry season, do try both sides of the flavour spectrum.
Sweet: It’s really hard to beat simplicity with some seasonal ingredients, especially those which have a relatively short season like gooseberries. Rachel Khoo bakes hers en papillote, (in parchment paper) resulting in a gorgeously juicy surprise from the oven.
Savoury: Darina Allen’s pan-grilled summer mackerel with green gooseberry sauce is a tasty way to showcase gooseberry’s vibrant notes in a savoury setting.
You might notice these springing up on the menus of Italian restaurants at this time of year. I tasted my first in Il Viccolo in Galway and was delighted with the colour and taste of these little flowers. There are two types of courgette flowers: male and female, but it’s the male we’re interested in here. These delicate flowers should be picked or bought on the day of eating as they will wilt quickly.
Try it: The River Cottage keeps it classic with their deep fried courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta and herbs. Surely the best thing about eating seasonally is getting the full flavour from foods at their best, and this way with courgette flowers surely does just that.
Despite the fact that crab has a rather long season, its delicate flavour makes it suited to lighter summer appetites. One taste of the sweet white meat and I’m transported to the sea, cool glass of Sauvignon blanc in hand. Whether you take the plunge and prepare the crab yourself or buy it dressed, this is a real treat without the price tag of lobster.
Classic: A yummy crab bisque is a dish worthy of celebration. Rachel Allen makes this elegant soup a very straight-forward task.
Comfort: Pasta is the epitome of comfort at the best of times, but with crab thrown in it moves from simple indulgence to classy eating. Nigella Lawson’s crab linguine ticks all the boxes with the added spikes of chilli and watercress to give variation to an otherwise delicate dish.
This rather intimidating vegetable can easily be overlooked for its spiky appearance. You look at it and think, ‘what can I do with this?’ Hark your mind back to the scene in the movie Julie and Julia, where Julie Powell recreates Julia Child’s dish of artichoke with a rich lemony, butter sauce. Yes, you can do amazing things with this odd-looking vegetable. Her classic French recipe is hard to beat if it’s the first time bringing artichoke into your kitchen. It’s simple to make and you really get the true artichoke taste. Still need persuading? Think of it as a fun dining opportunity – a sort of healthier fondue.
Take it from Julia: Master the art of artichoke with lemon butter sauce the French way.
The beautiful white blossoms of the elder tree spread fast and furious from the end of May like snowy banks. It’s wonderful that elderflower comes into bloom at the same time as gooseberries, as the two pair together famously well. Make a batch of elderflower cordial, freeze some and enjoy it all year.
Master Recipe: Elderflower cordial. Diana Henry shows you how to turn your pickings into a syrupy heaven.
Experiment: Anna Jones puts the syrup to great use in her elderflower and pistachio cake. This good-looking dessert is a treat for all the senses!
Sarah is among many Irish people living in London, where she delights in exploring its exciting food scene. She is passionate about food markets, spending her weekends trawling around Borough market grazing, chatting and stocking up on all things edible.
She dedicates a blog to her adventures in the markets, from her local farmers market to those she happens upon on her travels. Writing for TheTaste allows her to share tales from the food front line with fellow eager eaters.