Strawberries and asparagus for me are forever charged with the optimism of a full spring and a long summer that could come at any moment. They grow locally where I grew up in Kent.
I understand the Puritan asparagus that just loves their stalks at the moment rather than in a lick of salty melted butter, but I like to try new things. This recipe is actually a mild garlic sauce; good enough to spread the rest with bread. There’s also cucumber and fresh chili – a nod to the coming summer.
The strawberries also deserve a clear approach and few things scream summer like a decadent strawberry cream pie.
A word about the rainbow chard and mozzarella: I can’t eat these without thinking about the time I spent as a budding chef in Sydney. Those were nice sunburnt days. The lemony crème frache with melting mozzarella is all slime and zest, wrapped in a colorful, earthy package.
Rainbow chard mozzarella
Delicious as an antipasto or a complete dish with a tomato and oregano salad. Serves 4
rainbow chard leaves 8, medium size
crème frache or thick double cream 8 teaspoons
lemon 1, sieved
sea salt and black pepper
Cut the Swiss chard through the center of the stem, starting from the center of the leaf. Blanch in boiling salted water for 2 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon. Cut the mozzarella into 16 pieces.
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
Open a chard leaf and place a slice of mozzarella in the middle. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of crème frache and a pinch of salt, pepper and lemon zest. Put another piece of cheese on top and wrap the leaf around it, tuck the stems underneath. Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and repeat with the other leaves.
Bake for 8 minutes and sprinkle with salt, pepper and olive oil. Eat while it is still warm.
Asparagus, chili, cucumber, roasted spring garlic and thyme
This sauce is really very smooth despite all the garlic and relies only on the acidity of the yogurt. As soon as the season allows, I alternate asparagus with fresh tomatoes and grilled peppers. Serves 4
garlic 1 whole cup
salt and pepper
thyme 6 fresh sprigs
full yogurt 150ml
Red peppers 4, big
cucumber 1, medium
black olives 50g
green olives 50g
Preheat the oven to 150C/gas mark 2. Cut the garlic bulb in 2 so that the cloves look like half an orange when squeezed. Season lightly with salt, lay over 2 sprigs of thyme, close the garlic again and wrap in aluminum foil. Roast for 50 minutes.
Grind with a stick or another blender the garlic cloves pressed from the skin, the yogurt, a pinch of salt and 4 good tablespoons of olive oil. This makes the dressing.
Over the medium flame of a gas burner, or in a dry pan over medium heat, the skins of the peppers will blister all over. Cover and set aside to steam until cool enough to peel. Then split and scoop out and discard the seeds with a teaspoon. Lightly salt the chili meat, dress with olive oil and wash your hands well afterwards.
Increase the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Wash the asparagus, cut or cut off the hard end and halve. Peel the cucumber and cut into quarters lengthwise. Use the tip of the knife to remove and discard the seedy part and cut into pieces. Place the asparagus and cucumber side by side on a baking tray, sprinkle with salt and olive oil and bake for 15 minutes. Add the olives half way through.
On a serving platter, combine the warm vegetables and chilies and dress with the garlic sauce. Pick the remaining thyme leaves and season with ground black pepper.
A simple recipe with so much to give. This goes best with a thick fish fillet. Unlike traditional salt cod, it is seasoned shortly before cooking. Serves 4
codfish 800 g fillet
fine sea salt 60g
garlic 1 clove
pine nuts 25g
dried chili 1
basil 2 twigs
vine tomatoes 2, from a can
One hour before cooking, sprinkle the cod fillet all over with salt and sugar and let it rest on a baking tray for 45 minutes. Then wash well, pat dry and set aside.
Slice the garlic and place in a pan with 2 tbsp olive oil, the pine nuts and the chili pepper. Fry over medium heat until the garlic is slightly sticky. Add the fish, basil and shredded tomatoes. Add cup of water, bring to a boil and cover with a lid.
Baste occasionally while it cooks. Check for doneness after about 10 minutes: it’s ready when the cod gives way to a fork. Serve with bread.
strawberry cream pie
You can make the feather-light pan di spagna cake the day before. If you want to avoid grappa, use lemon juice on the strawberries. Serves 6
butter for the pan
caster sugar 90g
vanilla pod seeds of , or tsp vanilla extract
potato flour 45 g (or cornstarch)
’00’ flour 45 g (pasta flour)
sugar 2 tablespoons
grappa 5 tablespoons
double cream 500ml
lemon peel of
powdered sugar to dust
Preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3. To make the sponge, line and grease a 20cm cake tin. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs with a pinch of salt on medium speed. When it is fluffy, add the caster sugar, spoon by spoon, and then the vanilla. Keep beating for 15 minutes. This seems like ages, but by the end the eggs will be very thick and stable.
Turn off the whisk and sift over the flour and fold in gently until fully incorporated.
Fill the pan and bake for 45 minutes without opening the door. Then turn off the oven and open the door and let the cake cool in the oven for 15 minutes.
Wash, peel and cut the strawberries into thin slices. Sprinkle in a bowl with the 2 tbsp sugar and grappa and stir with a spoon. Set aside for 30 minutes.
Whip the cream with the lemon zest. Cut the cake in half and soak the bottom half with the juice from the bottom of the strawberry bowl and half of the fruit. Cover with as much cream as practical, then add the top of the cake and sprinkle with icing sugar.
Serve with the rest of the cream and strawberries.
Joe Trivelli is the joint chef of the River Café.
The Observer wants to publish recipes for seafood rated as sustainable by the The Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fishing Guide