TThe scorching red days of high summer mean plates of roasted scarlet peppers and basil, tomato or watermelon vermilion salads, and bowl after bowl of arterial red cherries. There’s also the summer pudding, with its pink-purple dome of juice-soaked bread, crushed red currants and raspberries. The colors match the temperature and shake us from our late summer laziness. (It’s been seven days of salads in this kitchen.) I’ve also made a dazzling pissaladière, tossed strips of scorched red peppers between the caramelized onions and olives. We ate it outside and burned our backs on the hot stone of the kitchen stairs.
To refresh us in the summer heat, I pulled an age-old recipe from a handwritten notebook of mine (written in the 1980s, I think, inspired by a recipe by the late Katie Stewart) for slices of lemon curd. In many ways it is the forerunner of the lemon pie, but less fragile and more convenient to cut into squares to feed a crowd. The base is a soft, sweet shortbread made all the more tender by the addition of cornstarch. The filling: A mouth-puckering tart curd made with butter, lemons, and eggs. I cut peaches on top and added raspberries and rose petals.
Red peppers were served as one of those salads that you put on the table hot. The peppers need time to cool a bit so you can peel them without burning your fingers, and the whole dish seems more relaxed that way. There were chickpeas in the basil dressing, although it could have just been flageolet beans or cannellini. The only thing to watch out for here is to be brave in roasting the peppers and leaving them in until their skins show dark brown, almost black spots, so that the flesh hiding underneath is really soft and silky.
Roasted red peppers with chickpeas and basil oil
A dish more substantial than it seems. You can also use butter beans instead of chickpeas.
For 2 people as a main course, 4 with other dishes
peppers red, large 750g
olive oil a little
chickpeas canned or bottled 150g
For the oil:
basil 50g (leaves and stems)
garlic a small clove, peeled
olive oil 100ml
water 2 tablespoons
caster sugar a sniff
lemon juice a few drops
Preheat oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Cut peppers in half from stem to tip, pull out and discard core, seeds and stem. Place the peppers, cut-side up, in a roasting tin and moisten with a little olive oil – a few tablespoons should be enough. Roast the peppers for about an hour until their skins are puffed and blackened here and there from the heat of the oven. Remove the mold from the oven and cover with a tea towel or plastic bag to steam the peppers as they cool. It will make them easier to skin.
Place the basil leaves and stems in a blender or food processor and grind with the garlic to a fine paste. Gradually add the olive oil and water to make a sloppy, deep green paste. Season with a little salt, a pinch of sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. At this point, the flavor will be quite robust and peppery.
Drain the chickpeas, rinse and add to the dressing. Peel and discard the skins of the peppers, place the peppers in a mixing bowl and add the dressing and chickpeas. Add any juice from the can, however lean it may be, it will be sweet and intensely caramelized. Shake gently to lightly coat the peppers. The sweetness of the roasted peppers will soften the pepperiness of the dressing. Transfer to a serving bowl.
Lemon and raspberry squares
You need a firm curd for this. Keep the heat low to medium and stir intermittently.
For the pastry:
caster sugar 100g
For the filling:
lemons finely grated zest of 2
lemon juice 200ml
caster sugar 200g
egg yolks 2
rose petals optional
You will need a 24 x 30 cm baking tin, lined with baking paper.
Make the dough base: preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Place the butter in the bowl of a food processor, add the caster sugar and beat (using the flat beater) until light and fluffy, then add the flour and cornflour . Mix to a soft dough.
Pour the dough into the baking tray lined with baking paper and press gently until the bottom is filled. Be careful not to compress it. Bake for 25 minutes until the cookie is lightly colored and then remove from the oven.
Place the lemon zest and juice, sugar and butter, diced, in a heatproof bowl. Place over a pan of boiling water, making sure the bowl fits neatly into the top of the pan and the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Stir with a whisk until the butter has melted.
Beat the eggs and egg yolks lightly with a fork, then stir them into the lemon mixture. Let the curd cook for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until it is thick.
Remove from heat and stir occasionally as it cools. Spread the curds over the shortbread, up to the edge of the tin. Leave covered in the fridge for 2 to 3 hours until firm.
Halve, pit and cut the peach into 12 thin slices. Cut the cake into 12 pieces and place a slice of peach and a raspberry on each. Possibly also a few rose petals on each.
Follow Nigel on Twitter @NigelSlater