The kitchen doors are open wide, held in place by terracotta pots of rosemary. Butterflies – pale blue, the occasional rust and black monarch – find their way in and join me at the stove. The menu is, as ever, guided by the season. Tonight, a pan of green and yellow courgettes and mushrooms, cooked with olives, basil and fat cloves of summer garlic. There will be ice-cream to follow, each scoop served with a slice cut from a ripe cantaloupe.
Care has been taken to choose the smallest courgettes, the ripest melon. Those courgettes are cooked over a moderate heat, so they become fully translucent, their cut sides lightly golden. I turn them with a palette knife as they start to colour, just catching them before they fall apart. The garlic is plump and sweet, its skin pale pink. The mushrooms are the common brown chestnut variety.
I have squeezed lemons and picked basil from a pot on the window ledge for a dressing for the courgettes, and tossed them with chopped salty green olives and a thin bunch of garlic chives. The chives have flowers like tiny white stars – irresistible – and I add them, too.
The melon’s green skin is heavily ridged with a rough spider-web of netting – a sign it is ready to cut – and has been chilling overnight in the fridge. I slice it only at the last minute. Most of the melon in this house is eaten with burrata or chalky white feta, but today it accompanies homemade ice-cream, a simple, hand-stirred recipe, and scented with pale sherry and citrus zest. It tastes like lemon syllabub, only lighter and more refreshing. As I bring lunch to the garden table, a butterfly comes, too.
Courgettes and mushrooms with green olives and basil
The small, green-freckled and lightly ridged courgettes I prefer can be elusive. I make do with what I can find. Even the largest courgettes are good cooked over a moderate heat with olive oil and garlic. If they have seeds inside, slice them in half lengthways and scoop out the woolly core with a teaspoon before slicing. Once they are edging towards tenderness, turn the heat up a notch for that last few minutes to get them to a light, golden brown. Serves 2 as main dish, 4 on the side
spring onions 5
olive oil 85ml
chestnut mushrooms 200g
For the dressing:
green olives 150g, stoned
parsley leaves 10g
basil leaves 15g
chives or garlic chives 5
Trim the spring onions, discarding the roots and the tough, dark green tip of the shoots and roughly chop them. Pour 3 tbsp of the oil into a large, shallow pan – I use a 28cm frying pan – and place over a low to moderate heat. As the oil warms, add the spring onions and leave to cook for 5 minutes, until soft.
Wipe the courgettes, slice them into rounds roughly the thickness of £1 coin, and add them to the pan. Cover with a lid, and let them cook for 5 minutes, covered by a lid. Slice the mushrooms into pieces of a similar thickness.
Lift the lid, turn the courgettes over and continue cooking for a further 5 minutes or so until they are tender and patchily golden in colour. Remove the courgettes and spring onions to a warm plate.
Make the dressing: using a food processor or by hand, finely chop the olives and put them in a mixing bowl. Finely grate the lemon zest and add to the olives, then halve the lemon and squeeze the juice from one half into the bowl. Roughly chop the parsley leaves and the basil and stir into the olive dressing.
Return the empty courgette pan to the heat, add the remaining olive oil, then the sliced mushrooms. Cook at a moderately high heat for 3 minutes, then add 2 tbsp of water and cover. Let the mushrooms continue cooking for 4 to 5 minutes, until tender. Finely chop the chives. Remove the lid, season with salt and pepper and return the courgettes to the pan.
Scatter the olive and lemon dressing over the mushrooms and courgettes and transfer to a warm serving plate.
Oloroso ice-cream, cantaloupe
An easy ice-cream, needing nothing more than a whisk. That said, a little care is needed. As you beat the cream and sherry mixture, be sure not to over-whip. If you whisk until the cream stands in peaks then you have gone too far. It should stay in soft, thick folds like that of crumpled duvet, taking only the gentlest of shakes to fall from the whisk. Serves 6
orange 1, small
lemon 1, small
oloroso sherry 75ml
caster sugar 75g
double cream 300ml
cantaloupe melon 1, ripe
Chill the melon thoroughly. Using a fine-toothed grater, grate the zest of the orange and the lemon into a mixing bowl. (If you are using a food mixer, use the mixer bowl.) Cut the fruits in half, squeeze their juice into the bowl, then add the sherry sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved then set aside for a good 2 hours. Do this the day before if you wish.
Pour the cream into the sherry and fruit juice. Using a large balloon whisk or the whisk attachment of the electric mixer, slowly whip the mixture until it starts to thicken. It is essential to whip slowly, watching closely the consistency of the mixture. As it starts to thicken, the cream will feel heavy on the whisk and you should stop as soon as it is thick enough to sit in soft, gentle waves.
Spoon into two 500ml freezer tubs and leave in the freezer for 6 hours.
Slice the melon into 6 and serve with the ice-cream.