It’s blazing hot and as we get so few days like this in the average British summer, it’s tempting to abandon the computer and leg it down to the veg patch with a basket, a trowel and a pair of scissors.
So I did.
Several hours later … I can report that the peas and broad beans are running amok, the new potatoes are throwing themselves onto the garden fork and the herb plot is full of flowers and bees and, yes, herbs.
One of the great pleasures of having a garden is the ability to grow your own fruit and veg, but you can grow herbs in a window box and more specifically, you can grow enough basil in a window box to make a decent quantity of pesto.
And once you have a pot or two of pesto, the world is your oyster. I think I’m mangling my culinary metaphors here, but you get my drift.
Pesto isn’t just for dolloping on pasta, heavenly though that is. Loosen it with a little more oil and a squeeze of lemon juice and you have a divine dressing for drizzling over summer salads.
It is particularly good with tomatoes and mozzarella – millions of Italians can’t be wrong. (Come on, we’re talking cooking, not politics. Let’s leave Berlusconi out of this).
And armed with a small tub of pesto, a sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry and a punnet of tomatoes you can knock up a really scrumptious tart in minutes.
Honestly, if you’ve never tried it, go for it. Home-made pesto is a million times better than anything you can buy in the shops. My late father in law used to eat it spread on toast.
Top tip – buy one of those big supermarket pots of basil and gently empty it out. You’ll find that you have lots of tiny individual plants and if you pot them on into a sunny window box (and remember to water them), you’ll end up with a lush crop. And the joy of it is you can use it as a cut-and-come-again plant.
Mrs Portly's Pesto
I couldn’t resist the alliteration but actually this is another of my sister in law Sarah’s recipes.
3 oz/85g basil leaves
3 oz/85g grated parmesan
3 large cloves of garlic
A double handful of pine nuts (or more to taste)
Up to half a pint of rapeseed/olive/veg oil (I used half and half light olive oil and extra virgin cold pressed rapeseed oil)
1 teaspoon of salt
Whizz the basil leaves with a little of the oil in a food processor. (I say a food processor but mine died on me as I was about to embark on this so I can say, hand on heart, that it is possible to make pesto with a stick blender and a pestle and mortar, as long as you don’t mind peppering your kitchen with pine nuts).
Add the peeled and chopped garlic, the pine nuts, salt and pepper and more oil. Blend again.
Scrape into a bowl and stir in the grated parmesan. Beat in more oil if necessary to reach the desired consistency.
Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
This freezes well for up to three months.
Tricolore Salad With a Pesto Dressing
A punnet of tomatoes
A ball of buffalo mozzarella (it’s worth pushing the boat out and buying the real thing here)
A ripe avocado
A couple of tablepoons of pesto
Oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper
Extra basil leaves to garnish
Slice the tomatoes. Cut the avocado in half lengthways and remove the pit and the peel. Slice it up or cut each half into a fan by making cuts along its length but stopping short of the narrow end and then pressing gently to fan it out.
Arrange the avocado and tomatoes on a serving plate then drain the buffalo mozzarella and tear into bite-sized pieces and scatter over the top.
Loosen the pesto with a little more oil and a good squeeze of lemon juice and drizzle over the salad.
Garnish with more basil leaves and serve.
Broad Bean Salad with Feta and Mint
Hardly any cooking required. Take 450g/1 lb of broad beans (podded weight) and cook them in boiling salted water until just tender.
Dress while still warm with a lemon vinaigrette. Add a small bunch of fresh mint leaves, chopped, and a little chopped parsley if you have it.
Cut 4 oz/125g of feta into cubes and scatter over the top. Job done, although you can make it more substantial if you like by adding cooked baby new potatoes.
Portly Family Coleslaw
I’m giving away family secrets here. While this is a ridiculously easy salad, people who are used to the more traditional cabbage-and-carrot coleslaw find it a refreshing change. It has more crunch, too. And you can make it at Christmas just as easily as in the summer – it’s great with cold turkey and ham on Boxing Day.
1 small cabbage or half a cabbage, depending on size. I used a Hispi but Savoy is probably best. Try to avoid those tasteless white cannonballs.
Half as much celery as cabbage and the same amount of tart apple.
A couple of tablespoons of Hellman’s mayonnaise
A dollop of salad cream
A squeeze of lemon juice
Optionally: some chopped onion and/or a handful of raisins
Remove the outer leaves and core of the cabbage and discard them. Chop the cabbage finely.
Do the same with the celery.
Core but don’t peel the apple, squeeze some lemon juice into your mixing bowl, chop the apples into quarter-inch dice and drop into the lemon juice.
Add the other veg, the mayo and a squirt of salad cream and mix well.
You can add finely chopped onion to this, but if you do, mix it in just before you want to eat or the onion will overpower the salad. You can also add a handful of plump raisins if you like.