There is something about summer dining that says to me, head to the fridge, stumble upon an almost accidental assortment of ingredients, and then make something out of nothing. Invariably, that will involve a salad in my home. One of my all-time favourites is broad bean, mint and feta. I am very much into vegetarian eating. I serve it with a home-made dressing that I learnt from my grandmother who was French and believed in keeping ﬂavours strong but uncomplicated. It involves extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice and salt. I follow a 4:1 ratio – four parts oil to one part lemon. It keeps for a long time because the oil acts as a preserve.
I also adore anything by Ottolenghi. His sweet summer salad is another of my go-to salads in summer months. He uses beetroot with sliced nectarines, honey, mustard and almonds. The textures are really pleasing. I replace the vinegar and prefer to use lemon instead, and like to alter the cheese from time to time, although the gorgonzola that he suggests is a sublime combination.
While I eat a lot of vegetarian dishes, I do eat meat providing it is organic and high-welfare. Chicken is the perfect partner here. We cook a whole chicken on the barbecue, stuffed with lemon, fresh thyme, and fresh rosemary sprigs. If you have a kettle barbecue, heat it to 200 degrees and cook it thoroughly (with the lid on) for an hour. It is so simple, but so delicious.
If I am serving dessert in summer, there is typically one direction that I go, providing I am not cooking for the same guests twice! It is the easiest pudding in the world and I stole it from our friend, Charlie Harman. His version of Eton Mess uses slowly stewed rhubarb instead of the classic fruits. I present it in a pretty crystal tumbler instead of a bowl, and I top it with leaves from the mint we grow in The White Hart garden.
When it comes to laying the table in summertime, I like that to also follow suit. It need not be overthought – quite the opposite. It is the season of less is more and of relaxation. Huge storm lanterns and candles are perfect, and an open parasol is the true deﬁnition of summer; it also provides protection from the subtle damp that sometimes creeps in at dusk. Crockery does not need to match either, it feels more relaxed when it does not. Whenever I go to an antiques show, I hunt for a new dinner plate or piece of serveware to add to my assortment of mismatched china – they are ideal for moments like these. I will then tuck large sprigs of rosemary into thick linen napkins and I will do little more than that. If our four-hour tea lights run out, then I know it has been a good party or an especially good supper.
Summer is so short. For me, celebrating it with food is one of the loveliest ways of enjoying its every moment.