Let’s face it. Unless you are unlucky enough to be a professional cook working like an idiot and putting up with extreme temperatures right now, nobody wants to spend endless hours in a hot, sticky kitchen in the height of a Spanish Summer.
Ideally if you are cooking at home during this current heat wave, the food should be light, crisp, fresh and colourful, as well as quick and easy to prepare. Heavy sauces and complicated recipes are best forgotten. Keep it fresh, clean and simple.
For me, there are certain foods that were made to be eaten on long, glorious summer days: - thirst-quenching gazpacho soup, fat prawns hot from the grill, sardines drizzled with olive oil and garlic, fresh strawberries, peaches and fresh figs. I guess it’s a question of right food, right place, and right time.
One of my favourite summer ingredients are wonderful, fragrant, aromatic melons. They all have a high water content that makes them refreshing, but they can be a little disappointing if eaten either under- or over-ripe, so choose carefully.
A ripe melon should have slight ‘give’ to the skin, and at room temperature the perfumed aroma of the fruit should come through the skin. If the fruit is under-ripe it tends to be rather bland and lacking in sweetness; an over-ripe melon has a fermented, slightly unpleasant taste. All melons are believed to have originated in India and have been cultivated since ancient times when the aptly named watermelons were traditionally offered to thirsty travellers.
Watermelon is also sometimes referred to as “nature’s ice lolly” because it is so refreshing. it ‘s just about the perfect thing to eat on a beach. It takes eight to 12 hours to chill a whole watermelon thoroughly. Cut watermelon should be tightly wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for no more than four days.
Watermelon can also be mixed with fresh tomatoes, sherry vinegar and olive oil to make a cooling watermelon and tomato gazpacho. I often serve this soup in the restaurant as an appetizer during the long summer months.
A lot of melons grow in Spain including the honeydew, cantaloupe, Galia and the oddly named “Piel de Sapo”, meaning ´toad’s skin` - a reference to its dark green roughly textured surface.
Melon is the perfect partner for Serrano ham and works well with fresh ginger, mint and also adds sweetness to fruit salads or in refreshing drinks, such as fruit punches and smoothies.
Once ripened or cut, melons should be refrigerated and used within about two days. Enclose them in plastic bags to protect other produce in the refrigerator from the ethylene gas that the melons give off. Ripe melons are also very fragrant and the aroma of a cut melon can easily penetrate other foods.
Watermelon and cucumber agua fresca
Serves 6 - Prep time 20 minutes - No cooking time
- ½ small watermelon, peeled, deseeded & chopped
- 1 large cucumber, peeled, deseeded & chopped
- 1tbsp clear honey
- Juice of 3 limes
- 10 leaves of fresh mint
1 Place all the ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth.
2 Serve in tall glasses with crushed ice cubes and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.
Watermelon Gazpacho with a simple cherry tomato salad
- 200g Watermelon (de-seeded and diced)
- 1 Cucumber (peeled, seeded and diced)
- 4 Tomatoes (diced)
- 2 tbsp. sherry Vinegar
- 4 tbsp. Extra Virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
1 Blend all the ingredients in a liquidiser and pass through a fine sieve.
Chill in the refrigerator until required.
Simple cherry tomato salad
- 8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 1 small red onion (finely chopped)
- 6 basil leaves, torn
- 75ml olive oil
- A pinch of black olive Flor de Sal
1 Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and leave to sit for 10 minutes.
Divide the tomato salad between 4 large soup bowls. Pour around the chilled watermelon gazpacho and serve immediately.
Summer melon caprese salad
This is a different version of the classic Caprese replacing tomatoes with slices of sweet summer melon. Try it…it’s deliciuos!
For the salad
- 1 medium-sized ripe melon
- 12 slices Serrano ham or prosciutto
- 150g mozzarella (preferably buffalo)
- 100g pack rocket leaves
- a few small basil leaves, to garnish
For the olive oil-basil dressing
- 5 tbsp good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh basil leaves
- 2 tbsp lemon or lime juice
1 To make the dressing, whisk the olive oil, chopped basil leaves and 1 tbsp of the lemon or lime juice together with a sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
2 To prepare the salad, slice the melon into medium slices. Separate the slices of ham and slice the mozzarella.
3 Layer the melon and mozzarella slices on a platter and tuck basil in between slices, then drizzle with the dressing. Grind some extra black pepper on top if you like, and scatter everything with the rocket leaves.
Strawberry, watermelon & basil popsicles
Prep time: 15 minutes, plus freezing
- 250g fresh strawberries
- 1tbsp icing sugar
- 250g watermelon, peeled & diced
- Juice of 1 lime
- 4 fresh basil leaves
Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Freeze in Popsicle moulds. After one hour add the sticks and freeze until solid or overnight.