When it comes to produce, nobody told fruit and veg that British summertime doesn’t formally begin until June 21st (summer solstice). Just a quick peek at the delights that come into season in June will leave you in no doubt: we have arrived - summer is here. In fact, we are well and truly spoilt. This month we shine our spotlight on some household favourites – carrots, aubergines and strawberries – as well as some lesser-known stars… when was the last time you enjoyed a courgette flower? Here’s our essential guide to June’s luscious produce…
From the land…
From the sea…
Spotlight On: June’s Most Divine
The deep purple outer and plump flesh make aubergines quite irresistible. Despite this, the plum-coloured berry (yes, berry!) has a bad reputation for being bitter. In days gone by, this was usually overcome by slicing and salting before cooking. However, this is no longer necessary - modern varieties are smoky and lovely, rather than bitter.
When buying aubergines, look for firm and glossy with a vibrant green stalk. Weight is a good attribute too. Store aubergines in the fridge and use within a couple of days. An impressive (and utterly delicious) way to serve these purple beauties is as hand cooked veg crisps – finely slice and fry them for an unexpected pre-dinner indulgence.
Blackcurrants are, unarguably, the most intensely coloured and flavoured member of the currant family. Small in size but big in flavour, we are head-over-heels in love with their delicious tartness. Highly aromatic, their earthy flavour is perfect in summer puddings, jams and a naughty home-brewed crème de cassis liqueur. The liqueur is jolly expensive to buy, but the home-brewed variety is a gorgeously affordable way to enjoy it. Mix crème de cassis with white wine to make a kir, or pour over strawberries for a sweet treat. When buying, look for plump, firm currants with shiny, unbroken skins.
Interestingly, blackcurrants are far more nutritious than more exotic fruits such as goji berries and blueberries. Hence, they are firm favourites with celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow. Recent surveys have even suggested that eating blackcurrants can help to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
The humble carrot is surely one of the most versatile vegetables around. Its sweet, slightly earthy flavour is exquisitely delicious in everything from indulgent carrot cakes to summer salads and Sunday roasts. Whilst buying organic is always recommended, carrots are where you will really notice the difference –the sweeter flavour is well worth the extra expense. Better still, throw a bit of variety into the mix with Heritage carrots; available in a host of vibrant colours they’ll brighten up any dish.
A little known fact is that most carrots don’t need to be peeled. The bulk of the nutrients are stored just beyond the skins, so it’s best not to. Young, fresh carrots will be exquisite when they are simply topped and tailed. However, if they are a bit older, they can become tough and gently peeling can be beneficial. The freshest carrots are firm, with unblemished, bright orange skins. When buying organic, look for thin carrots with their feathery greens still attached - they'll be gorgeously tender and sweet.
Courgette flowers are an utter delicacy – they’re quite possibly one of the most special veggie treats out there. If you stumble across these delicate flowers in your travels, snap them up and plan to use them as soon as you get home. Failing that, store them in a zip-lock plastic bag and be sure to use them within 2-3 days. The ultimate time to buy them is when they’re still attached to the courgette – this is a sign that they’re still youthful, fresh… and delicious.
A gorgeous way to serve these melt-in-your-mouth flowers is to stuff them with herbs and cheese before dipping them in a light batter and deep frying them. Alternatively, gently toss them in olive oil and stir them through a perfectly-cooked risotto.
Succulent, sweet and exquisite, strawberries are synonymous with the British summer. Thanks to imports from warmer climates, strawberries can of course be bought all year round, but it’s well-worth holding out for British varieties. Picking strawberries interrupts the ripening process so foreign varieties are typically picked when they are still hard in order to travel well. The less time a strawberry takes to get from field to plate, the more divine they will be.
The ultimate way to enjoy superbly-ripe strawberries is by picking your own at a local fruit farm. Look for plump, shiny, tender berries, with a good, bright colour and a sweet aroma, preferably with their leafy stalk still attached. Small and medium-sized berries are always the sweetest. Chef recommends that you keep an eye out for Ava, Florence, Alice and Rhapsody varieties when buying British.
Try grinding fresh black pepper over a small dish of strawberries and see how it enhances the addictive flavour of the fruit, releasing a very subtle pepper taste.