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Let’s keep the summer fires burning

Chef, forager, food stylist and host of online cookery video series Breaking Eggs, Cliodhna Prendergast gets stoked up for her role as our new columnist with late-season barbecue ideas

I am absolutely delighted to be joining The Sunday Times as food writer and I hope over the coming weeks and months I can tease your palates with delicious recipes that will make you want to cook them. More than that though, I will try to encourage you to experiment in the kitchen. Although my recipes will be accompanied by clear instructions and great flavour matches, I encourage you to put your own spin on them.

Expect lots of seasonal Irish food from great producers across the country as well as ingredients gathered from the wild – I love foraging. There will be cooking methods to make the most of these ingredients, including flavours and techniques from around the world, set out in easy-to-follow recipes.

With the volume of new cookbooks published each year it can be difficult to identify the truly valuable ones or find the one to suit you. So over the coming weeks and months, alongside my own recipes, I will introduce you to the cookbooks I know and love. These are my trusted volumes, as integral to my kitchen as my pots and pans. I hope you will have a look at some of them and derive from them as much joy as I do.

For my first column, I advise you not to put the barbecue away just yet. With the children still off school and the season for mackerel – always best-served al fresco – at its peak, the end of August doesn’t have to mean the end of summer. In fact, I am a great believer in keeping the barbecue embers glowing throughout the year. Smoky, grilled flavours may be associated with summer but, with more robust ingredients and larger joints of meat, a barbecue can be the perfect way to light up an autumn evening.

My butterflied leg of lamb recipe could be the inspiration to challenge yourself to do something a little different. Butterfly lamb simply means a leg of lamb with the bone removed, which any good butcher will be happy to do for you. Lamb, I believe, tastes better at this time of the year than in spring: it’s had a chance to grow and mature a little and it will produce beautiful, sweet summer-grass flavors. Serving lamb with gremolata – a classic herby condiment traditionally matched with osso buco, and made with common ingredients such as parsley, garlic, and lemon -makes a refreshing and flavor-packed alternative to the classic oven roast with gravy.

For kids, a barbecue is hard to beat. Our three children love them, although one we had this summer proved quite dramatic when we almost set the bank by the beach alight – thankfully there were plenty of five-year-olds with buckets of water at hand to ensure it didn’t get out of control and all ended well. A fire extinguisher could be everything you need in times like these and could prevent potential fire accidents where the barbecue is concerned. Though I might have to research the various classifications of fire extinguishers and get one for myself, just in case I land up in another scenario such as this.

That said, the punchiest and most delicious beach food we had this year featured barbecued mackerel with tomato salsa served (because we had no cutlery or plates) in a cup of gem lettuce. It turns out that baby gem lettuce is the perfect vessel for barbecued mackerel with salsa and I will never serve it again with anything as practical as knives, forks, and plates.
Mackerel and tomato salsa leaves

Mackerel ready to serve with salsa on lettuce

Serves 4

What you will need
4 fillets of mackerel
Olive oil for brushing on the fish
1 head of baby gem lettuce
2 large ripe juicy tomatoes
clove of garlic grated or finely chopped
red chilli
1 teaspoons of capers
1 handful of chopped fresh coriander
Salt and pepper

How to prepare
Cut the tomatoes into quarters and scoop most of the seeds out, then slice each quarter into small diced pieces. Finely slice and dice the red chilli, keeping the seeds in if you want a hot salsa or discarding them to keep it milder. Add the garlic, capers, coriander and the juice of half a lime. Season with salt and pepper.

Light the barbecue and wait for the flames to die down and a nice layer of ash to form on the coals. Be aware that this will happen much quicker if you are in a windy spot, and you need all the heat you can get from the barbecue to cook the fish.

Spray or rub a small amount of oil on the mackerel fillets on both sides. Season with salt and pepper. Place the mackerel on the hot barbecue, skin side down, for about two minutes until the mackerel can be removed without sticking (the skin might rip a little, but that’s OK). Mackerel doesn’t need much cooking – the objective is crispy skin but juicy flesh – so flip the mackerel over, for only about a minute, to colour the flesh a little.

When the mackerel is cooked, use a knife to cut out the centre bones that run in a thin sliver about three- quarters of the way down the fillet. Serve on one leaf of gem lettuce with salsa on top. A little messy, but utterly delicious.

Note on salsa: This can be made to taste – more herbs, less chilli, tomato seeds included, and so on. It’s best made about an hour in advance to allow the flavours to develop.

Note on oil: I bought some spray olive oil about a year ago that sat in the back of my press until this summer when I grabbed it for the picnic bag. It is the most useful, least messy option for greasing anything for the barbecue, evenly covering food without leaving an excess to drip onto the coals.

Butterflied leg of lamb

Lamb with a sprinkling of gremolata makes a tasty alternative to an oven roast with gravy

Serves 6-8

What you will need
1 x 4.5kg butterfly leg of lamb

For the marinade:
4 garlic cloves, finely grated
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
tbsp oregano
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp honey

For the gremolata:
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
1 clove of garlic

How to prepare
Mix all the marinade ingredients together. Roll the lamb in the marinade and place in a zip-lock bag for one hour at room temperature. You can prepare this in advance and refrigerate, but let it come back to room temperature before cooking. Prepare the barbecue.

When cooking a large piece of meat it’s best to have a hot side. Better grind the meat with a grinder (click here, for example) for better processing the meat. Use a cooler side so you can sear the meat on the hot side first and then move it over to the cooler side to cook it a little more slowly.

Light the barbecue and wait for the flames to die down, then, before the grate goes on top, move the coals so that one side is higher than the other, to create two levels of heat. Let the grate heat up and then place the lamb, fat side down, on the hotter side of the grill (where the charcoals are higher) to sear the meat.

The fat may cause a flame to rise, particularly in the first 10 minutes, so have a bottle of water ready so that you can spray the flame if needs be – but stand aside as the ash may rise.

Sear one side of the meat for 10 minutes, then flip the lamb over to sear the other side for the same amount of time.

After it has been seared on both sides, move the lamb to the cooler side of the coals. Turn over every 10 minutes or so for about 30 minutes (it’s tricky to give exact cooking times as it depends on coals, wind, and so on, so see note below on testing the meat). If you feel the coals are too hot, just dampen them down with a spray of water. When the meat is cooked the way you want it (see note), take it off the barbecue and allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes.

To make the gremolata, wash and dry the parsley, removing the larger stalks, and chop finely. Wash and dry the lemon. Zest the lemon using a microplane grater if you have one, or else a vegetable peeler, taking care not to include the white pith, which is more bitter. Then chop the zest finely with a sharp knife. Grate or chop the garlic finely. Add all three ingredients together.

Sprinkle the gremolata on top of the lamb, keeping a little aside for additional sprinklings at the table.

Baked potatoes are great with this and can be cooked, wrapped in tinfoil, in the barbecue while the lamb is cooking. I cook tenderstem broccoli rolled in olive oil, salt and pepper on the barbecue, too.
How to test the meat: Bring a finger to the base of your palm. The spot where your finger touches the palm is the perfect spot to check the temperature of the meat using a skewer. Stick a skewer into the thickest part of the lamb and leave for about five seconds. Remove and place it gently on the fleshy spot of your palm. The skewer should be quite warm. If it feels cool, the meat is not cooked. If it’s lukewarm, the meat is rare. If it’s above body temperature, then it is medium (perfect for pink juicy lamb), and if it feels hot, it’s well done

The cook’s library

I would love this cookbook just for its beautiful illustrations, photos and sense of fun, but as it happens it is also packed with genuinely brilliant recipes that sing of freshness.

Yvette van Boven, who was born in Ireland to Dutch parents, is a cook, culinary magazine editor, food columnist, illustrator and the host of a Dutch television cook show. Her recipes have appeared in the pages of Bon Appétit, Delicious and Elle.

Her rich and varied life – her childhood in Ireland, home in Amsterdam, large chunks of time in Paris and Provence and love of travel – provide a wealth of food experience that she draws from to create her recipes.

Her “why not?” attitude throughout her books instils confidence in readers to have a go at making anything. On making quark (fresh, acid-set cheese) for example, she says, “It’s a piece of cake. All you need is patience. If you use skimmed milk, you’ll get skim-milk quark; if you use whole milk you’ll get whole-milk quark. Isn’t life simple? ”

Many of her recipes in Home Made Summer take no cooking at all, which is just what you need on days when you would prefer to be doing other things than standing by a hot oven.

Van Boven is the type of cook that will pull a meal together when it seems that there are no ingredients in the kitchen and her books inspire its readers to do the same. She has shared her concoction for mint lemmo drink, from the book, to go with our barbecue recipes. I like her alternative suggestion to make it with sage.
This book is for: the cook that wants kitchen inspiration with minimal fuss.

Includes recipes such as: cantaloupe soup with goat’s cheese and basil oil, scallop ceviche, apricots in muscat syrup with thyme and bay leaf.
Mint Lemmo Drink

(Makes 1 bottle of syrup)

What you will need
1 cups/50g mint leaves
1 cups/300ml water
1 cup/200g sugar
1 sliced lemon

How to prepare
Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil. After five minutes, turn off the heat and let the mixture stand for one hour. Strain the syrup, return it to the pan and bring to a boil. Over a low heat, simmer for about 15 minutes until syrupy enough (when it cools down it will become even more syrupy). Pour the syrup into an ultra-clean bottle. Put it in the fridge; it’ll keep for months.

Drink with ice-cold sparkling water, fresh mint and lemon slices.

Tips: Make with sage instead of mint or add a splash of gin or vodka.

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