What's in season… August

05 July 2013
What's in season… August

James Wellock, of fresh produce supplier Wellocks, highlights which ingredients will be at their best in August, while British Larder chef Madalene Bonvini-Hamel shares some seasonal recipes

August is a tricky month for chefs, with the Glorious 12th heralding the start of the grouse season and therefore a menu change, while amazing summer flavours are all around us.

It is also a fantastic month because we don't really have to go beyond our shores for ingredients, except for stunning stone fruit and melons. My constant theme of the 24-hour turnaround equalling flavour is therefore at the forefront of our thoughts.

Continuing this nature theme, childhood memories of picking blackberries from hedgerows and ending up with purple hands and lips really give me a taste for the berries which, this month, are stunning. Locally sourced blackberries will be big, juicy, succulent and full of sugar, especially after some sunshine. To complement the normal offer, we will also have whitecurrants - which are sweeter than the red ones - loganberries and golden raspberries.

Damsons, mainly from Evesham and the Lythe Valley, keep trying to make a resurgence but are thwarted by the weather. Fingers crossed, this year will yield a bumper crop, but be quick - the season is over very quickly. They do freeze well, however. We will be getting some French Mirabelle plums and greengages and, as an extravagance, French Muscat grapes, with their amazing perfume, all at about £5 per kg. Some nice options.

Baby vegetables have traditionally been the preserve of the French market, but in recent years this has changed, with progressive growers widening their scope, leading to a full UK offer that no one would have imagined before.

Now we do not have just one size of carrot, but by communicating with growers we can have them from seedlings, with the leaf right through to the root. There are mini carrots, which may be 3-4cm long, and the more usual size of 6-7cm. Then, to give you even more options, carrots are available not just in orange, but white, purple and yellow, too.

Various varieties are also available in other vegetables, such as beetroot, fennel,white turnips, radish and leeks. There are endless options beyond the normal sizes, and they are cheaper than ever because they are local.

You are also spoilt for choice with beans and peas, including local garden peas and broad beans, dwarf bobby beans and stick runner beans, plus imported French borlotti, yellow beans and Coco de Paimpol.

Another product moving across the Channel is chicory, both red at £3/kg and white at £2/kg, now grown in Lincolnshire. They have now got it right, with the tightly packed, elongated, overlapping fleshy leaves making a great addition to any dish. One problem with ordering chicory is that it is also known as endive and witloof - rather like the swede conundrum north of the border, where Scottish chefs will always ask for turnip.

Heritage tomatoes are becoming ever more popular - because they actually taste like tomatoes. Back to basics, they are open-pollinated, non-hybrid cultivar tomatoes, originally grown for historical interest. Now they have really caught on, and greenhouses that once produced just bog-standard tomatoes are now dedicated to bespoke heritage varieties as demand has gone crazy.

This was really apparent on a recent trip to Brittany, where local growers are jumping on the bandwagon and offering endless options, from cherry-sized tomatoes to the coeur de boeuf - a certainty, in my mind, to replace the standard round beef tomato. Why? Because it has an amazing appearance and, more importantly, the flavour and texture of a tomato.

After promoting the UK it would be very remiss of me, especially in August, not to highlight the amazing produce from France and, in particular, Provence - namely, the stone fruits: nectarines, peaches - white, yellow and blood - and, my favourite, the flat Paraguay, for which a bib is recommended as the juice will be just flowing.
Two products that I never used to eat have since become a must on every visit to the warehouse: the apricots and black figs are just outrageous and, to finish, the Charentais melon, with its beautiful perfume. Make all this produce a must - that is, if you have room. I told you we were spoilt for choice. Enjoy the head scratching.

Pan-fried hake, fennel. dry sherry sauce

(Serves six)
For the fennel 1 fennel bulb
200ml olive oil
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 bay leaf

For the dry sherry sauce 1tbs unsalted butter
1 fennel bulb, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
60g celery, finely sliced
1 banana shallot, finely sliced
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
125ml dry sherry
300ml fish stock
125ml double cream

For the sauté potatoes and seashore vegetables 12 new potatoes, cooked and sliced
2tbs unsalted butter
100g marsh samphire
50g sea purslane
50g sea aster
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the hake 6 x 150g hake fillet portions, skin on, scaled and bones removed
2tbs rapeseed oil
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

First prepare the fennel confit. Cut the fennel in half lengthways and then slice into 5mm-thick pieces. Place the fennel with seasoning, oil, garlic and bay in a small saucepan over low heat and place a cartouche on to the surface. Once the oil reaches 50°C, remove from the heat and place the pan in a warm place (on top of a oven or pan rack over the cooker) for about 30 minutes until the fennel is softened, but not puréed. Drain from the oil and keep warm until serving.
Prepare the sauce. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté the fennel, garlic, celery and shallot with seasoning until golden brown, about 7-8 minutes, stirring continuously to prevent it from catching. Once the vegetables are golden brown and softened, add the sherry to deglaze and rapid-boil for two minutes. Add the stock and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cream and bring the sauce back to the boil for one minute. Blend the sauce until smooth and pass through a fine sieve. If too thick, let down with extra fish stock. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Set aside until needed.
For the sauté potatoes, heat a non-stick frying pan with the butter. Sauté the sliced potatoes with seasoning until golden brown on both sides and add the seashore vegetables for the final 30 seconds of cooking time.
At the same time, heat another non-stick frying pan and pan-fry the seasoned hake, skin side down, first in a hot pan in the rapeseed oil for 4-5 minutes until the skin is golden brown and crisp. Turn the fish over and complete for two minutes more on the flesh side.
To serve, mix the fennel confit with the sauté potatoes and seashore vegetables. Divide it between six warm serving plates; place a piece of pan-fired hake on to each plate. Bring the sauce back to the boil, froth and serve over the fish.

Baked loganberry and white chocolate cheesecake

(Serves 10)
For the base
75g rolled oats
75g plain flour
50g soft dark brown sugar
1tbs runny clear honey
50g unsalted butter, soft, room temperature, plus 25g extra, melted

For the cheesecake
500g fresh loganberries
800g cream cheese
75ml double cream
200g caster sugar
Seeds from one vanilla pod
2 whole large free-range eggs
2 large free-range egg yolks
120g white chocolate, melted
White chocolate curls for garnishing
200ml stock syrup

First prepare the base. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line one 28cm x 18cm oblong cake frame with parchment paper. Mix the oats, flour, sugar and honey in a medium mixing bowl. Rub 50g soft butter into the mix until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Transfer the mix to a lined baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes. Stir once during the baking time and bake until golden brown. Let the crumble mixture cool for 30 minutes. Transfer the crumble mixture to a blender and pulse-blend twice. Add 25g melted butter and pulse-blend twice again. Spread the crumble mix in the base of the lined cake frame and press firmly to create the cheesecake base. Scatter 250g loganberries on the base of the cheesecake and refrigerate while preparing the filling.

Use a blender to blend the cream cheese, double cream, sugar, vanilla seeds, eggs and melted white chocolate until smooth. Do not blend more than one minute; the mix might split if it overheats. Pour the mixture over the loganberries into the prepared mould and tap a couple of times to remove any trapped air bubbles.

Bake the cheesecake for 22-25 minutes. If it has a slight wobble in the centre, then it's done. Let it cool at room temperature for 30 minutes and chill in the fridge for a minimum of three hours before cutting.

While the cheesecake is baking, mix the remainder of the fresh loganberries with the stock syrup. If you are heavy-handed, it is good, because a few crushed berries will release their juices and create a good colour for garnishing.

To serve, cut the chilled cheesecake into 10 even-width slices. Decorate with the loganberries in syrup and white chocolate curls.

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