As with Alice, the reverse can be, and often is, the truth. The real joy lies in the contents of the cooking glass passing through the cook. Sadly there is no clear reference as to how much joy can be enjoyed before the moment when the eyes and mind mist over, with an excess of joy, and the recipe, so keenly followed until this elusive moment, metamorphoses into a periec, or more often, a burnt periec. Removing the joy from cooking would be like removing the joy from something else that I once read about, which is also very good: something about too many spoilt cooks in a brothel, I think.
Back to the glass in hand. The sun has come out, I’ve cast my clout and summer has officially begun. Summer cooking is now on my mind. So many books have been penned on the subject, but only one remains foremost in my mind: Summer Cooking by Elizabeth David. This is an anorexically slim book, which speaks volumes about the possibilities of good eating and straight forward cooking in this longed for season which, unlike the book, has a habit of disappointing. The volumes that it speaks are not concerned with long and convoluted recipes; rather with familiarising us with the idea of summer and the pleasures of the wealth of produce, synonymous with this season. This description of a summer hors d’oeuvre sets the tone:
“A dish of long red radishes, cleaned, but with a little of the green leaves left on, a dish of mixed green and black olives, a plate of raw, round, small whole tomatoes, a dish of hard (not too hard) boiled eggs cut lengthways and garnished with a bunch of parsley. A pepper mill and a salt mill, lemons and olive oil on the table; butter, and fresh bread. Not very original perhaps, but how often does one meet with a really fresh and unmessed hors d’oeuvre?”
A good rule of thumb, in summer months, is to keep cooking as simple as possible, so as to be able to sample the contents of the cooking glass with impunity. With this in mind I’d suggest a starter of radishes with salted butter: ideally they’d be pink radishes served with toast and butter from the Vendéen coast, studded with crystals of sea salt.
Follow this with a simple puff pastry tart with cherry tomatoes and goat cheese. First cook the tomatoes in a hot oven, until they are starting to caramelise. Next, cook off a disc of shop made puff pastry until it is puffed and golden brown. Cover the crisp puff pastry with a layer of tomatoes and stud it with discs of goat cheese. Cook until the cheese is melting and the tomatoes have burnt, sticky edges.
That’s certainly enough cooking for this Alice. To finish, just cut open some ripe and sweetly scented pêches plates, lay back and pretend that it’s not raining.