July brings a glut of succulent summer fruit and vegetables. The trees and hedgerows are laden with berries, ripening peaches and the elusive British favourite: the all too short-seasoned cherry.
In the gardens and fields the aniseed-tinged fennel is perfectly tender and cucumbers and aubergines are at their freshest while mackerel, crab and lamb are the pick for meat and fish.
Top chef Theo Randall said: July is one of the best times of year for British vegetables! Some of the highlights are peas, broad beans, asparagus, red and golden beetroot, courgette flowers, swiss chard, and a variety of tomatoes (although the weather has hampered them a bit so far this year. In the summer months, I also like to cook with samphire and in the next couple of weeks one of my Recipes For The Weekend is a delicious monkfish and scallop dish with a samphire and fennel salad."
Ben Tish, Head Chef at the Salt Yard restaurant also recommends tomatoes, adding: "There are some amazing heritage varieties of tomatoes around now in all shapes, sizes and colours. Don’t jusrt go for the super sweet generic varieties that don’t have character. I like to mix a salad with 4-5 different types with a sweet one and then some crunchy and sour types to add interest and balance. Try marjoram or oregano inastead of basil for an earthy alternative.
"Grilled or bbq asparagus is a revelation. Nicely charred it adds another dimension and you loose a lot less nutrients and flavour than simply boiling. I like to serve them with an egg to,the runny yolk is a perfect partner.
We've picked our favourite ingredients for July with some inspiration for getting the best out of the cream of this season's crop.
Add to a victoria sponge cake mix for a gooey, juicy cake or layer inside a chocolate sponge with lashings of whipped cream and a few drops of kirsch cherry liqueur and some curls of dark chocolate for a cheat's black forest gateaux. Layer with crumbled amaretto or ginger biscuits and greek yoghurt in tall glasses or add to a clafoutis batter (flour, sugar, eggs, milk) and bake in a pan. Cook cherries with a spoon of cherry jam, red wine and a squeeze of orange juice and some chopped onion to make a rich sauce that goes perfectly with a pink, pan fried duck breast.
Throw a handful of fresh, raw peas into a summer salad with walnuts and feta or add at the last minute to a risotto. Make a dip for strips of toasted ciabatta bread by blending with mint and a little olive oil in a food processor or blitz with fresh spinach and watercress with vegetable stock and serve with a dollop of crème fraîche to make a light summer soup. Fry bacon with garlic and shallots before chucking in some fresh peas and chopped parsley for a tasty summer side dish.
Although it's quite delicate, crab can take some pretty strong flavours so mix it with chilli, garlic, herbs and lemon and some fresh linguini pasta or go Asian with mango, lime, coriander and rocket with a lime, chilli and ginger dressing. Mix crab meat with mashed potato, lemon, dill and parsley and roll in breadcrumbs to make crab cakes or keep it traditional and make potted crab by pouring clarified, spiced butter over crab meat in ramekins. Don't throw away the shells, you can boil them with root vegetables to make an incredible fish stock, which you can use as a base for soups and sauces.
Redcurrants are high in pectin so make brilliant jams and preserves or they look beautiful on top of summer pavlovas or in a ruby-red fruit jelly. Add redcurrants to savoury gravies and sauces to give a tangy, sharp kick to red meat like lamb or venison and game. Vodka and redcurrants are a match made in heaven so make a syrup by cooking them down with sugar and add a spoon to gin, topped up with soda and lots of ice, and garnish with a few scarlet berries.
Bake or griddle bulbs of fennel brushed with salt, pepper and olive oil on the BBQ or slice and roast under fish in the oven. Slice it thinly and serve in salads to add a zingy crunch or mix it with celery and cucumber in a white wine vinegar, mustard, dill and olive oil dressing to make a fresh, summer coleslaw. Cook the fennel bulbs with chicken stock, shallots, butter and pepper and blitz to make a puree and serve with seared scallops or fish.