Strawberries and asparagus are, for me, forever charged with the optimism of a full spring and a long summer that must come at any time. They grow locally where I grew up in Kent.
I understand the asparagus puritan who doesn’t like their stalks anything but in a slick of salted melted butter right now, but I love trying new things. This recipe is basically a mild garlic sauce; good enough to want to mop up any leftovers with bread. There’s also fresh cucumber and chilli – a nod to the upcoming summer.
Strawberries also deserve a clear approach and few things scream summer quite like a decadent strawberry cream cake.
A word about rainbow chard and mozzarella: I can’t eat them without thinking about my time as a rookie chef in Sydney. Happy sunburn days they were. The lemony creme fraiche with melty mozzarella is all oozing and tangy, wrapped in a colorful, earthy wrapper.
Mozzarella with rainbow chard
Ideal as an antipasto or as a complete dish with a salad of tomatoes and oregano. For 4 people
rainbow swiss chard leaves 8, medium sized
golden cream thick heavy cream 8 teaspoons
lemon 1, zested
sea salt and black pepper
Slit the Swiss chard down the center of the stem, starting from the middle of the leaf. Blanch in boiling salted water for 2 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon. Cut the mozzarella into 16 pieces.
Heat the oven to 180°C/thermostat 4.
Open a sheet of Swiss chard and place a slice of mozzarella in the middle. Garnish with a teaspoon of fresh cream and a pinch of salt, pepper and lemon zest. Place another piece of cheese on top and wrap the foil around it, tucking the stems underneath. Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and repeat with the remaining sheets.
Bake for 8 minutes, then sprinkle with salt, pepper and olive oil. Enjoy while still hot.
Asparagus, chilli, cucumber, roasted spring garlic and thyme
This sauce is really quite sweet despite the whole garlic, relying solely on the sourness of the yogurt. As soon as the season allows it, I will swap the asparagus with fresh tomatoes and grilled peppers. For 4 people
Garlic 1 whole head
salt and pepper
thyme 6 fresh sprigs
whole yogurt 150ml
red peppers 4, large
cucumber 1, medium
black olives 50 grams
green olives 50 grams
Heat the oven to 150C/thermostat 2. Cut the head of garlic in half, so that the cloves look like halves of an orange for the juice. Season lightly with salt, place on 2 sprigs of thyme, close the garlic and wrap in aluminum foil. Roast for 50 minutes.
Using a stick, or other blender, mix the garlic cloves pressed from the skins, the yoghurt, a pinch of salt and 4 good tablespoons of olive oil. This makes the bandage.
Over medium heat of a gas burner or in a dry skillet over medium-high heat, blister the skins of the chiles all over. Cover and steam until cool enough to peel. Then split and core and discard the seeds with a teaspoon. Lightly salt the flesh of the pepper, season it with olive oil then wash your hands well.
Turn the oven up to 180°C/thermostat 4. Wash the asparagus, cut off or break off the tough end and cut in half. Peel the cucumber and cut it in 4 lengthwise. Use the tip of the knife to remove and discard the grainy part and cut it into pieces. Place the asparagus and cucumber side by side on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and olive oil and bake for 15 minutes. Add the olives halfway through cooking.
On a serving platter, combine the hot vegetables and peppers, and season with the garlic sauce. Top with the remaining thyme leaves and season with cracked black pepper.
A simple recipe with a lot to give. It is better with a thick fillet of fish. Unlike traditional salt cod, this one is seasoned shortly before cooking. For 4 people
Cod 800g fillet
fine sea salt 60g
Garlic 1 clove
Pine nuts 25g
dried chili 1
basil 2 strands
plum tomatoes 2, from a box
One hour before cooking, sprinkle the back of cod with salt and sugar and set aside on a tray for 45 minutes. Then wash well, dry and set aside.
Mince the garlic and place it in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the pine nuts and the chilli. Sauté over medium heat until the garlic is slightly sticky. Add the fish, basil and crushed tomatoes. Add ½ cup of water, bring to a boil and cover with a lid.
Baste occasionally while cooking. Check for doneness after about 10 minutes: it’s ready when the cod yields to the fork. Serve with bread.
Strawberry cream cake
You can make the pan di spagna light as a feather cake a day in advance. If you want to skip the grappa, use lemon juice on the strawberries instead. For 6 persons
butter for the pan
caster sugar 90g
vanilla pod seeds of ½ or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
potato flour 45g (or cornstarch)
’00’ flour 45g (pasta flour)
sugar 2 tablespoons
grappa 5 tablespoons
double cream 500ml
lemon zest of ½
icing sugar to dust off
Heat the oven to 160°C/thermostat 3. To make the sponge cake, line and grease a 20 cm cake tin. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs with a pinch of salt on medium-high speed. Once foamy, add the caster sugar, spoon by spoon, then the vanilla. Continue whisking for 15 minutes. It seems like forever, but in the end the eggs will be very thick and stable.
Turn off the whisk and sift the flours and stir in gently until fully incorporated.
Fill the mold and bake for 45 minutes without opening the door. Then turn off the oven and open the door and let the cake cool in the oven for 15 minutes.
Wash, hull and thinly slice the strawberries. In a bowl, sprinkle them with the 2 tablespoons of sugar and grappa and stir with a spoon. Let stand 30 minutes.
Whip the cream with the lemon zest. Cut the cake in half and drizzle the bottom half with the juice from the bottom of the strawberry bowl and half of the fruit. Cover with as much cream as possible, then add the top of the cake and dust with icing sugar.
Serve with the rest of the cream and the strawberries.
Joe Trivelli is co-chef of the River Café.
The Observer aims to publish seafood recipes rated as sustainable by the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide