“Summertime and the living is easy, fish are jumping and the cotton is high…”
I’d take a bet that Gershwin was sitting by a river or a lake in the dog days of summer when he wrote Summertime for the opera Porgy and Bess. Minus the cotton, I’m there this summer’s holiday. We’ve just arrived at a secluded Northland beach for a few days’ camping with friends, so I’m savouring easy-living days when all I have to think about is which book I’ll read and when I’ll take my next swim.
Out of the chilly bin, a wedge of ice-cold watermelon or a juicy, fragrant white peach. In the embers of the fire, cobs of just-picked corn drizzled with lime juice and a little chilli salt. I find the best way to cook corn over the embers is to soak it in water (sea water is great) for about 10 minutes, then load the cobs in their husks into the embers, scatter some on top and cook for about 10-15 minutes. When you peel back the husks the kernels should be bright yellow. It sort of steam barbecues in there and sometimes gets a little smoky char, which is so delicious.
There’s a real sense of freedom about cooking over a fire and eating outdoors with fingers instead of forks. At this time of year I like nothing more than those simple assemblies where you light a fire, grill a piece of fish, chicken or meat and serve it up with a pot of lightly boiled waxy new potatoes and a juicy Coleslaw. One-dish salad meals also work well, especially if you’re feeding a crowd. Make a Caesar Salad and toss with grilled chicken or fish, a Greek Salad tossed with barbecued chicken or lamb, or a Rocket, Avocado & Bacon Salad tossed with grilled chicken. You can pretty much improvise on the ingredients and use the dressing as the link that brings it all together.
Before we left home I packed the chilly bin with a jar each of my Lemon Dijon Vinaigrette, Balsamic Dressing, Basil Pesto and Chilli Lime Dressing. That way I can mix and match – toss the pesto with corn, avocado, tomatoes and sliced spring onions to serve with grilled chicken or meats, or mix the lemony vinaigrette through cooked beans and potatoes with olives and capers to serve with grilled steak.
I’ve also brought with me the fixings to make paella. Recipes abound but you don’t really need one – the most important ingredient is a wide, shallow pan to cook it in. In Spain on a summer’s Sunday you’ll see families heading to the countryside and the sea armed with their paella pans for a Sunday lunch cook-up. It’s simple peasant fare that’s wonderfully convivial and once you have the hang of it you can play around with all kinds of flavour variations. On your pack list you will need onion, garlic, oil, paella rice, smoked paprika and tomato paste, then flavourings of your choice - I’m using the last of the ham bone and a spicy chorizo sausage.
For my Fire-Baked Paella, finely chop an onion and cook it gently in a wide, shallow pan with a little oil with 3 or 4 sliced cloves garlic and a small spoonful of smoked paprika. Add 2-3 tbsp tomato paste and a cup of Calasparra or other medium-grain rice. Stir over the heat for a minute or two then add enough water to cover by a finger joint, a little salt and pepper and whatever flavours you have to hand – try chopped chorizo and ham or a tin of smoked oysters. Cover and let cook gently for about 10 minutes, then if you have fresh mussels or pipis, or prawns or small pieces of chicken, arrange them on top, pressing them into the rice. Add a little more water if it looks to be drying out, cover tightly and cook for another 10 or so minutes until the protein on top is cooked and the rice is slightly crusty on the base.
Must go – another sun-filled day by the sea awaits!