Mozzarella with celery, olives and pine nuts
Hands on time: 15 minutes
Hands off time: 20-30 minutes resting
12 black olives, pitted
25g pine nuts
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1-2 celery sticks
6 mozzarella cheeses, ideally buffalo
A lighter, slightly less decadent version of the burrata recipe on the previous page. You can pair mozzarella successfully with most things, though I find that celery, with its distinctive mineral flavour, works particularly well with the salty black olives here, while the pine nuts add an unexpectedly creamy note.
The success of this dish depends upon the cheese. Buffalo mozzarella, if you can get your hands on it, is my favourite; it’s lighter and a little tangier than mozzarella made from cow’s milk.
One of the joys of this dish is that the mozzarella can be sliced a little in advance and left on its serving dish for a couple of hours, though of course the longer it sits, the less fresh it will taste.
Finely chop the olives, anchovies and pine nuts together. Spoon them into a bowl, pour over the olive oil, give everything a good stir and set aside. Thickly slice the celery.
Slice the mozzarella thickly, roughly 1cm thick, and arrange on a serving dish. Sprinkle the chopped celery over the cheese, then spoon over the olive mixture with all of its flavoured oil. Set aside – ideally in the fridge, or if fridge space is at a premium, somewhere cool – for 20–30 minutes before serving, so the cheese becomes imbued with the flavour of the oil. Bring the cheese to room temperature before serving.
Serve with: Mozzarella goes well with pretty much anything and everything, but there are few more delightful lunches that it can be served with, including alongside roast stuffed tomatoes, a big dish of baby artichoke, fennel & pecorino salad, and perhaps – if feeding a hungry crowd – an asparagus with lemon & toasted almond gratin. If you want to really spoil your guests, add a dish of Sicilian couscous salad or a generous serving of Tuscan panzanella
And for pudding: Fresh fruit, either with or without meringues, but most certainly with a healthy dollop of mascarpone.
Summer berry cloud cake
Hands on time: 25 minutes
Hands off time: 1 hour baking and 1 hour cooling
Flavourless oil, for the trays
6 egg whites
300g caster sugar, plus 2 tbsp
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar
850ml double cream
30g flaked almonds
Thyme sprigs, redcurrants and flowers, for decoration (optional)
An ode to the fruits of British summer. If you are catering for friends with dairy intolerance, you can also make this with whipped chilled coconut cream, which is every bit as good.
Heat the oven to 150C (fan) or 130C. Oil 3 baking trays and line with baking parchment. Draw a circle on each roughly 23cm in diameter (I trace around a cake tin).
In a clean mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites until they begin to peak, then add the sugar a spoonful at a time, whisking all the while. When all the sugar has been added and the mixture is glossy, gently fold in the cornflour and the vinegar. Spoon the meringue on to the baking trays, spreading it out to make 3 discs. Bake for 1 hour, then switch the oven off and leave the meringues in there to harden for another hour. You want the meringue to be crisp so that it can support the weight of the cream.
You can make the meringue up to 3 days in advance and store it in an airtight container.
To make the filling, whip the cream with an electric whisk until peaks form, but take care not to over-whip it, or it will lose that silky quality.
Take the first meringue disc and spoon roughly one-third of the cream on top, then sprinkle with one-third of the berries, half the flaked almonds and 1 tbsp caster sugar. Top with the second layer of meringue and repeat. Top with the third meringue, spoon on the last one-third of the cream and decorate with berries, thyme sprigs and flowers (just make sure they’re not noxious), if you like.
Serve with: Everyone loves buttery lemon roast chicken, cooked so the skin is golden and crisp and the meat succulent, almost sweet. To go with it, the simplest roast potatoes a really good green salad and plenty of good bread (I love walnut soda bread, but good bread from the bakery will do just as well). You literally can’t go wrong. Follow with this dreamy, creamy concoction and strong espresso or mint tea (just mint leaves in a pot of boiling water). If you’re cooking for a crowd, this works every bit as well: just scale up to two (or three) birds and perhaps make a second cake.
Spinach, mint and melted cheese Syrian frittata
Hands on time: 20 minutes
Hands off time: 40 minutes
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, roughly chopped
500g frozen spinach
125g mozzarella cheese, roughly chopped
100g feta cheese, roughly chopped
350g provolone cheese (or mild Cheddar cheese), grated
150g cottage cheese
Leaves from a small bunch of mint, roughly chopped
Fine sea salt
This is the most blissfully cheesy concoction, rather like the very middle (the creamiest bit) of a good quiche. And while it might look unassuming, much like any other frittata, it is the absolute embodiment of comfort food, served still in its frying pan. The recipe comes from Poopa Dweck’s wonderful book on Syrian food, Aromas of Aleppo, barely adapted other than to add even more cheese and a mix of different kinds.
Heat the oven to 190C (fan) or 170C. Pour the oil into a large, deep frying pan and set over a medium heat. Throw in the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until it softens and becomes translucent. Add the spinach and cook for a further 5-10 minutes, until completely defrosted.
Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Add all 4 cheeses and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined.
Take the spinach and onion mixture off the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes (or completely), then mix it in with the eggs and cheese and add the mint. Finally, add a pinch of salt; take care not to overdo it, as the feta is already quite salty. Spoon the mixture back into the frying pan (if it’s ovenproof), or into an ovenproof baking dish, ready to go in the oven. It will keep in the fridge like this, covered, for 1-2 days.
When you’re ready to cook the frittata, bake it in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes, until lightly golden on top. Serve warm. It really does taste best straight out of the oven, when it is still gooey and cheesy in the middle, although I would not turn my nose up at leftovers heated up again the next day, perhaps with a crunchy green salad or some fresh tomatoes.
Serve with: I like to add a couple of side dishes of fried broccoli with black olives and a really good tomato salad, for a light summer lunch or quick midweek supper.
And for pudding: The ambrosial pistachio butter cake with marzipan icing pays homage, in a small way, to the frittata’s middle eastern heritage.
Extract taken from ‘A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty’ by Skye McAlpine (£26, Bloomsbury)