There’s a summer cake cooling on the side, its crumb still warm, plump apricots peeping through its oat and almond crust. I shall bring it to the table in the garden in slices, with a tub of crème fraîche. Before that, there will be a hugger-mugger assortment of salads – tomato and anchovy, couscous with broad beans and orange, and smoked mackerel with horseradish sauce. From the oven will come a battered tin of roast summer vegetables, slender carrots and baby beetroots plump as golf balls, with new potatoes in their skins, all toasted and golden, and a dressing of coriander seeds, black pepper and green olives.
Lunch will be on the table for everyone to tuck in as they wish – a single salad at a time, or a generous jumble so the dressings merge on the plate, to eat however one feels comfortable. Anyone who demands even a modicum of formality on a summer weekend lunch is on a hiding to nothing, but the cooking must still be careful and thoughtful. The smallest and freshest vegetables, salads put together with any eye to balance – just a few bitter rocket or watercress leaves among mostly sweet, soft, buttery lettuce; crisp cucumber with an old-fashioned salad cream and dishes of perfectly scrubbed radishes.
This is the way I want to eat in the summer. Lunches and dinners that appear effortless yet still allow me to have a good time at the stove: a cake made with love; a berry-freckled tart to share with friends; a precisely made dessert of seasonal fruits and hand-stirred custard. Cooking that is done for the joy of it and eaten at leisure.
Roast summer vegetables with coriander and lemon
No matter what else is on the table on a summer’s day, I will often bring out a dish of roast vegetables. The young beetroots and spring carrots roast well, but you will get a more tender result if you boil or steam them first. Serves 4 as a side dish
new potatoes 650g
beetroot 4, young
spring carrots 8
black peppercorns ½ tsp
coriander seeds 2 tsp
sea salt flakes ½ tsp
green olives 10, stoned
Wash the potatoes, then bring them to the boil in deep, lightly salted water. Meanwhile, scrub the carrots and the beetroot, but don’t peel them.
When the potatoes have been cooking for about 10 minutes, add the carrots and beetroots whole, and continue cooking for a further 5 minutes until the carrots are showing the first signs of tenderness.
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Coarsely grind together the black peppercorns and coriander seeds. Add ½ tsp of sea salt flakes.
Pour 3 tbsp of olive oil into a roasting tin and warm in the oven for 5 minutes. Drain the vegetables, cut the spring carrots and potatoes in half lengthways, and cut the beetroot into thick wedges. Add them to the hot oil in the roasting tin, add the coriander-seed seasoning and place in the oven. Squeeze over a little lemon juice.
Roast the vegetables for about 30 minutes until golden and tender. Slice in half 10 stoned, green olives and add them to the roasting tin, toss gently with the vegetables and bring to the table.
Apricot crumble slice
Soft and tender: apricot slice, perfect served with cream. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer
A slicing cake for a summer dessert or teatime. The cake is soft and tender – you will find it easiest to transfer from tin to plate with a palette knife. I love cream with this, either lightly whipped double cream, or the more piquant crème fraîche – both will flatter the apricots. Makes 12
For the crumble:
demerara sugar 50g
rolled oats 40g
almonds 30g, ground
pistachios 50g, chopped (optional)
water 2 tbsp
For the cake mixture:
caster sugar 100g
plain flour 50g
baking powder 1 level tsp
ground almonds 50g
apricots ripe 650g, halved and stoned.
You will also need a deep-sided baking tin, 20cm x 20cm, lined with baking parchment. Make the crumble layer. Cut the butter into small pieces, rub it into the flour with your fingers and thumb until it resembles coarse fresh breadcrumbs, then stir in the demerara sugar, oats, ground almonds and pistachios (if using) and set aside.
Put the butter and caster sugar in a food mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and cream until light and fluffy. You can do it by hand too, but make sure the butter isn’t straight from the fridge.
Stir together the flour, baking powder and ground almonds. Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4.
Break the eggs into a bowl and beat with a fork or small whisk, then add the mixture, a little at a time, to the sugar and butter, beating continuously. Now gently mix in the flour mixture, taking care not to mix thoroughly without any lumps of flour, but not overmixing. Transfer the cake mix to the lined baking tin and smooth the surface gently to the edges.
Place the apricot halves on the cake mixture in one layer. Add the water to the crumble mix and shake the bowl from side to side to form crumbs. Scatter the crumble over the apricots and bake for 45-50 minutes till the cake is cooked and the apricots tender.
Remove from the oven and set aside to rest until almost cool. Run a palette knife round the edge to loosen it, then cut into 12 small bars. Leave to cool completely. Serve with cream if you wish.