Summer recipes from Melissa Rees

PUBLISHED: 11:06 13 May 2010 | UPDATED: 11:47 28 February 2013

Summer recipes from Melissa Rees

Summer recipes from Melissa Rees

Time to put away the casserole dish. Cast the hearty soups to the back of your mind. Summer is here and food gets lighter, brighter and tastier with Melissa Rees.

Iced Rosemary Cake

4 sprigs of rosemary
175g unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla essence
3 eggs beaten
225g self raising flour
2 tblsp milk
175g sugar

225g icing sugar
Grated rind of an orange
1 tbsp orange juice

Turn on oven to 180C/350F/gas4
Grease and line a 6 inch tin. Finely chop the rosemary leaves and put half in a bowl with the butter and sugar. Beat until pale and creamy and stir in the vanilla essence.
Gradually beat in the eggs, adding a little flour as you go to prevent curdling. Sift in the remaining flour and fold in.
Fold in the milk.
Turn in to the prepared tin and bake for 50 mins until a skewer comes out clean.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tblsp water with the remaining rosemary leaves and leave to cool.
Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add the orange rind, juice and strain in the rosemary liquid. Stir until consistency of
pouring cream.
Leave cake to cool for 5 mins before sliding a knife between cake and lining paper. Pour over the icing so that it runs down the sides and leave in the tin until cold.

For a cook, the arrival of summer is the foodie equivalent of shoving your dark winter vestments into storage and pulling out a trunk of brightly coloured cotton dresses, complete with little cardigans and slingbacks. I have been grateful for the warmth generated by stirring soups and slow-cooking casseroles over the winter. This way of cooking has been my woolly comforter, but now I cant wait to pluck some crisp shoots out of the allotment and eat it as naked as nature intended the plant that is, not me.
With bank holidays and the promise of long summer evenings stretching ahead we are already anticipating the arrival of family and friends from far flung towns and cities as surely as the arrival of goose grass. I cant help but notice how guests and pernicious weeds have nestled under cover in relative dry and comfort for many months while the rest of us slopped through mud and braved freezing winds. Then, when the bluebells rise up and the chestnut is in flower they appear and reappear throughout the summer.
Oh well. I dont begrudge anyone wanting to be here at this lovely time of year and Im really very pleased to lay more places at the table. Better still, summer visitors provide the perfect excuse to plunder Shropshires larder and put together a picnic.
As a child I missed out on the family pleasures of picnics because my father so hated the necessary combination of sitting on the ground, eating with his fingers and encountering insects. I tried to get myself invited on my next door neighbours many happy outings but they got sick of me riding round their house on my bike early on Sunday mornings and told me to buzz off. Consequently I romanticised this form of outdoor eating so much I took myself off on solitary bike rides ending up perched by riverbanks accessorised by parasols and slim volumes of poetry, eating soft cheese and quaffing red wine (actually Ribena) and being generally Edwardian.
For a more realistic eating experience I would recommend you keep your picnics simple and reduce to virtually nil the time you need spend clearing up as there is nothing romantic about sorting through greasy Tupperware at the end of the day. Also, unless you want to sit and behave much like an indulgent octopus for the entire meal, do provide food which doesnt need you to keep delving into the hamper for essential foodie extras for their pleasure.
My stock favourite is to cook up some local butchers sausages (Houghs in Stretton are very good as is the selection from Wenlock Edge), butter, mustard, some lengths of baton, and let them dig in. The sausages keep warm over an hours journey when wrapped up in a thermal bag and are handy if you end up eating them in the car watching the windows steam up as we did last time we went to Powis Castle. I also recommend you take some soup together with disposable insulated cups. Pea and lemongrass is easy, can be hot or chilled and it is a very pretty colour.
If you are determined to sit sur lherbe a plateful of coronation chicken using a 1952 recipe, with only a touch of 21st century, hits the spot. Wipe your plate with some torn up crusty bread and throw in some local cheese (Ludlow Gold, Hereford Hop or a nice piece of Shropshire Red from the Shropshire Cheese Company) and maybe a few grapes or a stick of celery. As the days are long gone for downing half a bottle of red wine, sleeping it off then getting back on the road, I settle for single variety apple juice from Jus Apples near Ledbury.
If the rain is forecast to come at you horizontally then even I would abandon the idea of a picnic and opt instead for a picnic style lunch. By that I mean plenty of dishes being passed around, lots of colour, lots of flavour, some cold, some hot. If Im feeling very generous I might roast up some rare fillet of beef and make it go a long way with plenty of other dishes like roasted saddleback potatoes with lemon thyme, a creamy bean and chick pea salad and a crunchy salad of asparagus, sugarsnaps or baby broad beans. A pile of lamb cutlets marinated in lemon, ginger and honey would be a lovely finger licking alternative to beef for later in the summer. If you buy it too young what it lacks in taste it more than makes up for in price.
For a picnic pudding for eating with your fingers you might think along the lines of brownies or a simple cake. I became a bit of a baking obsessive last autumn when I catered for all the cast and TV crew for the filming of the new Acton Scott series (the television programme set on a Victorian farm in Shropshire). I baked two cakes and puddings each day for six weeks and this rosemary cake surprised me by being one of their favourites.
For a summery dinner I might make poached local pork tenderloin; stuffed with spinach, raisins and pine nuts it is as pretty as a picture and as you will work out from the recipe, you can do all but the final stage the day before.
A delicious pudding to follow the pork would be one of my favourites; floating islands. The combination of cool vanilla custard with poached pillows of meringue crisped up with caramel is heaven. As heavenly as lying on a Shropshire riverbank watching the clouds drift by, and thats saying something.

Melissa Rees runs Milly's Menus, a bespoke catering and freezer filling service. Telephone 01694 781 403 or email:

Poached and stuffed pork tenderloin

Serves 6
A piece of pork tenderloin weighing approximately 850g
150g cooked weight of large leaf spinach (well squeezed of excess liquid) 25g toasted pine nuts, roughly chopped
12 thin slices of Serrano ham
25g raisins
400ml dark chicken stock or pork stock
50g butter
Olive oil for cooking
Sea salt and black pepper

Make a vertical incision in the meat all the way down the middle but ensuring not to cut all the way through. Then cut again either side of this incision in the same fashion so as to open out the loin to expose its surface area.
Season well with salt and pepper and then lay the spinach down the centre followed by a sprinkling of the pine nuts and the raisins. Fold the flaps of the pork over to ensure the filling is secure and tight. Next wrap the Serrano ham around the pork and ensure this is tight and that there are no gaps. Finally roll the wrapped pork tightly in cling film so
as it resembles a sausage. It is very important you tie the ends and ensure
the roll is air tight. Place in a fridge for 25 minutes to set.
Bring a pan of water to the boil and then turn to a simmer. Drop in the tenderloin and poach for approximately 15 minutes or until the pork is just cooked. Remove the roll from the pan and refresh under cold running water for 10 minutes. Remove the pork from the cling film and dry well with a clean towel.
Heat a non stick saut pan over a medium heat and a lug of olive oil. Season the pork and brown slowly on all sides ensuring not to burn the ham. Add the butter and continue turning and basting for 6-7 minutes. When the pork is fully cooked through, remove to and rest in a warm spot until ready to serve. Add the stock to the pan and reduce to a sauce. consistency while scraping any residue from the pan base.
Slice the pork and spoon over the sauce and serve.

Floating Islands with Custard and Caramel

Serves 6
425 ml milk
300ml double cream
2 tsp caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
2 level tsp cornflour
4 egg yolks
For the meringue
3 egg whites

170g caster sugar
Cointreau or Grand Marnier (optional)
Summer berries (optional)

For the caramel
100g sugar

Place half the milk, the cream and the sugar and vanilla in a pan and bring to the boil and leave to infuse.
Mix the cornflour with a little water and pour on the milk. Pour back into a pan and simmer for 4 minutes.
Beat the yolks and pour on the cream mixture in a thin stream and beat until it coats the back of a spoon. Cover with cling film.
Half fill a saut pan with water and bring to a simmer.
Whisk the whites with a pinch of salt until stiff but not dry. Whisk in the caster sugar slowly.
Using dessert spoons, drop quenelles (or just plain dollops) into the water and cook for 30 seconds. Drain. Arrange on the custard.
Dissolve sugar over gentle heat until golden brown and pour over the islands. Add some berries if liked.

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