Holiday time! Once you’ve managed to get out of Dover or Heathrow, it’s the sun, the beach and exciting food. Those ripe tomatoes with fresh burrata, swimming in olive oil! The baguettes carried back from boulangerie, ends obligatorily bitten off on the way! The prawns jumping off the grill, fragrant with garlic! Pastéis de nata for breakfast! Lamb souvlaki washed down with retsina! Totally worth those two days spent on the M20!
But what about those of us who are not going anywhere exciting or, like me, already had our main holiday back in April? The weather obliges so far, so if you get a few days off work, you can pretend you are in a landlocked part of Greece. Unless you live on the coast of course, in which case only tavernas will be missing.
But I know what we all should do: cheer ourselves up with holiday style food. It’s not just ice cream and rosé, you know.
I know that all those gorgeous dishes never taste the same when you try to replicate them on your return home but this is a different project. It’s about cooking something that will bring a happy holiday vibe to Swindon or Leeds.
I’ll start with paella, because even though it might seem daunting in terms of both ingredients and gear, it is actually not at all difficult to make. And once you’ve mastered the basic recipe, you can make no end of variations swapping prawns and chicken for sausages, bacon, tofu, chopped up burgers, sweetcorn and anything else you like, spurning the ‘it’s not proper Spanish way!’ criticism. And later, do the same with fideua.
If you yearn for Greek street food, make your own pork gyros with tzatziki and pita bread. I promise you’ll be cooking it again and again, not as a holiday replacement but because it’s so bloody good.
Ratatouille might not be the most refined French dish but it’s absolutely gorgeous in summer, as a side, a standalone meal if served with bread or rice, or bulked out with sausage or chicken. More effort (but so rewarding) is required to make pissaladière, niçoise pizza with olives and onions. And if you cook a fish stew, it might not be authentically Marseillaise without the scorpion fish, but just as tasty with haddock in it.
To invoke the taste of Italy, just dress your pasta with half the sauce you normally do. Joking aside, that’s how Italians can afford to eat pasta as a starter: less is more. Simple pasta with not much more than fresh tomatoes, capers and breadcrumbs or homemade pesto will taste like the one you had in Puglia. Or go the whole hog and make ragù Bolognese from scratch.
Muhammara is really easy to make and your family will be amazed that you managed to reproduce ‘that red stuff we had in Turkey!’. And for dessert replicate the mini gateaux that everybody was gorging on in Brittany – if there’s no ice cream left. Happy summer cooking!