I like the heat, I like the sun; I was born under the sun sign of Aries and put my love of the sun down to that. I promise you would never want to be out and about with me on a wet, cold and windy day because my mood takes a nosedive. However, even for me, 35C in London is pushing the boundaries of ‘lovely sunny day’ a bit and in all honesty, it’s just been uncomfortably hot.
One might even say it’s too hot to barbecue because really, barbecuing is quite a hot exercise. But then I was only preparing the food … my son was going to be in the heat firing line.
The Sunday Barbecue. Sunday has always been special; Sunday is family day. When I was a child it was always a roast, traditional British style roast beef and Yorkshire puddings; or maybe roast lamb and mint sauce. My mother never failed to cook a roast on Sundays. Never! Even on the boat …
My dad built a 4-berth cruising boat in the back garden. I helped him. It took a few years as far as I remember. He’d always loved messing about in boats and he liked making things. I remember the launch when it was finished. The boat was hoisted onto a lorry and driven to nearby Woolwich where it was ceremoniously lowered into the Thames. We all held our breath. My dad was the youngest of six children and his older brothers Joe and Jim (who’d both been in the Navy) oversaw this momentous event. A lot of advice was given. The boat rocked gently on the water; it didn’t sink. Some of us got into it for its maiden voyage. And the boat went on sailing for a few years.
I can’t remember what happened to it in the end. Only that later my dad bought a larger, 6-berth, cruising boat, which he moored first in Poole harbour and then at Lymington. One year it was even taken across the Channel to Cherbourg and the family took it in turns to holiday on it before it was brought back to England. I remember I was pregnant with my daughter at the time. I feasted on oysters, mussels and unpasteurised French cheese because you did in those days. Daughter grew up to love fish. When we took her back to France aged about 18 months, she’d walk around seafront fish restaurants in La Rochelle begging prawns and other delicacies from diners’ Plateau de Fruits de Mer and had learnt to shell her own plate of shrimps by time she was five.
Back to Sunday lunch and my mother’s determination to always roast on Sunday. I remember leaving Lymington harbour on a Sunday morning when we were staying on Dad’s boat for the weekend, and sailing round the Isle of Wight, the boat rocking as we rolled over wave upon wave, and my mother in the galley roasting a leg of lamb or joint of beef. There were never any accidents and at some point we’d drop anchor and sit around with plates of hot Sunday lunch.
It was part of Mum and we loved it … but I could never do it. I don’t even do it now. When my kids were small we’d usually carry on the tradition of Sunday roast but it’s been a very long time since I’ve made one. I do often roast chicken for a family meal but serve it with something like roasted ratatouille; or I make a boeuf bourguignon on a cold winter’s Sunday. But in summer we do usually barbecue … even if the thermometer is hitting 35C and it’s blistering hot … which makes me a bit like my Mum I suppose, determined to carry on where other people might just put a cold salad together …
Fizz on Sunday is another tradition – sometimes Champagne; more often these days prosecco or cava. I don’t make a ‘starter’ but there are always ‘nibbles’. They may be as simple as bowls of olives and taralli but today I went a step further and put together some little crostini: little toasts topped with tapenade, guacamole, tomato & mozzarella, and a sun-dried tomato pâté.
Jonathan got the barbecue going, the fizz was popped and poured into glasses as we tucked into our little canapés. The boys – 5½ and 2½ – liked them too. Their fizz was of the Pellegrino mineral water variety.
Freddie (the elder boy) loves prawns so I’d bought some raw tiger prawns for the barbecue, which we had before the meat. Freddie was intrigued by picking up the raw prawn before it hit the charcoal heat and declared himself brave for doing so; he was intrigued by the eyes. Benjamin settled for having a close look but declined the opportunity to hold one.
Jonathan, who generally doesn’t eat fish, had never barbecued prawns before. But really you can’t go far wrong … just remember that as soon as they turn pink they’re done; overcooked they become tough.
I showed Freddie how to take off the head, then pull off the tail, and then the rest of the shell. He was determined to do it himself – despite them being hot! And it was this that took me back to his Auntie Nicola aged five determinedly shelling her own plate of shrimp in France all those years ago …
Really for prawn lovers there’s little to beat a freshly barbecued large tiger prawn. Absolute bliss!
The meat was our fairly standard fair – things I often cook but because they’re so delicious. Chicken that had been marinating in a tahini and lemon juice paste (a Moro recipe) for a couple of hours; Moro kofte.
I’d made a fattoush to go with it. My concession to the heat – hot vegetables definitely weren’t in order!
I’ve made various versions of fattoush over the years but this time made a Moro dressing for it with sumac, za’atar, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. It was delicious.
We sat round the garden table; the air hot and heavy, not a hint of breeze, but the sun was slightly dimmed by now so it was okay to sit outside. And what a joy! One can go a whole summer in UK and never get weather good enough for eating outdoors, but while the pandemic has brought challenges and disappointments, the weather on the whole has been kind. So staying at home is at its best. Especially when you have a son who’s an excellent cook and willing to brave the heat of the barbecue for you!
It was a gently paced meal, just as a Sunday meal should be: the canapés and fizz; the gorgeous prawns; a little gap before the meat course. Dessert – because there always has to be dessert at Nonna’s on Sunday – was a homemade fruit salad, topped with a large spoonful of Greek yoghurt and some honey. Simplicity at its best.