SYMI.

When you tell people you are going to Symi, you get one of two reactions. Either bafflement – ‘Where?” – or instant recognition and excited retellings of memories from joyous holidays there. Before I went to Symi this year, I would have been firmly in the first camp. After a week there this summer, I’m now in the latter and will be fiercely envious of anyone who announces a trip there. Symi is a tiny Greek island, a two hour ferry ride from Rhodes and worth every bit of the journey.

 

After first spying it on Rosie Londoner’s blog, my sister and I knew our dream holiday destination had been found. Quiet and scenic, not requiring a car, beautiful beaches, affordable yet unspoilt. It ticks all these boxes and so many more. The island is as postcard perfect as you could imagine. In contrast to the white and blue architecture classically associated with Greek islands such as Santorini and Mykonos, the houses of Symi much more closely resemble the towns dotting the Italian coastline such as Portofino – all apricot and peach toned villas, climbing high up the hills.A week in Symi follows a pretty blissful pattern: hop on a morning boat to a gorgeously scenic beach to spend the day basking in sunshine and swimming in warm turquoise sea. In the late afternoon, return to Symi for an evening stroll around the harbour, peeking into the super yachts moored up for the night as you choose which charming taverna to watch the sunset from.Whilst Symi has certainly skyrocketed to the top of my ‘favourite places in the world’ list (joining New York, Venice and Tresco), Nanou Beach could easily hold a spot of its own. After a twenty minute little boat trip from Symi (10 return, on charming small boats run by super friendly locals, leaving on the hour every in the morning and arriving to take you back every hour in the afternoon), you arrive at the jaw dropping destination. 300ft cliffs drop down to the small bay of a pebbly beach and crystal clear waters. There are two rows of sun loungers (a mere 2 a day) but all are spaced well apart, so you don’t feel like you are on top of the next people along. If you get the 10am boat from Symi (the first boat of the day) the hour before the next boat arrives feels like you have the beach to yourself. Even in peak August, I had the sea to myself several times a day. The occasional yacht pulls up and moors alongside the cliffs, providing good people watching whilst leaving your sun lounger view entirely unspoilt.By the last day of my holiday, returning to Nanou for the second time that week, I was so zen that I didn’t even pick up my Kindle for the whole day. I was the ultimate example of holiday relaxation: daydreaming on the sun-lounger, breaking this up with long swims in the sea (read: floating about on my noodle) and the occasional snack of freshly baked spanakopita bought from the bakery that morning. It was a wrench to get back on the last boat of the day and head back to Symi.

Part Two to come!

Rhubarb crumble ice cream

Surely the highlight of summer holidays has to be the opportunity for great ice cream every day. I remember all my recent holidays by the standard of the ice cream I had. In Malaga at Christmas I discovered the most perfect unadulterated raspberry sorbet. I returned so regularly for it throughout the week that I am sure the server started to recognise me. In April, I went to Florence with my best friend for just three days. Despite initial plans to try as many ice cream parlours and flavours as possible, one little ice cream shop opposite the Pitti Palace captured our hearts with it’s amazing caramel and white chocolate flavour. I know, it sounds sickly sweet, but I promise you it was balanced perfectly – smooth white chocolate ice cream, dark and salty caramel, a thick layer of dark chocolate fudge on top. A bold tangerine flavour discovered on an evening stroll was also deliciously memorable. I am headed to Rhodes and Symi in August and I’m already excited for more ice cream discoveries.

Perfect ice cream is too good to be restricted to holidays. Returning from travelling, I wanted to make a classic English flavour and considering my well documented rhubarb obsession, this seemed like a good place to start. I always make ice cream using the no-churn method – it is super easy and doesn’t require an ice cream maker, but still achieves really creamy and smooth results so you’d never know there wasn’t a custard base. Cooking the rhubarb and crumble adds a few more steps so having the ice cream base come together really quickly is extra helpful. The end result is the perfect treat on an English summer afternoon – tart swirls of pretty pink rhubarb, crunch from the crumble and extra flavour from the oats. Enjoy!

Rhubarb crumble ice cream

  • 400g rhubarb
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 140g plain flour
  • 10g butter
  • 100g light brown soft sugar
  • handful of rolled oats
  • 300ml double cream
  • 175ml condensed milk

Begin with the rhubarb. Preheat the oven to 180’C. Chop the rhubarb into 5cm lengths and place in a single layer on a baking tray. Sprinkle with the caster sugar. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the rhubarb is tender when pierced with a fork.

For the crumble, rub together the flour, butter and light brown sugar until just past breadcrumbs and beginning to form small lumps. Add the oats and stir through. Scatter in a single layer on a baking tray and bake above the rhubarb for 10-15 minutes, until golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Remove the rhubarb from the oven and tip into a food processor or blender, including all the juices. Blend to a smooth puree.

Whisk the double cream and condensed milk together until forming soft peaks. Stir through 2/3 of the rhubarb puree and 2/3 of the cooled crumble chunks. Scrape half the mixture into a Tupperware container. Spoon over half the remaining rhubarb puree, and half the remaining crumble. Swirl using the end of a spoon to create a ripple effect. Top with the rest of the ice cream mixture, puree and crumble. Freeze for four hours or overnight until solid.

Roast carrot, puy lentil and feta salad

When I left home and started university at Cambridge, I knew I would miss my home kitchen. Filled to the brim with every grain, spice, flour and baking ingredient you could need, it was a stark contrast to my empty cupboards on arrival in college. However, lacking a stocked store cupboard also proved to be refreshing – I was able to start from scratch and build stores of all just my favourites instead of the whole families. Goodbye Marmite and teabags, hello Dairy Milk and three types of pasta. Also hello to precooked pouches of lentils – a new discovery at uni and a rapid must have. I steered clear of cooking lentils much before these; lacking the patience to stir a cooking pan of lentils from scratch only for them to end up disappointingly mushy. With these pouches (Merchant Gourmet are the easiest to get hold of) however, healthy lentil lunches were suddenly only minutes away.

This is a perfect example of a healthy lunchtime salad that is still really filling and won’t leave you reaching for the Hobnobs by 3pm. The flavours give you a little bit of everything – earthy lentils, salty feta and sweetness from the carrots. Butternut squash or sweet potato would also work well in place of carrots, or even alongside them for a gorgeous orange veg medley.

Roast carrot, puy lentil and feta salad

Serves 2

  • 3 large carrots
  • 3tbsp olive oil
  • 250g pouch ready cooked lentils
  • ½ red onion
  • ½ lemon
  • 100g feta

Preheat the oven to 200’C. Peel the carrots and cut into sticks around 7cm long and 1cm wide. Toss in 2tbsp of the olive oil and spread in a single layer on a baking tray with a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until tender and caramelised.

Meanwhile, finely slice the red onion, juice the half lemon and crumble the feta.

Microwave the lentils in the pouch according to packet instructions. Tip into a bowl and mix with the remaining ingredients, remaining olive oil, large pinch of salt and generous grinding of pepper. Serve warm and enjoy.

Avocado, bacon, tomato and pesto pasta salad

Every now and then, a dish comes along that just totally surprises you. This could be a restaurant dish that seemed like the risky choice and ends up stealing the show. A way of cooking a certain ingredient that turns you from a sceptic to a full on fan. Or a pasta salad designed to just use up bits and bobs from the fridge that becomes your favourite lunch in a long time!

Calling this pasta salad ‘a dish’ is probably almost too extravagant. Yes, it is super simple, but it puts those packaged supermarket offerings to shame. It all just works perfectly together and is so addictive that the spare serving you’d made for lunch the next day might just get eaten too… Super crispy salty bacon, peppery rocket, creamy avocado and juicy tomatoes – what is not to like? Just looking at the picture again is making me hungry! The recipe is really just a guideline, for example I used orzo pasta here, in the spirit of using things up from my cupboard, but of course use any shape you fancy.

Avocado, bacon and tomato pesto pasta salad

Serves 2

  • 100g orzo
  • 3tbsp pesto
  • 4 rashers of bacon
  • 1/2 avocado
  • handful cherry tomatoes
  • large handful of rocket

Boil the pasta in a large saucepan of boiling salted water for 8-10 minutes until al dente. Meanwhile, fry the bacon until crisp. Place on kitchen paper to absorb excess oil and snip into 3cm chunks. Halve the cherry tomatoes and dice the avocado into large cubes.

When the pasta is cooked, drain well and tip into a large mixing bowl. Stir through the remaining ingredients and season generously with pepper (the bacon and pesto should be salty enough). Enjoy!

Peach Cobbler

Sometimes I miss baking in the summer. Baking lends itself perfectly to winter – all warming crumbles, lashings of custard, rib-sticking golden syrup sponges and Christmas puddings set on fire. In summer, meanwhile, for Londoners already struggling with the occasional heatwave the thought of adding more heat by switching on an oven seems insufferable. Magazines suggest simple fruit-swirled fools, ice lollies and jazzy fruit salad combinations for dessert instead. But sometimes, these just don’t cut it.

A crumble is a classic in my house, but this time I wanted to make a cobbler to try something a little bit different. I thought it turned out looking so sweet with the little dumplings sitting in neat rows on top of the peaches. It’s definitely heartier than a crumble – a higher ratio of topping to fruit – but it gives that same satisfying texture change between the crunchy demerara top of the dumplings and the fruit juice soaked layer of the underneath. I may have had the leftovers for breakfast. Shh.

Peach Cobbler

Serves 2

  • 210g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 70g cold butter, cubed
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 50-80ml milk
  • 2 tins of sliced peaches
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • demerara sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 180’C.

Sift the plain flour and baking powder together. Add the cold butter and rub together with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar. Make a well in the middle, and pour in 50ml of the milk. Mix with a knife to a soft dough, adding more milk if necessary. Pat out into a flat disc 1.5cm thick and use a 5cm cookie cutter to stamp out circles. Set aside.

Drain the sliced peaches and tip into a small pie dish. Sprinkle the vanilla essence over the peaches. Arrange the dough discs on top of the peaches, brush with milk and sprinkle generously with demerara sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the biscuits are golden and crisp on top. Serve warm with plenty of cream or custard.

Apricot frangipane tart

Cookery school was a year where I learnt the true art of pastry. Quiches lined with buttery shortcrust, proudly freestanding hot water crust pork pies, summer tarts edged with towering layers of rough puff, afternoons spent stretching homemade filo across entire tables – we did it all. For the majority of the year we also did everything by hand, the true Leiths way, in order to get a proper feel for the doughs we worked with. Since I finished Leiths and went to Cambridge, the proportion of my time spent perfecting pastry in this way has sadly largely declined. A situation that needed to be rectified immediately!

I didn’t start making this until about 6pm one evening, which made me think visions of eating freshly baked frangipane for dinner that evening might be overly ambitious. However, this came together in a cinch. As much as I enjoy occasionally labouring over the perfect crisp-bottomed quiche, it was joyous not to have any blind baking involved in this recipe. The jam, frangipane and fruit are all layered on the raw pastry and everything all baked together at once. You can pop it in the oven and forget all about it until the timer beeps 40 minutes later, with no baking beans in sight. The perfect way to get back into pastry making. When raw, the frangipane layer seemed perilously thin but it puffs up perfectly in the oven so do not fear! You can vary the flavours to suit seasonality and the jam you have to hand – the combinations are endless. I based my tart on this Mary Berry recipe (who better to use to avoid a soggy bottom?) with a few adaptations: I snuck a layer of jam in between the pastry and frangipane, used fresh apricots and skipped the icing layer as the jam gave that extra hit of sweetness instead. Enjoy!

Confit shredded duck, miso plums and yuzu dressing

I remember once at cookery school getting thoroughly upset because I just couldn’t master an espagnole sauce. Every time we had to make it I got all nervous, found the whole thing a huge palaver and it never turned out right. However, after a while I realised that actually, not being able to master an espagnole, a word I’d never even heard of a few months before, was not the biggest flaw in the world. There were several other examples of that throughout my year at cookery school; moments where words you’d only learnt existed the day before suddenly ruled your day. A dish of ‘Bavarois, tamarillos and lebukchen’ was my clearest example – gobbledegook one day, three deal breakers the next.

This dish wasn’t quite up there with that, but it was still an adventure to make. I’d obviously heard of miso and yuzu, but I’d never actually cooked with them myself. Hunting down the red miso in Sainsbury’s, the little bottle of yuzu juice in Waitrose and then racing back to Waitrose at the last minute after realising the recipe called for duck legs that were already confit and not just regular ones all meant that this salad was quite the mission to get together. After all that though, it came together fairly speedily. The temptation to wrap the shredded duck up into pancakes with plum sauce and spring onions instead was tempting I can’t lie, but I’m glad I stuck with giving this a go. Tangy, fruity and peppery – all the flavours balanced into one intriguingly moreish plateful. The full recipe by Rose Prince is on The Telgraph website here – enjoy!

Creamy lemon and courgette risotto

Last night I was woken up three times by crazy thunderstorms. Huge flashes of lightning, followed by counting the seconds until the seemingly endless rumble of thunder breaks, the rain persistently pounding the roof. Not exactly ideal July weather. Good for the garden, maybe, but not for maintaining a holiday tan. It also causes a dilemma for summer cooking – despite it being late July, torrential rain does not call for summer salads.

This summer risotto is the answer. It’s hearty enough to suit the weather, but with fresh flavours and a way to use up some of the courgette glut that regularly occurs at this time of year. The swirl of crème fraiche at the end is entirely optional but I love it for making this extra creamy and luxurious, balanced perfectly by the crunchy pine nut sprinkling. Time to curl up with a big bowl, listen to the rain and cross your fingers for sunshine soon.

Creamy lemon and courgette risotto

  • 1 onion
  • 3 courgettes
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 200g risotto rice
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 2 litres warm chicken stock
  • 3tbsps pine nuts
  • knob of butter
  • 2tbsp crème fraiche
  • parmesan, for sprinkling

Finely dice the onion and sweat in a medium saucepan in a generous drizzle of oil until softened. Coarsely grate 2 of the courgettes and add to the onion, cooking for 2-3 minutes until beginning to soften. Add the garlic and cook out.

Add the risotto rice and stir to coat in the onion and courgettes. Add the lemon zest and juice. Once the rice has absorbed the lemon juice, begin adding the chicken stock, one ladle at a time. Stir the risotto regularly and once it has absorbed each ladle of liquid, add the next one.

Meanwhile, finely dice the remaining courgette. Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the courgettes and fry over a high heat until the courgettes are beginning to go brown and crispy. Add the pine nuts and fry for a further 2-3 minutes until golden.

Once all the liquid has been absorbed by the rice and it is al dente (about 20-25 minutes), stir through the crème fraiche into the risotto. Ladle into bowls and serve topped with the crispy courgette and pine nuts, and a sprinkling of parmesan.

Salted Caramel Pineapple Cake

In my final year at school, classes started to have cake rotas. A sure fire way to lift the spirits (and waste a few minutes passing around a tin of muffins), these weekly occurrences were a great development of education. Sadly at university, any such notion disappeared. Even when I did a paper called ‘Food and Drink in Britain and the Wider World’, for an entire year, not once did we eat food in class. Equally my dissertation on food writers and 7,000 word coursework on the beginnings of the sugar trade turned up no eating opportunities in supervisions. Imagine my envy, therefore, when my friend announced that in her sole class of the year touching upon the theme of food and drink, the lecturer had turned up with a variety of cake examples for them to try. One of these had been the 1970s classic of an Upside Down Pineapple Cake, complete with shiny glacé cherries, which are one of my many guilty pleasures. I decided to channel this case of envy and bad luck into my own seventies throwback, updated with salted caramel for a 21st century twist.

Sometimes cakes can over deliver on looks and disappoint on taste. Not this one. This more than lived up to expectations. The almonds (oh, and the lashings of caramel sauce) keep the cake super soft and moist, which also means it lasts well, not that that should be a problem. Although it lacks my beloved glacé cherries, the aforementioned sauce definitely makes up for it. The recipe makes a surprisingly fairly small cake, but it is rich and sweet enough that you don’t need (as much as you might want) huge slices so this is perfect. The recipe was originally from Waitrose Magazine but I tweaked it a bit to suit my ingredients to hand to ensure I could make it immediately.

Salted Caramel Pineapple Cake

  • 175g butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2tsp vanilla
  • 100g plain flour
  • 65g ground almonds
  • 1tsp baking powder

For caramel:

  • 75g butter
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 1/4tsp salt
  • 2tbsp double cream
  • 1 tin of pineapple

Preheat the oven to 170°C and line the base of a 23cm cake tin with baking parchment. For the caramel, gently melt the butter, sugar, salt and cream in a small saucepan over a low-medium heat, stirring now and then. When smooth and all combined, pour into the base of the tin. Arrange the pineapple slices in a single layer on top of the caramel, making sure they are fairly tightly packed, cutting one slice into pieces to fill in the gaps.

For the cake, beat the butter and sugar together until light and pale. Add the eggs one at a time, beating constantly, followed by the vanilla extract. Fold in the flour, ground almonds and baking powder to make a stiff batter. Spoon into the cake tin and smooth flat, being careful not to dislodge the pineapple layer. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the sponge is golden and just firm to the touch. Leave to sit in the tin for 5 minutes, then place a serving plate (with a lip to catch the caramel) over the tin, carefully flip over and remove the tin and baking parchment.

Giant veggie samosas

Being a Cambridge student leads to a lot of questions when I get home. ‘Is everyone incredibly posh? Do you know anybody related to a Lord or Earl? Did everyone go to Eton?’ My answer to all these is, perhaps disappointingly, no. I found myself getting slightly swept up in the Cambridge bubble though when I exclaimed in Cambridge, ‘Oh, this Sainsbury’s doesn’t have any filo!’ Happily, my very #firstworldproblem must have been heard by the Sainsbury’s gods as a few weeks later there it was alongside the puff and shortcrust.

My initial plan had been for a spinach and filo pie, but that had long been made at home and gone by the time this filo was found. Samosas were the main result of a brief ‘filo recipe’ Google, but I was sceptical that with my highly limited store cupboard ingredients they would turn out bland. Luckily, I gave them a go anyway and I was so pleasantly surprised! Turns out a generous hand with the curry powder can bypass the myriad range of spices and herbs that would normally provide some complexity of flavour. These proved highly therapeutic to make with the repetitive buttering and folding of pastry, and highly addictive to eat!

Giant veggie samosas

Makes 6

  • 1 onion
  • 1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced to 1cm chunks
  • 100g butternut squash, peeled and diced to 1cm chunks
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 large handfuls of spinach
  • 2 handfuls of peas
  • 1 heaped tbsp. of medium curry powder
  • 75g butter
  • 1 packet filo pastry
  • nigella seeds, for sprinkling

Finely dice the onion and sweat in a drizzle of oil until soft. Add the sweet potato and butternut squash and cook until cooked through, adding a splash of water to stop them sticking and stirring regularly, around 10-15min. Add the remaining veg and curry powder and cook until the peas are cooked through and the spinach wilted. Leave to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 180’C. Melt the butter in a mug in the microwave. Unroll the filo, keeping the pastry you are not working with covered to prevent it drying out. Take one sheet of filo, lay it flat and brush with melted butter. Fold in one third of the pastry lengthways towards the middle. Brush again with the butter and fold in the other side to make a long triple-layered strip.

Place one tablespoon of the filling mixture at one end of the strip, leaving a 2cm/1in border. Take the right corner and fold diagonally to the left, enclosing the filling and forming a triangle. Fold again along the upper crease of the triangle. Keep folding in this way until you reach the end of the strip. Brush the samosa with more butter, sprinkle with nigella seeds and place onto a baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the pastry and filling. Bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden and crisp,