With two successful restaurants, Carina Contini knows all about the benefits of using fresh produce. Try this quick-to-prepare summer meal
Brought up in a Scots-Italian family, Carina Contini opened her first Edinburgh restaurant in 1996 in her husband’s family delicatessen.
Carina and husband Victor left the family business in 2003 and opened Edinburgh’s Centotre (www.centotre.com), which serves fresh, simple southern Italian food.
In 2009 Contini opened award-winning Scottish Cafe & Restaurant (www.thescottishcafeandrestaurant.com) at The Scottish National Gallery, where the menu uses seasonal goodies from more than 60 artisan producers around Scotland.
My friend asked me recently when the baby was due. At 42, already with three babies, not to mention two restaurants and my husband Victor, I’ve no plans to have any more. But the effect of those extra comfort cookies and cosy cakes had only really become apparent when my summer wardrobe came out. Not to fear, I have a plan: our kitchen garden.
Not wanting to disappoint my friend I said the baby had arrived three months ago and she’s called Poly (short for polytunnel).
Thankfully it’s our one-acre garden that is in full bloom, not me. But Poly is like a new baby. Our kitchen garden on its own is a full-time occupation but the micro-environment created by the polytunnel adds a different kind of work. On hot days the temperature can go up to over 40C in there, so the plants need even more attention. Checking they are aired, watered and tended to is vital.
Erica, our gardener, is doing all the technical stuff, but every night it’s down to Victor or me to tuck Poly up and make sure she’s safe and sound for a good night’s sleep.
These three recipes are fast, healthy, light, full of flavour, easy to prepare and may even help shift some cookie weight.
CHILLI AND COURGETTE SQUID
This is a really quick, stir-fried dish. You’ll need a little time to make sure everything is prepared before you start cooking, but once you’re good to go you’ll be surprised at how quick and easy this is. And it’s a really great dish for dramatic entertaining if you’re in the mood for a bit of a performance. If you have some samphire or spinach that will add another level of flavour. This can work well as a main course instead of a starter.
1 Rinse the squid again just before you are due to start cooking, drain well and dry with some kitchen towel.
2 Choose a large frying pan or wok and heat about two tablespoons of olive oil, add the garlic and chilli and cook for a minute to release the flavours.
3 Add the courgettes and squid and fry over a very high heat for about 3 minutes. Don’t overcook the squid. As soon as it is firm to the touch remove from the heat and serve.
4 Check seasoning – it may just need a small pinch of salt.
5 Serve straight away with a wedge of lemon.
BARLEY AND FENNEL SALAD WITH TOASTED FENNEL SEEDS AND FRESH MINT, ROCKET AND BASIL
The nuttiness of the barley and the added crunch of the fennel and almonds makes this dish good enough on its own. But for those of us who crave a protein kick, it is also delicious with roasted chicken. I like to soak my barley in cold water first for about half an hour if I’m making a salad. This helps to dilute the heavy starchy taste and leaves a nuttier flavour.
Serves one person, or four as a small side salad served with a whole roast chicken
1 First, measure one cup of barley and leave covered in a large pot with cold water for about half an hour. Rinse and return the barley to the pot. Add two cups of cold water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently for about 20 minutes until cooked but with a little bit of a bite. Drain any remaining water and allow to cool.
2 Choose a shallow, non-stick frying pan and add a small spoonful of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the coriander seeds and whole almonds.
Allow to cook for a few minutes until the almonds start to colour. Remove from the pan and allow to cool slightly.
3 Very finely chop all the herbs and add to the cooled barley.
4 Wash, trim and thinly slice the fennel and add to the barley.
5 Add the nuts, chilli and grated zest.
6 Dress with equal parts of both oils, a squeeze of lemon and a good pinch of salt. Check seasoning. Serve.
STRAWBERRY AND GINGER WINE SYLLABUB WITH PANSIES
Summer and syllabub go so well together. This incredibly light dessert is so easy and so delicious. Only make this if your strawberries are super sweet and Scottish strawberries at this time of year can’t be beaten. We have loads of edible flowers in the garden and a couple of pansies delicately placed on top of this dish are the perfect finishing touch.
1 Whip the cream, wine and sugar in a large bowl until at a soft peak stage.
2 Cut the strawberries into quarters and divide.
3 Choose large wine glasses and layer the strawberries and cream mixture equally between four glasses.
4 Serve with a sprinkle of icing sugar and a few little purple pansies for that final flourish.