When it’s too hot to turn on the oven or stove, what can I make for dinner?
Will, Bridport, Dorset
You’re talking Emiko Davies’ language, Will. From June to September, the Italy-based food writer and author of Cinnamon and Salt: Cicchetti in Venice keeps her cooker turned off, “unless it’s the early morning or late at night”. Wherever you’re living la dolce vita, however, cheese makes a very good starting point for no-cook dinners. “I might take mozzarella or fresh ricotta and some prosciutto, then add seasonal vegetables or even fruit,” says Davies, who dresses the lot with olive oil. Veg-wise, courgettes cut into thin strips are a good shout; just add mint, parsley and a good squeeze of lemon.
“Salads are the best option,” agrees Zaw Mahesh, co-founder and head chef at Lahpet in London. “I pull together Burmese-inspired ones for a quick and easy meal, such as lahpet thohk, a traditional salad using pickled tea leaves, fried beans, tomato and cabbage dressed in lime juice and oil.” Or, for convenience food at its best, use jars and tins: chef Judy Joo, co-owner of Korean street-food joint Seoul Bird, looks to jarred tuna and artichoke hearts (use the leftover oil as a dressing), while Davies accessorises a celery, tomato and spring onion number with tinned fish (mackerel, anchovies or, again, tuna).
Another option is ceviche, says Nick Fitzgerald, chef/owner of Tacos Padre in Borough Market, London, where white fish rubs shoulders with ginger, onion, garlic, coriander, jalapeños, cherry tomatoes and lots of lime juice. Guacamole with salsa macha (Mexican crisp chilli oil) makes the perfect toast topper, or blend it into a puree and top with radishes, pickles, radicchio, coriander, more jalapeños and pumpkin seeds.
Tofu, too, doesn’t necessarily need cooking. Joo makes a dressing with 60ml soy sauce, a tablespoon of rice-wine vinegar, one and a half tablespoons of roasted sesame oil, half a grated garlic clove, half a teaspoon of grated ginger, a teaspoon of gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes), a tablespoon of roasted white sesame seeds, a teaspoon of white sugar and a finely sliced spring onion. Then, she drains two 400g blocks of tofu (firm or soft, whichever you fancy): “Pat them dry, then put each block in a bowl, spoon over the dressing and finish with more sliced spring onion and a tablespoon of shredded seaweed [kizami nori or kimjaban, for preference].”
Lastly, cold soup is always hot in late spring and summer. There’s gazpacho, of course, while Davies is particularly partial to pappa al pomodoro. That does involve some cooking, admittedly, but she eats it at room temperature, so it’s sanctioned (no arguing, please). The night before, make a tomato sauce: saute sofrito (onion, celery, carrot) in olive oil, then add a bottle of passata. “You want it quite liquid-y, so fill up the empty bottle with water or stock, add that, too, then cook for 10-15 minutes.” Pop in slices of stale bread, cover the pan, turn off the heat and head to bed. “In the morning, the bread will have soaked up the soupy tomato. Stir the mix a few times to break up the bread, and it will get creamy.” Finish with a generous glug of olive oil, black pepper and basil. Oh, and a big glass of wine.