In the garden with Lucas

Put on your wellies and your apron. It’s time to spark the griddle says Lucas Hollweg Sunday Times Style Magazine's resident cook.

Words: Lucas Hollweg

Is it the end of summer or the beginning of autumn? Actually, it’s a bit of both. The sun may be sinking towards the horizon, but it’s glut time for many late summer vegetables – particularly the aubergines and courgettes that speak so vividly of the Mediterranean. Throw in a few fresh beetroot and a handful of herbs from the garden and you have the makings of a simple lunch that extends the bright flavours of summer well beyond the equinox. Who knows: you might even be able to eat it outside.

Beetroot with soft cheese & herbs

  • 500g medium beetroot
  • 2 tbsp runny honey – nothing too strongly flavoured
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus a few splashes more
  • Leaves from 2 sprigs thyme
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • 125g soft fresh rindless goat’s cheese (goat’s curd would be perfect, or the cheese that supermarkets often sell in pyramid-shaped tubs)
  • 125g Greek yoghurt
  • ½ clove garlic, crushed
  • A handful of mint leaves, chopped
  • A squeeze or two of lemon
  • Soft herbs and baby leaves from the garden (we used beetroot leaves, chives, bronze fennel fronds and red orache)

Trim the beetroot of all but 2cm of their stalks. Leave the thin, whispy tail. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil and cook the beetroot until they are easily pierced to the core with a knife – anything from about 40 minutes to 2 hours, depending on size. Leave them to cool a little, then peel off the skins. They should slide off with a little encouragement. Trim the tail and cut the rest of the beetroot into bite size slices or chunks. Wipe out the pan, then add the honey, thyme, 1 tbsp oil and 3 tbsp water.

Tip in the beetroot slices, add some seasoning and bring to a simmer. Bubble away for a few minutes until the juices have turned slightly syrupy and the beetroot bits are coated in the sauce. Meanwhile, put the goat’s cheese and yoghurt in a bowl, along with 3 tbsp water, 1 tbsp olive oil, the garlic and mint. Season, then beat everything together until smooth.

Arrange the beetroot pieces on plates (or a single serving plate), then scatter a few soft herbs among them so they create hits of decorative contrast against the purple. Splash some of the syrupy cooking juices over the top, along with a squeeze or two of lemon. Add a few small blobs of the goat’s cheese mixture to the top of the beetroot, then trickle a bit of olive oil over the top, so it forms occasional green pools. Add a grind of black pepper before serving.

Lamb chops with courgette, aubergine & yoghurt salad

  • 8-12 lamb cutlets, French trimmed
  • Olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 4 sprigs rosemary, halved

For the salad

  • 2 medium aubergines
  • 2 medium courgettes
  • A big handful of mint leaves, plus a few leaves extra for scattering
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon, plus a squeeze or two extra
  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus a few splashes extra
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp ground cumin, plus a pinch or two extra
  • Pinch chilli flakes, optional
  • 4 tbsp greek yoghurt

Put the lamb cutlets in a large bowl with the garlic and rosemary. Add a splash of oil and toss together until everything is well coated. Put in the fridge and leave to marinate for at least 4 hours. In a food processor, whizz together the handful of mint leaves with a pinch of salt, a couple of pinches of cumin, a squeeze or two of lemon and the 6 tbsp olive oil to give a green flecked sauce. Put to one side.

Cut the vegetables lengthways into slices about ½ cm thick. You can sprinkle them with salt at this stage and leave for 20-30 minutes so they give up some of their juices. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have time, but it helps prevent them from soaking up too much oil. Wipe off any excess salt and liquid before you cook them. Put the vegetables in a bowl with a few good splashes of oil and toss together so the slices are lightly coated.

Heat a cast-iron grill pan or barbecue until it is smoking hot and grill the slices in batches for 2-3 minutes each side until they are patterned with char lines and soft right the way through. Put in a bowl, season (you won’t need salt if you have already salted them) and cover while you cook the remaining vegetables. When all the vegetables are done, add the garlic, cumin, chilli flakes (if using), lemon juice and zest, then leave the flavours to mingle while you cook the lamb. Get the ridged grill pan smoking hot again.

Season the marinated cutlets and add them to the pan, standing on end so the fat is facing the heat. Cook for a minute or two until the fat starts to crisp and brown, then give the chops a couple of minutes each side so they are a blushing medium rare in the middle. Remove from the heat and leave to rest for 5 minutes. Gently fold the yoghurt into the grilled vegetables and divide them between plates. Arrange the lamb cutlets on top and splash with some of the mint oil. Scatter a few whole mint leaves over the top before serving.

Flat breads

A good bit on the side for either of the above.

  • 500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 10g/2 good tsp fine sea salt
  • 10g/2 compressed tsp fresh yeast (or 2 rounded tsp dried active yeast)
  • 300g water 4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve
  • Salt flakes, to serve
  • Ground cumin, optional, to serve

In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour and salt until they are well combined. In another bowl, mix together the yeast and water and leave to stand for 5 minutes. Stir the liquid mixture again, then pour into the bowl of flour, being careful to scrape out any stray bits of yeast. Add the olive oil, then use one hand to mix everything together into a shaggy dough.

Make sure there are no bits of dry flour left in the bottom of the bowl. Scrape any dough from your fingers. Cover the bowl and put to one side for 15 minutes, then knead for 10 minutes in the bowl to give a smooth, elastic dough.

Don’t add more flour, the dough will gradually become less sticky. Add a splash of olive oil to the bowl to stop the dough from sticking. Cover the bowl and leave it to stand for about an hour or until doubled in size. Dust a work surface and rolling pin with flour. Pull off bits of dough about the size of a ping-pong ball and roll them into ovals just a few millimetres thick. Put to one side to relax for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a solid-based frying pan until it is smoking hot and cook the breads one at a time for a couple of minutes each side until they have puffed slightly and are scorched with dark patches. Splash the breads with a little olive oil, then sprinkle with salt flakes and cumin before serving. They are best eaten as soon as possible after they are cooked.