The taste of summer

This month, Jérôme Cogné is savouring the tastes of summer, so long in coming and all the better for the wait, he says

At last, we have some sun to warm our backs, and as I I write I am anticipating the imminent arrival of the new season’s first lamb – later than usual, and all the more anticipated for that.

England has been my home for 13 years now, and I am proud enough of my adopted home to say that the quality of the lamb and beef we have here is frequently superior to that in France. Of course, French Charolet beef is excellent, but the best British Aberdeen Angus is better, and while French lamb from the Pyranees is superb and very tender, in my experience English lamb – particularly Northumbrian – is as good, if not better. The grass here is so green, and the wetter weather definitely makes a difference to the meat.

I’ll be serving my new-season lamb simply with a beautiful spring vegetable mash. I will serve braised lamb shoulder wrapped in spring cabbage with a lemon thyme jus, and a rack of lamb on a ragout of white beans finished with wonderfully fresh pesto.

Last year we had the new-season lamb by the beginning of June, but like everything, it is late this year. The same goes for the strawberries and I’m going to make the most of them with my special strawberry soup; for me, the perfect summer dessert. Simply infuse sugar syrup with star anise, vanilla pods and lemon zest, then cool and pour on top of the sweetest strawberries (British, of course). Serve with ice cream and sable biscuits. The best strawberries I’ve ever tasted? They were from Tritlington Farm, Morpeth, near my home. Try them, and savour a real taste of summer!



I love living in England, but I do miss the food markets of France. Every town and village, even the smallest, has a wonderful market and the range and quality of produce is incredible, with plenty of stallholders cooking wonderful food unhindered by the plethora of health and safety regulations which ruin markets in the UK, as British ex-pats in France will attest.

In July, I will holiday in the Dordogne, home of duck confit, foie gras, truffles and so much more. I can’t wait to spend a week touring the markets and the restaurants, and I hope to return with more tastes of France to serve in Northumberland.

I will also enjoy the simple French picnic of salads, cold meats, bread, strawberries – and wine of course. The simple Piemontaise Salad is one of my favourite picnic dishes, with its hard boiled egg, tomato, new potatoes, silverskin onions and French baby gherkins; French because their acidity brings out the flavours of the dish.

The Nicoise is another French classic, dressed simply with olive oil and lemon juice to enhance the flavours of fresh tuna, green beans, hard boiled egg, red onion, olives (always Kalamata for the their flavour and size), and San Marzano baby plum tomatoes on the vine.

The French picnic will include saucisson, jambon blanc, peppered Andouille (pork intestine) and terrine. My own country house pate terrine is from a 100-year-old recipe made with white pork throat and pork belly, shallots, parsley, salt, pepper, eggs, that is all. The fat content keeps it moist, and I am sad to see that so many people remove all the fat from their meat, because it is the fat that carries the flavour. Don’t be afraid of fat; there’s a preoccupation with eliminating fat from cooking now, but the fat is where the flavour is. I prefer the rib eye steak to the fillet, because it has a bit of fat in it.  With a rack of lamb, don’t remove the thin layer that sits on top because that’s the flavour. If you take it all off, it ruins the dish; why would you do that?

Finally, my picnic might include a cod terrine made to my mother’s recipe, with cod poached in fish stock then flaked and mixed with brandy, tomato paste, eggs, salt and pepper, a little crème freche and put in a terrine and cooked in a bain marie. I serve it with mayonnaise with some Piment d’espelette, a powder made from dried tiny red peppers with an intense flavour to give the cod the little kick it needs to take it from good to great. Et voila – welcome to summer!

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