Flavours of July

As the second month of summer, July is on average the warmest of the year for Britain and one where British-grown fresh produce truly comes into its own. This is the month when great vegetables normally imported from the continent are being harvested locally and can make their way into your kitchens within a day of being picked. Hopefully July will be the month when we can start to utilise all the brilliant British produce in your restaurants.

Green and yellow courgettes are now in ample supply. Since they’re beautiful and fresh in July, it’s a prime time to use courgette flowers which are delicious fried, or as a garnish for soup or salad. Although cultivated samphire can be sourced almost all year round, the real deal is the wild variety and it’s now in stock. Simply steamed on its own, wild samphire with its natural light, salty flavour beats its cultivated cousin hands down. Other foraged sea vegetables to look out for are sea aster, a perfect match for monkfish, and sea purslane which makes a delectable pesto.

Scottish Girolle mushrooms are starting this month. Their rich and complex flavour is best released when cooked, so add them to creamy sauces and soups. Also available is the  underrated English kohlrabi. A particularly versatile vegetable, it’s perfect raw, thinly sliced in a salad or in slaws and a nice alternative to turnip or radish. If you’re new to the kohlrabi game, the secret to its sweet taste is to use it as soon as possible after harvesting when the leaves are still on.

Fennel is another local root at its best now. Even though the fennel’s bulb, foliage and seeds are all edible and versatile, its prominent aniseed flavour is most noticeable in the seeds which can be used in sweet desserts. The crisp bulb can be sautéed, stewed or even served raw, whilst the leaves add a complex flavour to salads, sauces and puddings.

Another British treasure for July is locally-grown wet garlic. Less mature than regular garlic, it’s called ‘wet’ because it hasn’t been hung up to dry and its milder nutty-oniony flavour lacks mature garlic’s spiciness. Wet garlic’s huge, juicy cloves give it a creamy flavour which is perfectly mixed with butter and spread over vegetables or in a baked potato.

Kale, including black kale most commonly known by its Italian name of ‘cavolo nero’, is now top-notch. Both varieties boast the nutritional benefits of a superfood, being rich sources of vitamins A, C, K and B6. With the exception of vitamin K, however, boiling kale does diminish the benefits. Although perfectly edible raw, kale’s intense flavour is mellowed by sautéing or braising. Whilst both are extremely versatile, kale makes a nice addition to any pasta dish and cavolo nero is always good in minestrone. Other vegetables fresh in for July are swiss, candy and rainbow chards. Their soft leaves have a taste reminiscent of spinach but slightly sweeter and can be enjoyed raw in a salad. Stalks are best cooked to soften them up, but only briefly to maintain the nutritional benefits.

July is simply a fruit fest. The UK berry season was already in motion in June with juicy strawberries, blackberries and blueberries on offer, but you have to wait for July to get your hands on beautiful  raspberries. The raspberries in July are bigger and juicier, leaving them with an unbeatable flavour. Bilberries, the wild European berries of the heather family, will be coming into stock and, despite their acidic taste when raw, make a perfect base for jam and desserts. We will also start to see the best of the English Cherries, which are becoming juicier and more flavoursome by the day.

Melons are delicious at this time of the year, in particular the Provence de Charentais and the Piel de Sapo varieties. The latter is similar to Honeydew but its stripey green skin gives it the nickname of the ‘Frog Skin melon’. When ripe it has a 14% sugar content, making it the sweetest melon out there. The perfect time to eat them is when the skin starts to turn yellow – and believe me, it’s worth the wait. Also, keep an eye out for heavier melons as they’ll be full of sweet juice.

Apricots were lovely last month, but they really come into their own in July since the Provence climate is perfect. A high vitamin A, vitamin C and pectin content ensure a superb taste and nutritional value. Furthermore Peaches and Nectarines from the Provence region continue to taste deliciously sweet and full of juice, with the addition of the blood variety to the white and yellow, they can add colour as well as flavour to any dish.