What can I make for dinner when I don’t want to use the oven or stove?
You are not alone, Paul. This conundrum is all too familiar to chef and Sardinia resident Letitia Clark. “It’s often so hot over here, there’s little will to do any real cooking,” says the author of La Vita e Dolce. “I also have the world’s worst oven, so I’m always keen not to use it.” As is so often the case, solace can be found in cheese – more specifically, in “a big blob of ricotta in the middle of a salad doused in punchy olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt”.
Mozzarella and burrata fall into the same camp, and Clark pairs them with summer fruits. That might be “melon, nectarines with mint, crushed nuts and rocket, or peaches with prosciutto, burrata and basil. And I love mozzarella with plums and punchy green leaves.” Merlin Labron Johnson, chef/owner of Somerset’s Osip and The Old Pharmacy, meanwhile, keeps things fruity with a tomato and berry number. “You want something with a bit of acidity but that’s not overly sweet, such as raspberries or redcurrants.” He adds ricotta, herbs, lots of olive oil and seasons. “You could do a bit of balsamic, too.”
Clark is also partial to pasta with salsa cruda. “Make a classic tomato salad [chopped tomatoes with olive oil, salt and basil], rip up a ball of mozzarella and toss the lot through pasta with lots of olive oil.” Yes, the pasta needs cooking, but the dish is eaten cool, so it’s allowed (no quibbling, please). Labron Johnson’s beetroot dip is also sanctioned. He blends cooked beets with nuts (almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts) and chipotle chilli paste, then scoops it all up with tortillas: “If cooking is a no-no, use pre-packaged beetroot.”
For instant gratification, however, Labron Johnson makes a cold soup by blending tinned or jarred haricot beans with garlic, tahini and olive oil – “as if you’re making hummus”. Add enough water (or, if you’ve cooked the beans, cooking water) to get them to a “nice, soupy consistency”, season and serve with chopped cucumber, onion, herbs and pitta on the side. Another option, says Santiago Lastra, chef/co-owner of Kol in London, is aguachile. “Make a juice [think cucumber or any summer veg that has a lot of natural water], add lime juice, garlic and chilli, and within minutes you have a cold, sour and spicy soup.” Add raw shrimps or chopped veg – cucumber, onion, tomato – if the mood takes you.
You won’t sweat it with ceviche, either. While you could use meat, vegetables or fruit, Lastra keeps things classic with white fish or trout. “Cut fillets or steaks into squares, add lime juice, chopped onion, chillies and herbs [coriander, mint], then mix with salt and tomatoes.” Serve with guacamole or tostadas and creme fraiche.
If Paul wants to be really organised, however, Lastra suggests his own childhood favourite, salpicón. “That can be short ribs or other meat slow-cooked with dried chillies on Sunday, then shredded and kept in the fridge.” During the week, dress with olive oil, lime juice, chillies and tomatoes, and serve with queso fresco (fresh cheese), guacamole and tostadas. “The idea is you’re not just cooking a big roast for one day.”