There’s something about dining al fresco; that indiscernible, elevated quality to a meal that can only be brought about by eating your freshly cooked food in the open air. Of course, al fresco dining can be fraught with culinary peril or weather woes. A hastily thrown together picnic consisting of shop-bought carrot batons and cold sausage rolls doesn’t quite cut it, for example; and eating outside on a damp, chilly, drizzly evening generally only leads to cold food and bad tempers.
But when al fresco dining is done right, it can be one of life’s greatest pleasures. Just picture the scene: you’re on the terrace (or in the garden, or on the balcony — take your pick) on a balmy summer’s evening. The rosé is chilling in the ice bucket, and the table is laid with all sorts of elegant finishing touches (candles, flowers, the works). Soon, said table is groaning with all sorts of delicate summer fare; and as you and your friends refill each other’s wine glasses and pass the dishes of fresh, home-cooked food, you think to yourself: ‘life really doesn’t get any better than this’.
That’s an experience that we want everyone to have — and goodness knows, we’ve earned it. So we’ve sourced some recipes for the very best dishes that can be enjoyed al fresco: from chefs who know what a joy al fresco dining can (and should) be.
For the perfect main course, opt for Pied à Terre’s Grilled Seabass filled with Monks Beard, Tomatoes, Garlic and Onions
Seabass could almost be considered the king of summer dining. You’ve most likely availed yourself of the very best seabass on offer when on holiday in Europe, or further afield; and its al fresco dining credentials are of an undeniably royal variety. It’s quintessential summer fare; and, when prepared well, it can transform an al fresco meal from the merely ‘tasty’ to the ‘jaw-droppingly delicious’.
The team at Michelin-starred Fitzrovia restaurant Pied à Terre know this all too well, and they’ve got the perfect seabass recipe to transform your dining experience. Just what we’d expect from the longest standing Michelin-starred independent restaurant in London; and it’s also recently been named the No. 1 Vegan Tasting Experience in the UK. But back to the seabass — not a vegan tasting experience, needless to say, but the al fresco dining experience your outdoor dining table has hitherto been missing. Have your barbecue at the ready…
- 1 seabass (about ½ kg, cleaned, with guts, gilts and scales removed)
- 1 tomato, sliced
- ½ onion, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves
- 50g monks beard
- 50ml olive oil
- 10g salt
- Fresh black pepper
- Thick butchers’ twine
- Start by rubbing olive oil all over the fish, and in the belly.
- Salt and pepper the fish, nice and evenly.
- Then add the monks beard, tomato, garlic and onion to the belly of the fish and, with a knife, make small incisions in the belly. Carefully make a knot at the bottom of the fish (be sure the knot isn’t too tight), and pass the butcher’s twine through the fish (as pictured).
- Have the fire ready, and make sure the charcoals are “set”: one thick layer of burned charcoal should be done.
- Grill the fish over a medium heat on the grill for 6 minutes each side (or until you’ve got a nice bubbly, crispy skin) and serve.
For a healthy seasonal accompaniment, try Bettina Campolucci Bordi’s Bang Bang Asparagus
If seabass is the king of al fresco dining, then asparagus is the queen of summer cuisine. It’s the ultimate seasonal vegetable, and we’d recommend taking full advantage of this sublime green plant while it’s socially (and seasonally) acceptable. That said, we wouldn’t advise merely blanching it for a couple of minutes and serving a few limp, overcooked stems with the rest of the meal without a second thought.
Enter: Bang Bang Asparagus, courtesy of plant-based chef Bettina Campolucci Bordi. It’s certainly got a kick to it, but we have every faith that you’ll be able to handle a bit of spice. Plus, it’s a the perfect accompaniment to the aforementioned seabass; you can thank us when you’re raking in the compliments.
- 1 large bunch of asparagus, blanched or quick steamed
- ¼ tsp Szechuan pepper
- ½ shallot, finely diced
- ½ chilli, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
- 1 spring onion
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- 60ml rapeseed oil
- Slice the blanched asparagus diagonally into bite-size pieces, and arrange on a salad dish
- Add the Szechuan pepper, shallot and chilli to a heatproof bowl.
- Heat up the oil in a pan and, when very hot, pour over the ingredients in the bowl, which will cook them. Add the tamari, stir to combine and then spoon or pour the warm dressing over the asparagus.
- Finish with a sprinkle of spring onion and sesame seeds.
Complete the meal with an exquisite dessert: Elderflower and Rhubarb Kulfi with Sesame Brittle, courtesy of Kricket
If you’re dining al fresco, we’d always recommend expanding your repertoire to dishes of the more exotic variety. We love a quintessential English meal, of course; but al fresco dining is evocative of warmer climes and sunnier landscapes than our beloved England can generally provide. And with exotic dining in mind, you couldn’t do better for a meal conclusion than this dessert; courtesy of the indubitably talented Will Bowlby from Kricket.
“Kufli is a hard-set ice cream typically made from buffalo milk, which can be seen served roadside throughout India in various flavours,” Bowlby explains. “The best one I’ve tried is towards the end of Marine Drive in Mumbai. It’s the perfect way to cool yourself down on a hot day. The sesame brittle adds a texture and crunch to this dessert — [and] you can [also] buy it ready made.”
- 200g rhubarb, chopped into 1cm pieces
- 120ml elderflower cordial
- 250ml evaporated milk
- 250ml condensed milk
- 250ml double cream
- 1 tsp lemon juice
For the sesame brittle:
- 200g caster sugar
- 4 tbsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted
- Preheat the oven to to 180oC (350oF/Gas 4).
- Place the rhubarb in an earthenware dish, add 1 tbsp of the elderflower cordial and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes until soft. Mash the rhubarb and place to one side.
- Pour the evaporated milk, condensed milk and cream into a pan and whisk together until well combined. Add the lemon zest. Bring to a bare simmer over a low heat and stir for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the remaining elderflower cordial, mix and leave to cool.
- Pour the mixture into a bowl, add the mashed rhubarb and whisk into the infused cream until very well combined and smooth in consistency. Spoon into 4 dariole moulds or ramekin dishes. Freeze for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
- Meanwhile, to make the sesame brittle, line a baking tray with baking parchment. Heat the sugar in a heavy-based saucepan gently over a medium-low heat, without stirring, for about 5 minutes until bubbling and golden. Stir in the toasted sesame seeds, boil for a few seconds, then pour onto the prepared baking tray, spreading as thinly as possible. Leave to cool and harden completely. Bash the brittle into small shards.
- To loosen the kulfi from the moulds, dip the bottoms of them briefly into hot water, run a knife carefully round the edge of the mould and turn out onto a plate. Top with the shards of sesame brittle, and serve.