There’s a thick canopy of leaves over the garden table, lending shade to our lunch. The light is green, the air cool. It feels like eating underwater. We have chicken salad, the skin smoky and black from the grill, the meat juicy from an overnight soak with orange, honey and rosemary. After a rest to gather its juices, the warm chicken is tossed with avocado and refreshing, slightly bitter oranges. There are purple spring onions thinner than a pencil, too, and masses of parsley. I have put a bowl of watercress out as well, tossed with nothing more than the juice of a lemon and a few white-tipped breakfast radishes.
To follow, we have green glass bowls of gooseberry trifle, the sharp fruit layered with sugar-dusted savoiardi biscuits, the “lady-fingers” that offer a lighter alternative than homemade sponge-cake, and soak up the elderflower and gooseberry syrup more generously. What makes a trifle good to eat is time. Once the layers of cake, cream and custard are in place, it needs a few hours in the fridge in which to settle, giving the layers the chance to melt softly into one another. It’s a dessert to eat in peace and green shade if ever there was one.
Grilled chicken with avocado
dry white wine 300ml
orange juice of 1
liquid honey 3 tbsp
rosemary 3 large sprigs
chicken breasts 3 large (about 900g)
For the dressing:
Dijon mustard 1 tbsp
white wine vinegar
honey 2 tsp
olive oil 60ml
parsley a small bunch
spring onions 3 thin ones
First make the marinade. Stir together the white wine, orange juice and honey in a large mixing bowl. Tear the leaves from the rosemary sprigs and add to the mixture with 5 lightly crushed black peppercorns. Push the chicken breasts under the surface, cover with a plate and refrigerate overnight.
Get a ridged griddle pan or overhead grill hot. Remove the chicken from the marinade, shake dry then place on the griddle or, if using an overhead grill, a foil-lined baking sheet. Lower the heat to moderate, as the chicken will brown quickly. Let it cook for 12-15 minutes, turning once, until the skin is dark and crisp and the meat is lightly cooked right through to the centre. If the thickest part is firm to the touch, then it is done.
Remove the meat from the heat, cover with a bowl or kitchen foil and let it rest.
Make the dressing by beating together the mustard, vinegar, honey and olive oil in a bowl and season lightly. Chop the parsley leaves finely and add to the dressing, then halve, stone and peel the avocados, cut into thick slices and add to the dressing.
Slice the peel from the orange and separate into segments, discarding the skin, then add to the dressing. Chop the spring onions into short lengths. Slice the warm chicken into finger-thick slices, then toss gently in the dressing. Add the spring onions. Leave for 10 minutes then transfer to a serving dish.
elderflower cordial 80ml
egg yolks 4
caster sugar 50g
vanilla extract 1 tsp
savoiardi biscuit or trifle sponges 150g
elderflower cordial 240ml
double cream 250ml
To finish: (optional)
caster sugar 3 tbsp
savoiardi biscuits 40g, crumbled
Top and tail the gooseberries, put them in a medium-sized pan with the elderflower cordial and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and cook for 5 minutes or so until they are opaque and starting to burst. Remove from the heat, tip into a bowl and set aside to cool. Refrigerate for an hour.
Start making the custard, but first have ready a large mixing bowl with plenty of ice cubes in it. Warm the milk in a medium-sized pan until it starts to bubble and rise up the sides. Remove from the heat. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together for a minute or so until thick and creamy, then add 1 tsp of vanilla extract. Pour the hot milk over the egg and sugar mixture and mix thoroughly.
Wash the milk pan, then pour the custard into it and place over a moderate heat. Stir almost constantly, getting right into the corners of the pan, until you feel it start to thicken. When it is the consistency of double cream, remove from the heat, pour into a clean bowl and place in the ice. Stir the custard for a minute or two then leave to chill. (If at any point it shows signs of curdling, remove from the heat, pour into a cold bowl and beat very hard with a balloon whisk.)
Break the biscuits or sponges into pieces and put a handful in the bottom of each of four dishes. Soak the sponge with the elderflower cordial. Crush the gooseberries with a fork and then spoon them and their juice over the crumbled biscuits.
When the custard is chilled, trickle it over the gooseberries. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours. Whip the cream until it can hold a loose shape, then divide it between the dishes. To make the crisp topping, melt the sugar in a pan, add the water, and let it bubble for a minute or two. As it darkens to the colour of toffee, scatter in the crumbled biscuits, stir and tip on to baking parchment. Scatter over the cream and serve.