What a memorable summer it has been. We are lucky north of the river Thames to have green spaces to enjoy the good weather. But Hampstead Heath has been jam-packed with crowds vying for fresh air and shade, with queues for the ponds.
This weekend I visited Waterlow Park, one of North London’s lesser known parks. This space, bequeathed to the nation by Sir Stanley Waterlow in 1889 as a ‘garden for the garden less’, is a shady, quiet haven of trees and ponds. At its edge, the elegant Lauderdale House has been running a series of free Sunday afternoon concerts.
I spent my Highgate childhood running around Waterlow Park, collecting buckets of frog spawn, teasing the caged birds, roly-polying down the steep hill, and it must be admitted, intermittently bunking off school. The views from the top rival those of Parliament hill: you can see The Shard. Benches line the paths, each with a different story, hinted at by a brass plaque in memoriam.
There are three ponds, fed by natural springs, where ducks slide across the dark green water. Huge trees, oaks, sweet chestnuts, silver birches, bat boxes nailed to the upper reaches, span the walkways. Some of the more structured gardens contain marble sundials. In the meadow clearings, I’m sure I spied wild carrots. The air is fresher too.
It was the perfect day for a picnic. One of my guests, an Irish Coeliac, is gluten-free. So along with the classic wine, ginger beer, cheese, fruit and sandwiches, I made her a couple of gluten-free picnic dishes.
Other gluten-free picnic ideas include dolmades, vegetarian stuffed vine leaves or Vietnamese style rice paper summer rolls.
Baked Spanish tortilla
- 1 kilo cooked skinned potatoes, cut into large chunks
- 1 or 2 Spanish nyora dried peppers, soaked, deseeded, sliced (or any dried mild chilli)
- 3 or 4 tbsp olive oil
- 3 onions, thinly sliced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 3 peppers, red, orange, green, thinly sliced
- 1 heaped tsp of smoked paprika
- 1 large courgette, thinly sliced into half moons
- 1 red chilli, deseeded, finely sliced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 18 eggs
- To garnish, fresh coriander leaves and some hot sauce.
- Prepare the potatoes, boiling them in salty water. Soak the peppers. Preheat the oven to 180C
- Put the olive oil into a heavy bottomed frying pan.
- Sweat the onions until pale gold and soft, add the garlic, the peppers, the paprika and the courgette.
- Add both the dried Nyora pepper and the red chilli. Season with salt and pepper.
- Whisk the eggs together in a large bowl.
- Add the strained potatoes into the eggs. Season. Add the fried pepper mixture. Stir so that the vegetables and potatoes are evenly distributed.
- Grease a bundt cake tin and pour in the egg and potato mixture.
- Place in the oven and bake for 40 minutes or until a metal skewer can be inserted and come out clean.
Gluten-free Strawberry and almond shortcake tart
- 150 g rice flour or gluten-free flour
- 100 g almond flour or ground almonds
- 1 tbsp Xanthan gum, adds stretchiness to gluten-free doughs
- 100 g caster sugar
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 150 g butter, salted or unsalted cold, diced into cubes
- 2 tbsp whole milk
- 300 g strawberries, sliced thinly
- Decorate with flaked or blanched almonds on top.
- Milk to brush on top
- Sprinkle with a little brown sugar
- Combine flour, almonds, gum, sugar, salt together then rub in the butter until it forms fine breadcrumbs. Add the milk to pull it together.
- Grease the tin well and press in the dough, reserving a quarter of it.
- Preheat the oven to 180C
- Chill the dough then add the sliced strawberries in overlapping layers.
- Use the rest of the dough to make long strips and place on top of the tart in criss-cross lattice style.
- Dot the lattice triangles with almonds.
- Brush whole milk onto the pastry.
- Sprinkle with brown sugar.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes.