Suddenly it hit me; as I sat in the garden, drinking elderflower cordial, nearly falling off my chair as I attempted to evade a wasp and still wearing sunglasses as I ate my dinner- This has been a pretty bloody good summer. Like, seriously, I have tan-lines kind of good...
Yup, as I fanned my bronzed (and now slightly peeling) shoulders with the latest, tropical fruit adorned copy of Jamie magazine (suitably sunny as well as being my absolute favourite) it dawned on me like a slap in the face with the tennis ball my sister was throwing around the garden (or maybe that actually was the ball...) that I have spent more days in shorts this year than I can remember in a long, long time. And I am talking of short-wearing in England; the land of endlessly waiting for the Indian Summer that never appears, where grey August afternoons are the norm and summer wardrobes seem to spend much of their lives getting dusty under the bed...
Now, even after that slight moan, I can’t grumble about previous dodgy summers too much. It would be hypocritical for me to whinge about the rain ruining the Queen’s Jubilee last year, or the lack of Rosé that was consumed on the patio during, what I am assured was, the rainy summer of 2012. Yeah, I can’t really complain can I- For me, last year was more mountain biking in Bolivia and sipping Mojitos on Miami Beach than digging out my anorak and debating the socks with sandals look after getting caught in a surprise shower.
But I am still absolutely loving it- Eating strawberries like a possessed five year old hidden in the bushes on the Pick your Own field (juice smeared, stupidly sticky face to match, of course), discovering a very hidden enthusiasm for Frisbee (and, unfortunately, a little bit of an ugly competitive streak...) spending more time in tents than I ever dared to imagine; this summer has indeed been downright delicious.
But, most of all, and speaking of delicious; I absolutely adore the way that the warmth brings out the pop-art colours in the fruit and vegetable aisles, how the sun-drenched garden encourages heady herb fragrances and fresh tomatoes in every meal. Basically, I just can’t get enough of the al-fresco magic that seems to make every single thing created in the kitchen shine as brightly as the swimming-pool blue sky.
It is at this time of year that makes me want to raid the vegetable box, grabbing colours like a crazed circus costume designer, throwing all that goodness in a dish, giving it a shake, bunging it in the oven and just letting all those fresh, amazing flavours do their thing. For me, that is all there is to it when the sun is shining; leaving more time for eating ice cream and getting hit in the face with tennis balls...
And this neon-bright, ridiculously tasty sausage, cannellini bean and butternut traybake is hard to beat. Nestled between the sunny slices of squash, ruby-red cherry tomatoes, slices of red onion and creamy beans; the sausages add just enough richness and spice (and an added bit of summer naughtiness) to this fresh, amazingly tasty dinnertime delight. Speckled with a bounty of fresh herbs from the garden (I grabbed everything in sight, only just managing to leave the grass intact if I’m honest...) doused in olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar to add just the right amount of bite; all that needs to be done is throw it in the oven and bake until the sausages are browned and sticky and their bean and butternut bed has reduced to a chunky sauce.
This is sausage and beans with fancy bells on. Simply serve with crushed new potatoes spiked with a squeeze of lemon and hey presto; now get out in that sunshine and work on your vitamin D intake- You know you want to...
Sausage, Butternut and Canellini Bean Bake, Serves 4
I red onion, sliced
2 large cloves garlic, skins on and slightly squashed
1 red chilli, sliced
½ Butternut squash, peeled and thinly sliced
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tin cannellini beans, drained
Red wine vinegar
Fresh herbs (Any you fancy- Think Bay leaves, rosemary, oregano, basil, thyme...)
12 good-quality sausages
Preheat the oven to 190oc
In a large baking dish, combine the beans, squash, onion, garlic, chilli and herbs. Add a large glug of olive oil, a good splash of vinegar and season well
Prick the sausages and place on top of the bean mixture. Give all of those lovely flavours one last shake up (get your hands in there!) and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour, or until the sausages are browned and the squash cooked
Serve with crushed new potatoes and some sautéed spinach, YUM