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We’re all hoping for some warm summer sunshine soon and when it does finally arrive, Gastrono-me’s Gemma Simmonite has come up with the perfect dish for an al fresco meal



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I’ve chosen today’s recipe in the hope that it may encourage some actual sunshine. It seems to have been the longest two months of rain and I think we’re all desperate for a little delicious hit of vitamin D.

If shops selling garden furniture are anything to go by, we are all more than prepared for a stay-at-home summer in the garden, such is the rarity of outdoor furniture. Poor Mike was trying to purchase a much-coveted garden sofa for my 50th birthday and he was nearly driven to distraction by out-of-stock notices on every site and shop he tried – I’m thrilled to say he was successful eventually, and I was happily blessed with a set and I even got to have a sunny day to enjoy my new outdoor arrangement. But alas, ever since it’s been covered over in a soaked garden and all hopes of an al fresco lunch have been put on hold.

Not that we’ve been averse to outdoor eating in the rain as a nation of late – hospitality was allowed to serve customers outdoors from April 12th and the British public brilliantly and bravely donned their hats and raincoats to support their favourite restaurants and pubs. It wasn’t something we were involved in, but as punters, we too supported our local pub and ate under a marquee whilst it poured down. But we didn’t care. It was just so super to see hospitality awakening and tills starting to ring for businesses which had been under so much strain.

Sunshine Pasta Salad (47533942)
Sunshine Pasta Salad (47533942)

Thrillingly, we were able to join the party, too, on Monday the 17th and we reopened much to our relief and sanity. Despite the hard work of getting Gastrono-me up and running again, our customers made it all truly worthwhile – messages left on our reservations system were filled with ‘whoohoo’s’ and ‘can’t wait to be backs’, plus fabulous messages of support on our socials that really made it feel less daunting and that we were, after all, returning to friends.

Our EXCELLENT Rick (and I do not use that adjective lightly), along with the fabulous management team of Will, Lauren and Justin, excelled themselves, working tirelessly to make sure every last detail was checked ahead of time, which ensured our reopening was as smooth and as stress-free as possible. We recruited new team members, and helped old ones feel ready to begin again after such a long break. We created exciting new dishes and tweaked established ones. We even joined in the al fresco party by buying new outdoor chairs and tables so if the weather ever cheers up, you’ll be able to enjoy your favourite dishes on the cobbles of beautiful Abbeygate Street – a Pain Perdu and Prosecco in the sunshine, now that really is what I’m looking forward to most.

I’m often wary of feeling optimistic, definitely a glass half empty gal – I’m Welsh after all, and we’re not known for our sunny outlook. But I honestly believe that this could be the last time that businesses will have to shut up shop for a lockdown.

I pray that our vaccination programme will continue to give us immunity and that we can look forward to our freedom and all that goes with it. Because it’s not worth thinking about what could happen to retail and hospitality if it were to receive another enforced lengthy closure. We feel truly blessed that we made it through.

Others were not as lucky, and our thoughts go out to them and hope they can find a new route back to their plans one day soon.

We all need to look forward to this precious summer, to enjoy eating and drinking out again, to socialising with friends and family, to retail therapy in our favourite shops and for the thrill of watching live entertainment once more – all the things that brighten our days and enrich our lives.

So, whether your lunch is a barbecue, a picnic or just something tasty in your garden, I can highly recommend my Sunshine Pasta Salad. Super easy, full of summer ripened flavours and the bonus is, it can be prepared ahead of time.

Wishing you all a super dry rest of May and here’s to a scorching June!

SUNSHINE PASTA SALAD

Prep Time 12 mins

Cook Time 8 mins

Serves 6

Ingredients:

500g Fusilli Bucati Corti pasta, or any other pasta shape that will hold onto the sauce will work, too.

2 tablespoons of good quality olive oil

3/4 tablespoons of Napoli tomato sauce, homemade or shop bought (save the rest for another meal)

220g vine cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 small red pepper, diced

1 small red onion, diced

50g cucumber, sliced into half moons

A handful of pitted sliced black olives

125g drained Bocconcini (mini mozzarella pearls)

2 tablespoons of fresh vegetarian pesto, loosen with a little olive oil to drizzle

A handful of torn basil leaves

A small handful of fresh parsley, chopped

A pinch of dried red chilli flakes

Rock salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method:

Cook the pasta for 7-8 minutes in salted boiling water until al dente, drain and then run under cold water until cool to the touch, then pour over a little of the olive oil to prevent it from sticking.

Transfer to a large bowl and start by adding the tomato sauce, stir well to coat the pasta, then add the cherry tomatoes, diced red pepper, diced red onion, bocconcini and dried chilli flakes.

Give everything a good stir and season with salt and pepper.

To finish, arrange the cucumber slices and scatter with the olive slices and chopped parsley. Top with the torn basil leaves and finish with a good glug of pesto, then season again to taste.

Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds

Read Gemma’s blog at gemwithrelish.com

Visit gastrono-me.co.uk

Call 01284 277980