Donal Skehan makes an al fresco feast for summer

Recipes that rely on quick preparation yet deliver on bold flavours are crucial

Summer cooking allows for simple meals reliant on big fresh flavours. Considering most Irish al fresco meals will see you struggling to juggle a golf umbrella, a tray of sausages and the barbecue lid all through a refreshing summer shower, simple cooking will be key to your success.

Recipes that rely on quick preparation yet deliver on bold and instant flavour are crucial. Many of my eating al fresco recipes allow for prep in advance permitting all-important time to battle mother nature.

This al fresco menu is one that alludes to grandeur yet is simplicity in motion: A dessert using the spoils of summer, which can be baked off in advance, and a barbecued shoulder of lamb with a spicy citrus twist to beat the best of them.

Harissa paste is a condiment that has become a key player on my list of pantry essentials in recent years.


It has many uses; as a marinade it adds a dark heat for grilled meats and fish, while a tablespoon stirred through hummus elevates the humble chickpea spread to new levels of flavour.

But more recently in my search for all things heat and spice I’ve taken to creating a sauce out of the paste, so it can be used more as something to be drizzled rather than spread. Sweetened with orange juice and zest, it becomes mellow and more subtly spiced, allowing it to be enjoyed as the ideal sauce with thinly sliced barbecue lamb shoulder and charred bitter greens. Harissa pastes vary in heat so be sure to taste as you go and adapt as needed.

There are a few recipes I come back to again and again and the pastry for the tart here is one that I have shamelessly been peddling for years.

It's a fail-safe rough puff pastry, which creates the most wonderfully buttery and flakey finish. Craig Thompson, the man behind some of the epic bakes at Drogheda's Brown Hound Bakery, shared it with me.

It can be adapted to be sweet or savoury and I often make something similar to this tart with the best of the summer’s tomatoes and plenty of thyme.

Here it forms a free form strawberry and rhubarb galette that makes for an effortless showstopper.

As easy summer feasts go, this one provides great results for the minimal amount of work put in. Good luck with the brolly.

Orange harissa yoghurt barbecue lamb with charred greens

Summer lamb is an ideal barbecue meat, the coals provide a smokey contrast to the sweet meat. Both shoulder or leg of lamb deboned and butterflied work well here and are often overlooked for this season’s cooking. To balance the heat and sweetness of the lamb, grill radicchio and endive to accompany. In the absence of both bitter leaves which both barbecue beautifully, use baby gem or romaine lettuce heads, split in half.

Serves 6

1.5kg boneless shoulder of lamb

3 tbsp olive oil

4 garlic cloves, sliced thinly

3 rosemary sprigs, leaves finely chopped

Sea salt and ground black pepper

For the orange harissa:

5 tbsp harissa paste

5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely grated

Zest and juice of 1 orange

1 tbsp lemon juice

For the charred greens:

10 spring onions, trimmed and chopped in half

2 raddicio, sliced in quarters

4 endives, trimmed and sliced in half

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Whisk together the ingredients for the orange harissa sauce and set aside.

Heat a barbecue to a high heat.

Using a small sharp knife poke holes all over the flesh of the lamb. Add 3 tbsp of the orange harissa paste to the olive oil, garlic, rosemary and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper – whisk until combined. Massage the lamb with the marinade and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes or covered in the fridge overnight.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a generous seasoning of sea salt and ground black pepper. Add the raddicio, endives and spring onions and toss to coat.

When the barbecue has come up to a high heat add the vegetables and cook until charred on all sides. Remove to a plate and keep covered and warm.

Add the lamb to the centre of the grill and cook on both sides for 3-4 minutes until it has good colour, before lowering the temperature, covering with a lid and cooking for approximately 30 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 130degrees Fahrenheit for medium rare. Turn the meat halfway through the cooking time. Shield with tin foil if the lamb takes on too much colour.

When the lamb is cooked, transfer to a chopping board with deep grooves to catch the juices, cover with tin foil and allow to rest for about five minutes.

Slice the lamb thinly and serve with charred vegetables and a generous drizzle of the orange harissa paste and the resting juices.

Rhubarb, strawberry and vanilla ricotta tart

This same method works wonderfully with any in season fruit and the ricotta isn’t essential but creates a creamy finish within the golden pastry.

Serves 6

1 egg yolk, for glazing

For the filling:

400g rhubarb, chopped into 5cm chunks

300g strawberries, hulled

5tbsp caster sugar

1 tbsp plain flour

1 vanilla bean pod, seeds scraped

200g ricotta cheese

For the pastry:

170g cold butter, cut in to small cubes

250g plain flour

1½ tsp caster sugar

1 egg

1½ tsp apple cider vinegar

Add the butter, flour and sugar to a bowl and combine using a pastry blender or a butter knife until the flour is just combined and there are visible lumps of butter – avoid using your hands.

In a separate small bowl, lightly whisk together the egg, apple cider vinegar and 80ml ice cold water to incorporate. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour in the wet ingredients.

Using two large forks, gently toss the wet ingredients into the dry until a rough dough forms.

Turn the dough out onto a sheet of greaseproof paper, wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

While the pastry is chilling, toss the rhubarb, strawberries, caster sugar, flour and vanilla bean seeds in a medium-sized bowl, then set aside.

On a generously floured work surface, roll out the dough into a large round about 5mm thick and then transfer the dough onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper.

Spread with pastry with ricotta cheese leaving roughly 10cm around the edges free. Pile prepared rhubarb and strawberries onto the ricotta. Fold the edges of the pastry inward, over the rhubarb, leaving the centre of the rhubarb exposed, and creating a barrier so the juice can not escape as the tart cooks.

Brush the outside edges of the pastry with beaten egg yolk. Bake the tart in a hot oven, 210C/190C fan/gas mark 5 for 30-35 minutes or until the sugar and juices bubble in the centre of the tart and the pastry is golden brown. Remove the tart from the oven and allow to cool slightly before enjoying with a dollop of whipped cream or cold vanilla ice cream.