Like a good rosé, the recipe below would not be out of place at any time of year. It's a dish that not only looks and tastes spectacular - colourful, life-affirming and packed with flavour - but is also infinitely versatile. Think of it as a template for your own creative layering. Prepared well in advance, it always yields perfect results.
It makes a striking starter in its own right, and, if you replace the cheese with grilled courgettes, artichokes or tomatoes, a superb accompaniment to seared lamb or fish.
Either way - and whenever you choose to make it - it needs a really serious pink, dry on the finish, but sufficiently fruity in the middle to rock those sweet red peppers.
MEDITERRANEAN VEGETABLE TIMBALES
Cook's note: if time is short, feel free to use store-cupboard jars of Mediterranean vegetables, in which case drain them well and go easy on the salt.
Ingredients for six
- 2 ripe but firm avocados, peeled, stoned and thickly sliced, just before using
- 50g black olives without stones
- 6 red peppers, roasted, peeled and cut into thick slices
- 1 few leaves of fresh basil
- 1 large ball best-quality mozzarella (this works well with Italian burrata) cut into 6 slices
- 1 aubergine
- olive oil, for brushing
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Slice the aubergine and degorge (sprinkle with salt and,leave for a short while). Rinse, pat dry brush with oil and grill until just tender.
Line 6 large ramekins or dariole moulds with cling film.
Slice the olives in half lengthways and place 4 halves at the base of each ramekin. Lay a basil leaf over each. Next add a layer of peppers, followed by a layer of avocado and season with pepper. Add a layer of mozzarella and season with both salt and pepper this time. Next, add a half-slice or two of aubergine. Continue layering the ingredients until each ramekin is full.
Put the ramekins in a shallow dish, or roasting pan, to catch any drips. Cover each one with greaseproof paper or parchment and put an unopened tin or jar on top to serve as a weight. Refrigerate for several hours, overnight if you can.
When you are ready to serve, remove the weights and carefully run a blunt knife around the ramekins. Put your individual serving plate on top, invert and voilà. You may experience a touch of olive fall-out or basil-stick, but it's easily remedied and in essence, you should have a perfectly-formed, nicely pressed stack of vibrant colour and flavour. Repeat thrice, festoon with a few dainty rocket leaves or a dressed watercress salad and put on the table with a basket of crusty bread before summoning your guests.
Janet Wynne Evans