Continuing his series on seasonal food, York chef JAMES LOWE shows you how to get to grips with lobster and crab.

As things start to hot up outside, there are some cool seasonal ingredients to try out in the kitchen this month.

June is the month for home-grown veg. First up this month are courgettes, one of my favourite vegetables. Courgettes are actually baby marrows, just picked earlier from the plant. The rule is the smaller the courgette, the better the flavour.

Finger-sized baby courgettes are sometimes sold with flowers from the plant. The flowers are edible and full of flavour. They can be used as a garnish or tossed in olive oil with sweet garlic and chili. Fabulous!

Preparing courgettes couldn't be easier. After topping and tailing, they can be diced, sliced, boiled, steamed, roasted, deep or shallow-fried.

Raw courgette can even be grated for salads.

My tip is to cut them in half lengthways, score the flesh with a sharp knife, rub with garlic, drizzle with olive oil and season before grilling or cooking on the barbecue.

Crab is also a good choice this month. Brown crabs from UK waters are widely available from local fishmongers.

A live crab needs to be cooked in a large pan of boiling water for around ten minutes. For the more squeamish cook, dressed crabs are a good option. These have ready-prepared cooked meat and are sold in their shells.

The rule with crab is the heavier the better, so go for large shells and claws as they should contain more meat. Crabmeat is great in pasta dishes, fishcakes and soups. Don't bother saving the shells for making stock as they don't contain much flavour.

A relative of the crab, lobster is often thought of as a more expensive but superior-tasting cousin. Lobster comes from cold northern seas and this month, Canadian lobster is at its best and readily available locally.

As with all crustaceans, it is best to buy live specimens. Never buy dead, uncooked lobster as it deteriorates quickly and carries a high risk of food poisoning. If you can't buy or face handling a live lobster, make sure it is freshly cooked and from a good fishmonger.

The shells of live lobsters are mottled green, blue and red. Cooked lobster turns a distinctive bright red. Lobster is fantastic eaten cold in salads with Dijon mayonnaise. It can also be heated with a tasty sauce of Parmesan and cream, or fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil.

Next up this month is grey mullet, which is seriously underrated. A round, oily fish, grey mullet is tasty and full of vitamins. Grey mullet is always sold whole rather than in fillets, so ask your fishmonger to remove the little bones.

It's good for steaming and roasting and can be grilled or cooked on the barbecue - but watch out, as it tends to stick. Grey mullet is popular in Mediterranean dishes and goes well with rosemary, thyme, garlic and fennel.

Last but not least this month, we have tayberries.

Developed in Scotland, a tayberry is a hybrid fruit - a cross between a blackberry and raspberry.

Tayberries are deep purple and conical in shape. Uncooked tayberries are great in fruit salads and tarts. They can also be stewed for pies, crumbles and fruit puddings. They can be quite tart, so are perfect for making sweet jams, jellies and ice cream.

Seasonal food coming up in July: Tomatoes, watercress, aubergine, fennel and strawberries.

James Lowe is the owner of Villa Italia, 69 Micklegate, York.

Telephone: (01904) 670501.


Crab and courgette risotto

(Serves 2)

200g of Arborio rice

1lb cooked crabmeat

4 spring onions, diced

Half an onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

4 small courgettes diced

1.5 pints of fish stock

50g fresh grated Parmesan

Method: In a large pan, sweat off the onion and garlic in a little olive oil. Remove from heat and stir in the rice gradually, ensuring every grain is coated in oil. Place on a low heat and slowly stir in the fish stock, a little at a time. Simmer for around 15 minutes, stirring regularly until the liquid is absorbed. Add the diced courgette, spring onion and crabmeat and heat through. Stir in a knob of butter, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with grated Parmesan to serve.

James says: This is a really tasty dish full of flavour and richness.

Grey mullet parcel

(Serves 1)

1 grey mullet, gutted

1 quarter of lemon, sliced

1 clove garlic, crushed

Sprig of thyme, chopped

Half a dozen new potatoes, cooked

Half a dozen baby carrots, peeled

Half a glass of white wine

Method: Get a piece of foil at least twice the size of your fish. Place the fish in the centre and put the thyme, garlic and lemon pieces inside its stomach. Place the potatoes and carrots alongside the fish. Fold over the foil and form a sealed parcel by scrunching the edges together, leaving just one corner open. Pour the wine into the parcel before sealing up the corner. Place on a baking tray in a pre-heated moderate oven (gas mark 7/200C) for around 12-15 minutes until the fish is firm. Season and serve.

James says: A simple way of cooking fish to keep in moisture and flavour.

Tayberry Tart

(Serves 4)

1 ready-made shortcrust pastry case

500g punnet of tayberries

2 tablespoons jam

2 eggs

4oz sugar

2oz plain flour

1 vanilla pod

1 pint whipping cream

Method: Whisk the eggs and sugar in a bowl until white and fluffy. Stir in the flour. In a saucepan heat the cream and vanilla pod to the boil. Add the cream to the egg mixture and return it to the pan. Bring to the boil stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and place in a bowl. Sprinkle the top with caster sugar to prevent skinning. Allow to cool. Cover the base of the case with jam. Spread the cream mixture evenly on top of the jam. Decorate with tayberries. Serve with whipped cream.

James says: Fab!

Updated: 08:54 Saturday, June 14, 2003