Category Archives: salads

A nice little plateful.

I made this last weekend.

Cannellini beans, grilled courgettes, tomatoes with a very very green basil dressing.

It was very nice.

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Is is such a good combination of flavours and textures, the meaty, nutty beans with strips of sweet slightly charred courgette, tiny, red, flavorsome plum tomatoes and loads of extremely green basil dressing, best eaten with a fork in one hand and a hunk of good bread in the other with a scoop and mop attitude.

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I would happily open a tin of beans for something like this but last weekend, in a moment of unusual organisation, I remembered to soak some. Now, there is something pleasing about a bowl of beans soaking, they not only look kind of pretty and faintly amusing as they swell up and shrivel a bit, but they are also full of promise and potential. I always feel a wave of satisfaction when I remember to soak beans – I don’t know why really, it is hardly and impressive or creative task, it took all of….umm….20 seconds….. silly really.

Anyway, just as satisfying, is grilling the courgettes, the searing heat of the pan doing all sorts of tasty things to the soft flesh, charring, making their flavour more intense.

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So you have soaked, cooked the beans and grilled your courgettes..

..now you halve some tiny tomatoes, cut the courgettes into strips and toss everything together with a basil dressing which is nothing more than a clove of garlic, a massive handful of fresh basil leaves, a pinch of salt wizzed in the blender with loads of your nicest olive oil.

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I made this last saturday, so that was the 30th of August…… anyway, the exact date isn’t really important, what is important is that our platefuls tasted just right, seasonal and appropriate for these last, still very warm last days of summer and just a litle hearty, like the autumn days to come.

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Grilled courgette, tomato and cannellini bean salad with basil dressing.

From the Riverford farm cookbook

serves 4

  • 200g dried cannellini or haricot beans soaked overnight in cold water
  • bay leaf
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 courgettes cut into ribbons 5mm thick
  • 12 cherry or small plum tomatoes
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dressing

  • A bunch of basil
  • a clove of garlic, crushed
  • 100ml of extra virgin olive oil
  • a pinch of salt

Put the drained beans in large pan with the bay leaf, cover with fresh water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for a an hour or two, until tender. Drain, season to taste and dress wth 2 tbsp of olive oil.

Rub the courgette ribbons with the rest of the rest of the olive oil and then grill on a ridged pan until tender and charred. Cut each ribbon in two lenghways.

Halve the tomatoes.

Make the dressing; Put all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and wizz until smooth.

In a large bowl. gently mix the cougette strips, tomatoes and beans together with enough dressing to coat all the ingredients nicely.

Eat with nice fresh bread.


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Roasted red onion, green bean and parmesan salad.

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I was trying my best not to leap around like an overexcited five year old yelping the sun the sun the sun until I went to teach my class of 23 five year olds this morning. I arrived at school during their break and was greeted by a joyous frenzy of sun soaked happiness as 23 little ones hurled themselves around the playground, little bodies liberated from the coats and gloves that had impeded their movement all winter, little faces warm and pink, and smiles that cried il sole il sole il sole.

We drew pictures of the sun, each bright yellow circle with an appropriately curved smile, before I attempted to teach them The sun has got his hat on hip hip hip hooray. 23 little Italian faces scrunched and contorted earnestly as they tried to mimic the funny English sounds. Finally we took the lesson where it belonged, outside, we leaped and jumped and spun while we chanted uh sun ah ot heez at on ip ip ip ooray.

I made my way home from Gianicolo, soaking up warmth and glorious views of Rome while winding my way down the curves of via Garibaldi and weaving my way through the labyrinthine lanes of Trastevere. I stopped to lean-up against the polished wooden bar at Bar San Calisto in the sun filled piazza of the same name, inhaled a perfectly intense espresso, which injected rather more perk into my step than I expected, before walking to the river and following it’s twists and turns home to Testaccio.

It was about one o clock when I arrived at the market, my trusty fruttivendolo raised his palms, shoulders and eyebrows as I approached, a gesture which needed no wordy elaboration but perfectly expressed his reproach ‘what are you doing coming here at this hour, you are late late late, all the good stuff has gone, you know you have to get here early, you know you know, everybody knows.’ I didn’t need anything anyway, I just like breathing in the air of the market, even in the last hour of it’s working day, piles of crates being heaved into order, big old fashioned brooms rhythmically sweeping the escaped chicory leaves and artichoke petals into heaps, a lemon flying across the floor in an impromptu game of football. My late arrival was rewarded with a big hand-full of vibrant green parsley, the last two oranges and a wink which affirmed our pact of loyalty and it’s gifts.

This is the man himself, the other Vincenzo in my life, my fruttivendolo – oh Lo voglio bene Vincenzo.

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Back home I flung everything open – I say everything but everything in our tiny flat is actually only one very large door and one very large window, but they top and tail our two rooms – light flooded in. Joy was followed by momentary horror as I took in the sheer quantity of dust, a fuzzy blanket covering everything, the breeze sent a dust-ball, worthy of a role in a western, scuttling across the floor, you know in the opening scene when you see the abandoned ghost town and the tumbleweed rolls into view, my dust-ball would like to audition for any forthcoming productions. It was no time for spring cleaning though, I adopted selective vision and the room looked quite pretty again.

I was still unsure what to have for lunch, but I knew it should really involve red onions, a rope of which were making the onion basket look quite lovely but loveliness aside, deserved some culinary attention and green beans which merited the same.

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Green beans and red onions, I went a bit funny for some time – the way I do when trying to remember an actors name – while I tried to recall a recipe I’d seen involving both in one of my cookbooks. I don’t know if it helped, but repeating the words green beans and red onions while I persisted in my stubborn search was strangely satisfying, if not a little annoying for Vincenzo who was reading the paper in the corner.

After a rather messy search, which had the dust-balls not just rolling but twirling tauntingly around the room, I found it on page 73 of Giorgio Locatelli’s fine and heavy volume Made in Italy. Like so many recipes which catch my eye, it’s an assembly really, soft, creamy, roasted red onions separated into layers, tossed with a edgy dressing and left to laze for a while you boil up some fine, sweet green beans, drain and toss them with some grated Parmesan and a slightly mellower dressing. To serve you make a pleasing pile of onions and top that with a pile of beans dotted with Parmesan, to finish you shave over some curls of Parmesan. stop, eat.

It’s worth roasting more onions than you need as they will keep for a day or two. Keep them in the fridge but pull them out a while before you eat them. They are a delight squashed on some nice bread with some piquant goats cheese or chopped up a little and tossed with hot spaghetti and sprinkled with plenty of Parmesan.

It may only be a simple assembly, but it is utterly delicious, we ate with the door open as did the family in front which made it seem quite a social affair. Plenty of bread is required to mop up the dressing, hot pizza bianca is even better. I tried to teach Vincenzo the sing the sun has got his hat on hip hip hip hooray and got quite hysterical at his inability to pronounce H, then he retaliated by getting me to say ramarro and laughing at my inability to roll my r’s – ah  that’s love.

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Roasted red onion, green bean and Parmesan salad.

Adapted from Giogio Locatelli’s Made in Italy

serves 2 for lunch or 4 as a starter

  • 2 large red onions
  • 200ml red wine vinegar
  • 1tbsp sugar
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 240g fine green beans
  • 2tbsp freshly grated Parmesan and extra for shaving
  • 2 tbsp your favourite dressing
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Set the oven to 220°c.

Leaving the skins on wrap each onion in tin foil and bake in the oven for 1 hour.

While the onions are baking put the red wine vinegar in a small pan and boil energetically over a good flame intil it had reduced by about a third. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved and them whisk in the olive oil to make your vinaigrette for the onions.

Once the onions are ready, they should be soft and creamy not crunchy, unwrap the foil and peel them. While they are still warm, cut each onion in half and separate the layers, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and put them into the vinaigrette.

Cook the green beans in plenty of well salted boiling water for about 5 minutes, then drain them very well and toss them in a small bowl with the grated Parmesan and 2 tbsp of your favorite dressing.

Arrange a layer of onions on each plate and top with a pile of beans and shave over some Parmesan.

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Pomegranate, fennel and toasted pinenut salad.

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This is hardly a recipe.

But, it is a quite pleasing little number of a salad and one which certainly cheered me up no end yesterday, a day blighted by gloomy weather (where is mr blue sky when you need him), a pending cold and a serious case of Monday blues.

The stars of this salad are without a doubt the glistening, jewel like, deep, wine ruby- red flesh covered seeds of a pomegranate which never cease to amaze and delight me. I take equal delight in the mildly laborious and fiddly work required to separate and then eat the sweet, sharp, pleasingly astringent gems. I have heard you can peel and separate the seeds while the pomegranate is submerged under water to prevent unruly splatters – boh, what, make them all watery!, I for one like unruly splatters.

Alongside the gem like stars, the special guests- soft salad leaves (lambs lettuce would be top of my list but whatever looks nicest and freshest is your best bet) provide a comfortable bed for co-stars– slivers of fennel and a handful of pine nuts gently toasted in a heavy pan until golden and fragrant. All this is tossed in your favorite, simple oil and vinegar dressing.

Happy Tuesday to you.

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Puntarelle alla Romana

This unusual salad is a Roman speciality and a pretty splendid one at that: crispy, deliciously bitter curls of tender young puntarelle shoots tossed with a dressing of anchovies, garlic, vinegar and olive oil. Now is the season and its lasts until February. Personally, I will be making the most of it.

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I had never encountered puntarelle or catalogna –a member of the chicory family sometimes known as asparagus chicory – until I moved to Rome. It is a distinctive loose leafed variety of chicory which originated in Italy with long white, pale green stalks/shoots and feathery leaves similar to those of dandelions.

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I had already spied the splendid vast heads piled up in the market and the vats of iced cold water filled with bobbing curls to be sold ready prepared, but it wasn’t until one of our Wednesday lunches at Da Augusto in Trastevere that Alice and I first ate this salad: crisp, clean and delightfully bitter curls in a sharp, anchovy spiked dressing.

Back at the market, puntarelle in hand I pondered as to how this vast head of vibrantly green feathery shoots was to be transformed into the aforementioned salad. My trusty fruttivendolo Vincenzo must have seen the confusion in my eyes because he smiled and pointed at the curls bobbing away in the iced water he had prepared earlier. It took some time to convince him that I wanted to try and prepare it myself, he just shook his head and looked very concerned. Clearly he had little faith in my ability and kept pointing at the vat.

Finally and after some misunderstanding Vincenzo agreed to give me a lesson on the condition I took some of his prepared curls as well, the man knows how to strike a deal. Essentially preparation is simple, a little fiddly, but worth it. Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes and set it aside. Pull the hollow bulbs from the head of puntarelle and stip away the other leaves, then, using a sharp knife cut each bulb lenghways into thin slices and drop each slice in the iced water. Leave the slices soaking for about an hour during which time they curl up and become beautifully crisp.

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Once the punatelle is ready, it is drained and carefully dried before being tossed with a punchy and delicious dressing of anchovies, garlic, vinegar, salt, olive oil and twists of black pepper. It is then left to rest and the flavours mingle and settle before being served and devoured with bread to mop up the dressing.

I like this salad as I first ate it in Da Augusto, a contorno after a plate of Pollo alla Romana It also makes a palate stimulating starter with some good bread

Puntarelle alla Romana

serves 4

A head of Puntarelle prepared as described, a large bowl of iced water, 2 cloves of garlic, 5 good quality salted anchovy fillets, 2 tbs of good red wine or balsamic vinegar, 5 tbsp good olive oil, a good pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper.

Prepare the puntarelle as described above and leave in soaking in the iced water for a good hour until crisped and curly,

In a pestle and mortar crush the garlic into a paste with a pinch of salt.

In a small bowl mash the anchovies with the vinegar and stir until the anchovies have disintegrated.

Add the anchovy and vinegar to the garlic and add the oil. Stir well and allow to sit for 10minutes.

Drain the puntarelle and dry or spin it dry carefully.

Stir the dressing again before pouring it into the serving bowl. Tip in the puntarelle curls, grind over some black pepper and toss everything together.

Allow the salad to sit for a few minutes before tossing again and then serving with good bread

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Greek Salad

In her stupendous New Penguin Cookery Book Jill Norman describes some salads as Composed Salads or Salade composèe, which she defines as ‘ imaginative mixture of what ever salads and vegetables are in season. It is fairly substantial; it can be elaborate or constructed from just a few elements; it can be served as a first course or comprise a meal in itself’ she adds ‘it is important to make sure that the flavours of the ingredients chosen are compatible and do not cancel each other out’.

Composed salads need to be, well, carefully and thoughtfully composed, they are not a mish mash of fridge clearing which just look and taste messy. Composed salads are thoughtful, harmonious and clever compositions of fine ingredients which delight the eyes and the palate.

Ceasar salad, salad niçoise, pear, walnut and roquefort salad, chicken liver salad, fennel and orange, crab and avocado salad, salad frisèe aux lardons, greek salad are just some of my composed (sorry if it sounds pretentious but it is the perfect word) salads of preference, all 8 triumphant and delicious.

A well made Greek salad is enough to make me happy and bring back warm memories of our yearly holidays by the sea in Sounion. I like this salad for lunch with some pitta bread or it makes a lovely partner with grilled lamb.

This is how they used to make a greek salad at our local Taverna in Sounion.

Greek Salad

Serves 4 as a starter and 2 as a generous main

250g of firm but flavoursome slightly sweet tomatoes, 1 cucumber, 1 small red onion, a hand full of black olives (Greek Kalamata if possible), 200g feta cheese, olive oil, greek if possible, 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Wash and dry the tomatoes and then cut away the hard center where the stalk was attached then cut them into 4 quarters and then each quarter in half.

Peel the cucumber and then cut it in half along its lengh, then each half in two and finally each quarter into chunky wedges.

Peel and chop the onion into chunky peices,

In a small bowl whisk together 5tbsp of good olive oil, 1tbsp of lemon juice and  just a liitle salt (the salty fetta will contrtibute later).

Cut the fetta into nice sized squares

When you nearly ready to serve the salad put the tomato, cucumber, onion and olives in a shallow bowl, add the dressing and toss well. Lay the slices of fetta over the top and grind over a little black pepper.

Serve immediately. Allow everyone to admire it first before tossing again and breaking up the fetta a little and allowing its salty deliciousness to disperse through the salad.

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Salad Law

According to the writer Giacomo Castelvetro writing in 1614 while exciled in England ‘salad must be well salted, with little vinegar and lots of oil’ and those who sin ‘against this worthy commandment’ deserve ‘never to eat a good salad again’.

I like Salad Law and I adhere willingly to castelvetro’s detailed instructions of how to prepare an excellent salad, the particular care required to choose, clean, wash and dry the leaves, add salt and then oil, toss the salad, add the vinegar, and toss again.  I have recently come across numerous references to Castelvetro, most notably by Jane Grigson in her introduction to the vegetable chapter in English food. She refers to his manuscipt which she notes has been magnificently translated into english and published. She agrees with his demands. Why don’t the english grow more asparagus,? Why are they so suspicious of wild mushroom that grow so abundently? Why do they never drain their salad leaves properly, and then dress them with far to much oil and not enough oil?

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