Archives for category: Starters and Salads

Much as we love a salad the humble lettuce leaf occasionally deserves a change and this easy soup, as delicious hot as it is cold is a great way to use salad leaves and cucumber. A refreshingly iced soup can be very welcome on a hot day and has the advantage of being easily freezable if you don’t want to use it straight away, something that cannot be said of the average salad so a very useful recipe to have if faced with rows of bolting lettuce leaves and in our case, enthusiastic cucumbers.

If you happen to have some nasturtiums growing or see some at a farmers market, pop some of the leaves into the soup and use a flower as a pretty garnish. They are lovely, fantastically easy to grow; the leaves offering a wonderful peppery flavour, while the flowers add a certain style to your salad bowl or as here make a pretty garnish.

I love this with some of that wonderfully mild French goats cheese whipped up with lemon and chives. You can use it as a garnish for the soup or serve separately on toasted sourdough. Either way, it works so well with the delicate soup and makes it a bit more substantial.

This recipe serve four but add and subtract according to what you have available – fennel leaves, courgette, spinach, peas etc will all work well. Mint is surely the ubiquitous summer herb and I use it in everything I possible can during the warmer months. There are so many interesting varieties available to us now – ginger mint is a current favourite that makes a gorgeous restorative tea and I have just planted basil mint which I think is going to be a very promising addition to the kitchen garden.

Spinach is not essential but certainly helps with the colour.

Serves Four

2 medium shallots, finely chopped
1 stick celery (not essential!), finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or grated
1 generous tablespoon olive or rapeseed oil
750ml vegetable stock (I use the non vegan marigold, green pot)
2 or 3 new potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 whole cucumber, chopped with skin
Big double handful of mixed green lettuce/spinach leaves
Handful of nasturtium leaves (optional)
Big handful of chopped garden mint
Four heaped tablespoons natural yoghurt (always green Yeo valley for me!)
Sea salt and black pepper
Lemon, rind and juice
1 tub French goats cheese
Handful of chopped chives
Four nasturtium flowers
Extra virgin olive oil

Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the shallot, garlic and celery if using. Sauté gently until softened but not brown. Add the potato and straight away 600ml of the stock. Bring up to a simmer and cook unail the potatoes are soft.

Add the cucumber, simmer for two or so minutes and then add the lettuce, spinach, herbs etc. Season well.

Allow to cool a bit and then whizz with a stick blender or in a liquidiser. Add more stock until the co sister is of a thin cream. When most of the heat has gone whisk in the yogurt and lemon juice to taste. Blitz again and if you feel it needs more yoghurt you could add that now.

Put the soup into a fridge to chill for a few hours.

When ready to serve, put the goats cheese into a,bowl and add the rind of the lemon and chopped chives. Whip together with a small whisk until smooth. Season.

Serve the soup in chilled bowls with a quenelle of goats cheese in the centre, garnish with a nasturtium flower and drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil.

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A new phenomenom has come to our house….for the first time ever we have an actual glut of something in the vegetable patch. The courgette plants are loving this glorious weather and as long as we are generous with the watering and don’t take too many evenings off we seem to be being rewarded with a constant supply of the most beautiful yellow, green and chartreuse courgettes.

This versatile vegetable is a big favourite in our kitchen – spiralled into courgetti, stir fried with garlic, grated into risotto, eaten raw or cubed in an omelette. It even makes a wonderful cake ingredient; much like carrots or beetroot, courgettes lend themselves incredible well to a bit of baking.

This is a lovely, simple salad recipe that uses the courgette to it’s full advantage in that it is both cooked and raw. It is a natural partner to a soft goats cheese and the addition of broad beans and baby fennel makes a salad that sings of summer and celebrates all that is in season now. Do try it on its own or with a piece of grilled chicken or lamb. I use baby broad beans from the frozen veg section in Waitrose. They are absolutely wonderful and all you need to do is pour some boiling water over them, drain and then spend a few minutes slipping them out of their skins. Well worth the effort. If you have access to yellow courgettes then do use one of those.

Serves Two to Three as a main course, Four as a starter

60g baby broad beans, skinned
2 baby fennel bulbs, very finely chopped
2 medium courgette (about 125g each)
8 baby new potatoes (I love pink fir apple if you have those)
Tablespoon chopped chives
125g soft french goats cheese
Handful of washed salad leaves, any mix you like
Juice of half a large lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
Seasalt
Black pepper

Reserve any fennel fronds you have and finely chop those. Boil a pan of salted water and cook the potatoes until just tender. Drain and set aside.

While the potatoes are cooking, shave the courgette into fine strips using a potato peeler. Put half of these in a bowl and add the lemon juice, olive oil and about a teaspoon of sea salt and grinding of black pepper. Add the fennel, toss to combine and set aside. Taste and add more lemon juice if you think it needs it.

Heat a griddle pan and drizzle it with some of the rapeseed oil. In batches, griddle the remaining courgette so that they have the grill marks on them and are just cooked. Remove these to kitchen paper as you go.

Cut the potato into small 3 cm pieces. Place into a bowl and add all the courgette, the broad beans, fennel and herbs. Toss lightly so that it is well mixed. Add a few salad leaves and finely little blobs of the goats cheese. Add the remaining fennel fronds and check the seasoning.

Pile up on a pretty plate and serve either on its own or as a side dish.

Serves Six

30g watercress leaves (removed from the thicker stalks)
10g flat leaf parsley
10g fresh basil
5 – 10g fresh mint
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 heaped teaspoon sea salt
Black pepper
5 cornichons
2 teaspoons small capers
100ml rapeseed oil (or extra virgin or half and half)
Good squeeze lemon juice

You need a mini chopper for this or the smallest bowl in our food processor. Or you can do it by hand in a big pestle and mortar but you will have to finely chop everything first.

Put all the ingredients except the oil and lemon into your chopper. Add a quarter of the oil and whizz to blend. Add more oil and blitz together until you have a good consistency. Check the seasoning and add lemon juice to taste. Finally add the rest of the oil, depending on how thick you like your salsa verde.

Keeps in the fridge in a jar for just under a week as long as you cover the top with a fine layer of oil.

Serve with baked or pan fried trout or salmon. Wonderful with new potatoes, puy lentils or dunk some sourdough in it.

If serving with beef then some sharp little finely chopped shallot would make a nice addition.

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The kitchen can be witness to some miraculous tricks of cookery alchemy. Any souffle, savoury or sweet is one of those dishes that undergoes a magical process once in the oven. As long as you follow a few basic rules and make sure that there is minimal time from oven to plate you shouldn’t go too far wrong.

Souffles should, ideally rise beautifully straight with a traditional ‘top hat’ effect. If it doesn’t exactly work like that it really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that it rises, is gossamer light and packed with flavour. Be generous with the seasoning and hold your nerve. The oven door must remain firmly shut until the pinger goes off. A lovely clean, clear glass door is an asset here as it is useful to be able to see how your golden miracles are progressing.

I am using a good, mature cheddar cheese here. It works beautifully and is wonderful with the addition of the herbs but you could use gruyere, parmesan or even blue cheese.

Serves Four

Four ramekin dishes
Butter
Handful of white breadcrumbs

20g unsalted butter
20g plain flour
150ml whole milk
50g mature cheddar cheese, grated
2 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon dijon or english mustard
Tablespoon of finely chopped chives
Tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves, stripped from their stalks
Sea salt & black pepper

1 small bulb of fennel
1 small red skinned crisp apple
Fennel fronds (from the fennel bulb)
Flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Lemon juice
Rapeseed oil
Sea salt & black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 200c and put a baking sheet in it.
Butter the ramekins and toss the breadcrumbs around to stick to the sides.

Make the sauce first. Take a small saucepan and put in the milk, flour and cubed butter. Put on the heat and using a whisk stir constantly until thick and bubbling. Cook for another minute or two and add a good amount of seasoning and the mustard.

Remove from the heat and add in the cheddar cheese and the mustard. Stir until melted and as it all starts to cool add the egg yolks and the herbs, whisking well until you have a very thick and smooth sauce. Transfer this to a bowl and allow to cool.

Whisk the egg whites until the soft peak stage. Once the sauce is not longer hot (it doesn’t have to be very cold). Roughly fold a quarter of the egg whites to loosen it all up and then gently fold in the rest of the egg white. A metal tablespoon is best for this. Once the egg whites are all folded in check the seasoning.

Divide between the ramekin dishes. Run your thumb around the edge to create the ‘top hat’ effect and to help the souffle rise evenly.

Put into the oven and set the timer to 10 minutes.

Make the fennel and apple salad by finely shredding the fennel and slicing the apple very finely and if the pieces are big, cutting in half lengthways. Toss immediately in lemon juice to prevent oxidisation and then add rapeseed or extra virgin olive oil to taste. Season well and add roughly chopped flat leaf parsley and the fennel fronds. Divide between your plates, that you will have ready and waiting.

Once the souffles are well risen and golden brown (they may need an extra couple of minutes but judge through the glass window of the oven) remove from the oven and serve immediately. The will sink fast so speed is of the essence.

If you have some chopped walnuts it would be nice to toast some and add them to the salad.

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City v Country….I love both. But it is the arrival of Spring that reminds me how very lucky I am to live in a beautiful part of Wiltshire. The air is heady with the scent and promise of bounty bursting forth and the first tentative shoots are gathering confidence. Everywhere the hedges, verges, woods and fields are springing into life and nothing is more rampant than that foragers’ favourite, wild garlic.

Be absolutely sure of what you are picking – don’t confuse the poisonous leaves of lily of the valley which can look alarmingly similar. The smell is the first sign you should look for – it really is pungently garlicky. Wild garlic first appears at the end of March and by April it has really gathered pace and tends to be prolific, so you needn’t worry about picking a bunch or two. If you don’t have any in your garden you are likely to find it in local woods where it will carpet vast swathes of the ground, much like its friend and neighbour the bluebell. Pick the young and tender leaves, keeping a long stalk if you plan on popping them in a jar of water to keep them fresh for a day or two. You can also freeze the leaves – just wash, dry well and pop them in a freezer bag. Then use straight from frozen later in the year to jazz up a risotto, pasta dish or stirfry.

Once the pretty, edibile white flowers appear they are a lovely addition to salads or warm new potatoes.

Make sure you wash the leaves well before you use them. I love them as here in a simple pesto (also great to freeze – put into an ice cube tray and then turn the cubes out and store in a freezer bag). Or wilt the leaves as you would spinach, add to a frittata, make a wild garlic and potato cake or a delicious soup (you will find a recipe for that on this website).

When I make this pesto I tend to add other herbs in just to temper the strong flavour of these leaves but you may prefer to go for the full hit and leave the parsley/basil out. If I am making the pesto to use with fish I often add in a handful of dill. Any soft herb is great and just use this recipe as a guide.

You could also make a pea pesto and add the wild garlic into that, or kale, or spinach….the possibilities are endless!!

Two big handfuls wild garlic, washed
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley
Handful of fresh basil leaves (Or any soft herbs you have to hand)
60g freshly grated parmesan
60g pinenuts, walnuts or almonds
Approx 200ml extra virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
Squeeze lemon juice

I use a mini chopper or processor to make my pesto but a big pestle and mortar and some elbow grease is fine.

Put the herbs, parmesan and nuts into your chopper. Add a good teaspoon of salt and a glug of oil. Whizz for a few seconds and then add more oil until you have a consistency you are happy with. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, more salt and black pepper to taste. Keep in a jam jar with a layer of oil poured protectively over the top and refrigerate.

Lovely with goats cheese on crostini, stirred through pasta or risotto, stuffed into a chicken breast, swirled onto a soup…….

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After what seems like days and days of rain, the sun finally arrived today. What a joy to feel a little of the warmth that hopefully lies ahead. I had a halloumi cheese in the fridge, a perfect avocado and some leftover pomegranate. In other words the makings of a delightful salad that was just the thing to enjoy in the tentative sunshine. Halloumi is a great favourite in this household but is best cooked and eaten with all due speed – it somehow loses its tender unctuous-ness if allowed to get cold so this is one salad that needs to be eaten warm, straight off the griddle pan, onto the plate and no holding back.

Halloumi has a salty, deeply savoury flavour that works beautifully with sharp, fruity pomegranate. A few capers bring an intense tang and some soft, gentle avocado provide a soothing contrast. A simple dressing of lemon and olive oil, gently tempered with a little clear honey is all you need to finish. I have used a blend of oils here but if all you have is extra virgin then just use that. I find it can be a little strong sometimes.

Of course you can play around with this depending on what you have around the kitchen. Fresh mint, basil, coriander would be lovely and perhaps some roughly chopped toasted walnuts. But the point is that it is quick and simple, so I think it is perfect just as it is.

For two reasonably greedy people

One plain halloumi cheese
Flour to dust
Rapeseed oil
Two tablespoons pomegranate seeds, ruby red
One avocado, chopped
One tablespoon small capers
Two big handfuls of mixed green leaves

Dressing

Two tablespoons olive or sunflower oil
One tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Juice half a lemon
Teaspoon runny honey
Sea salt and black pepper

Whisk the dressing ingredients together. Adjust the lemon and seasoning to taste. Set aside.

Take your halloumi cheese and cut into six slices. Dust each side with a litre plain flour.

Toss the leaves, avocado and capers together and dress with a little of your dressing so that it is all lightly coated. You may not need all the dressing.

Heat a griddle pan and drizzle rapeseed oil over the whole surface. Griddle the halloumi until seared well on each side and cooked all the way through. You can keep the slices warm in a low oven for a few minutes if you need to, or even heat them through again later. Not quite the same as straight off the pan but needs must sometimes!

Arrange the salad and halloumi on two plates and drizzle over a little more dressing. Sprinkle each plate with pomegranate, grind some black pepper over the top and serve with toasted flatbreads (those Italian ones you can buy in Waitrose are rather good. The are called Mini Piada by Crosta and Mollica).

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This soup offers a splash of colour in these cold winter months. Tomatoes are not at their best in January, but roasting in a hot oven for half an hour or so does have a marvellous effect on their flavour. This soup is lovely as it is but to ring the changes add a little cumin to the onion base. Some finely chopped preserved lemon is lovely in the salsa for more Middle Eastern vibe – this is one you can play around with but just make sure you use top quality olives and certainly nothing out of a tin. You could add a few basil leaves to the soup before blending. Basil, crushed into a paste with oil and salt will also make a lovely garnish.

Serves Four

500g tomatoes
2 red peppers
Rapeseed oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Fresh thyme
1 large onion
1 small potato
2 sticks of celery
Sea salt and black pepper
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock

Pre heat the oven to 200c

Halve the tomatoes and remove their cores. Halve the red peppers and de-seed. Put them all in a roasting pan and drizzle over rapeseed oil and the balsamic and lots of fresh thyme. Season well and then roast in the oven for about thirty to forty minutes or until very soft and beginning to caramelise.

Meanwhile, chop the onion, celery and peeled potato. Heat a couple more tablespoons of rapeseed oil in a saucepan and add the onion and celery. Saute for a few minutes until softened. Add half the stock and simmer for a few minutes. Once the tomato and pepper are roasted tip all the contents of that pan into the soup, skins and all and then cover with more stock. Simmer for about five minutes and then blend well, using a hand held blender. If you want a perfectly smooth soup you could sieve it but I find that the skins blend in very well. Adjust the consistency with the rest of the stock and check the seasoning.

Serve with a spoonful of salsa stirred through.

OLIVE, CAPER AND PARSLEY SALSA

50g good quality black olives, stoned
2 teaspoons of small capers
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
Juice half a lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
Handful of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
Sea salt & black pepper

Use a pestle and mortar, or if you don’t have that a mini chopper will do, or just a good sharp knife.

Put everything into the mortar and cover with oil. Add a little salt and pound together until all the ingredients are broken down and well blended. Add lemon juice to taste and adjust the seasoning. The capers can be quite salty so bear in mind when adding salt.

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This fresh tasting, vibrantly colourful salad is wonderful in January, when oranges and pomegranates are at their best. It is lovely served alongside my chard, spinach and feta pie or you could serve it as a light starter. I love it with some of those tiny black olives tossed through it and if you want to add in some leaves then red chicory or radiccio work well.

Serves Four

2 oranges
1 pomegranate
1 bulb fennel
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
Sea salt & black pepper
A few tiny stoned black olives (optional)
Pinch sumac
1 handful fresh mint

Take a nice serving bowl. Cut the fennel in half and then slice very finely. Add to the bowl.
Cut the ends of the oranges and then slice all around the sides to remove the pith and skin. Holding the orange over the bowl, remove each segment, allowing the juice to fall in as well. Bash the seeds of of the pomegranate and add those and the juice. Add the olive oil and the pomegranate molasses as well as a good pinch of sumac. Season well and toss all together.

Finely chop a good handful of fresh mint and add this together with your little olives. Taste and adjust with a little more pomegranate molasses if you think it needs it. Serve fairly soon, although it will happily wait for an hour.

Few people won’t find their spirits lifted at the sight of a good pie. This one has the advantage in that the cook is spared the task of making any pastry; filo is best bought and no less excellent for that. This combination of chard, spinach, cheeses and spice is my version of that well known Greek favourite, spanakopita. It is brilliantly forgiving – as long as your seasoning is spot on and you remember to squeeze all possible water out of the chard and spinach you can’t go far wrong. It’s great as a leftover as well. Even better, somehow the next day. We prefer it warm, rather than very hot from the oven so timings can be relaxed. What you put in is entirely up to you – vary the herbs and spices according to what you have available. Leave out the leek if you don’t have any and if you prefer you could make it with all chard or all spinach. Just make sure you use enough to end up with a vibrant green filling. You may like to add in some finely chopped preserved lemon or some toasted, crushed fennel seed and while the sumac is pretty dusted over the top, a final flourish of nigella seeds would look lovely as well. Take care that the top of the pie doesn’t burn in the oven. Check after ten minutes and if it is getting too dark just cover the whole thing with foil while the pie finishes cooking. You could make mini ones too, in muffin tins.

Serves Four (or two greedy people with leftovers)

1 red onion, finely sliced
2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
1 clove garlic
Small piece of leek, very finely sliced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
200g swiss chard, stalks and leaves separated
200g spinach
Rind of one lemon
1 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
25g fresh herbs eg mint, dill, basil, chives, parsley, coriander (any or all)
3 large eggs
150g ricotta cheese
100g good quality feta (I use Waitrose barrel aged in the black tub)
4 sheets filo pastry
30g unsalted butter, melted
Sumac
Sea salt & black pepper

1 9″ square baking tin Pre-heat oven to 200c

Heat the rapeseed oil in a shallow pan and add the onion. Fry for a few minutes and then grate in the clove of garlic and add the leeks. Cook a little longer until everything is good and soft. Add the chopped stalks of the chard and then add the spices. Season well and remove from the heat. Tip the whole lot into a mixing bowl. Add in the rind of a lemon.

Shred the chard leaves and cook briefly in a tablespoon of two of boiling water until the leaves are wilted. Drain well and tip onto a chopping board. Wilt the spinach in the same pan with a little more boiling water and drain. Squeeze out all the water you possible can and add to the chard. Mix together well and then stir into the onion spice mixture in the bowl.

Roughly chop the feta and crumble into the bowl. Mix well. Whisk the eggs and ricotta cheese together and add seasoning. Stir this in and then check the seasoning, remember that the feta can be quite salty. Finely chop all the herbs and stir these in with a good pinch of sumac. Finally, stir in the pine nuts. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter what order you do all this in as long as it all ends up in the same bowl!

Now melt your butter. Remove from the heat brush a little around the base of your baking dish. I prefer to use a tin one as I think it conducts the heat better around the base of the pastry but if you are serving it at the table then you may like to use a ceramic one. Or enamel may be a good compromise. Take your first sheet of filo, brush melted butter over the whole thing (I do this quite sparingly) and lay it across the base of the dish, allowing the edges to hang over the sides. Butter side should be upwards. Repeat with the other two sheets, alternating the direction of the pastry so you have an even overhang.

Take your filling and put into the dish, spreading it out evenly. Scrunch the filo over the edges, folding it in on itself. Brush these with butter. You will have a gap left in the middle. Use the last sheet of filo, cut into four pieces. Each piece can be scrumpled up and placed on top. Brush any remaining butter over any pastry that doesn’t have a good coating and sprinkle on some sumac.

Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. You will probably need to cover the pie with some foil to stop it browning too much but this will depend on your oven. So check after ten minutes to see the progress.

Take out of the oven and leave to sit for a few minutes. This pie is lovely warm or at room temperature. Serve with the orange, fennel and pomegranate salad.

The top of the pie will soften fairly quickly. It is a good idea to refresh it for ten minutes in a hot oven just to crisp it up, although I still think it delicious even if the pastry has lost a bit of crunch so good to take a piece to work instead of a sandwich.

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It’s fair to say that the autumnal weather has been unseasonably mild of late and now that the hazy days of summer, such as they were are really well and truly over I find myself hankering after some of the more comforting recipes. Soup is a staple in our household throughout the colder months and much as I lovely the summery gazpachos and chilled offerings that befit a heatwave, there is nothing that can quite beat a bowl of the steaming hearty goodness that a beautifully balanced, flavoursome soup provides.

Stock is everything in a soup – a good one will make the difference between the mundane and the special. There are many excellent ready made ones available to buy but if you can make your own, especially if you have a carcass left from a good free range chicken then you will be rewarded.

This combination of broccoli, pear and blue cheese is a tried and tested favourite. The flavours work brilliantly together and is simplicity itself to make, as long as you have a good stick blender or liquidiser. It freezes well too, so make extra and you will be very glad as the season goes on to find a tub or two on standby in the freezer.

Serves Four

Rapeseed oil
1 onion
1 large potato
2 pears (any variety, slightly unripe)
Fresh oregano and sage, both or just one
1 medium head of broccoli
800 ml or so of chicken stock
Min 50 grams blue cheese (eg St Agur/roquefort)
Spoonful of creme fraiche
A few tiny leaves of fresh sage
Maldon salt & black pepper

Chop the onion and potato. Heat a couple of tablespoons of rapeseed oil in a large saucepan and saute them for a few minutes until beginning to soften but not colour. Add a tablespoon of the herbs.

Peel, core and chop the pears and add those into the pan. Cook for a few more minutes before adding 300ml of chicken stock. Simmer for ten minutes and then add the chopped broccoli and another 300ml of stock. Cover the pan and simmer until the broccoli is tender. This will be about five minutes.

Add the blue cheese and creme fraiche and a good helping of maldon sea salt and pepper and blend the whole lot together, adding a bit more stock until you have reached the right consistency (about the same as double cream). If you like, add more blue cheese until you feel you have the right balance of flavour.

Quickly fry the sage leaves in some rapeseed oil (cover the base of a small saucepan) and then serve the soup in warmed bowls with a garnish of sage leaves and a drizzle of the oil that the sage was fried in.

Perfect with some good crusty bread.

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