Archives for category: Starters and Salads

Soup is very quick to make and very forgiving. Cooking can be a precise art but not here – a few hundred grams or millilitres here and there won’t make much difference and it is so easy to adjust the thickness, creaminess, flavour etc. The only absolute cast iron requirement is some sort of onion; at a pinch you could probably get away with using a leek or two but there really is no substitute for a common brown or white onion unless making a bright and fresh summer soup in which case a spring onion or shallot will be an excellent choice.

Otherwise, play with what vegetables you use to your hearts content. There are, of course the tried and tested recipes that have stood the test of time. But you really can’t go wrong with any combination; just stick to common sense – fennel seed and coconut milk for example is never going to work but use a little Thai curry paste in the base of a butternut squash soup and the coconut milk suddenly makes perfect sense.

A tablespoon or two of double cream can add a wonderful silkiness to soup but here I am using a spiced butter and it is just so delicious swirled on top the fragrant combination of root vegetables, fennel and cumin seed. A touch of luxury to an otherwise everyday staple but worth its weight in gold in terms of nutrition, taste and culinary contentment. This soup freezes well.

Serves 8

2 tablespoons rapeseed or light olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 large leek, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large stick celery, chopped
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
1/2 butternut squash, chopped (no need to peel)
2 medium beetroot, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, crushed
Pinch chilli flakes (optional)
2/3 good quality chicken or vegetable gel stock cubes
11/2 to 2 litres boiling water
Salt & black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the onion, leek, garlic and celery. Cook until beginning to soften over a low heat. Add the fennel and cumin (chilli if using) and cook for a minute or two, then add the sweet potato, squash, beetroot and red pepper. Stir around for a bit and then add the stock to cover. You may not need it all. Season and then cover with a lid. Simmer for about thirty minutes until the vegetables are completely soft.

Blitz either in a liquidiser or use a hand held blender. Check seasoning and adjust thickness with any remaining stock. Serve with the spiced butter swirled over.

SPICED BUTTER

50g butter
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
Cinnamon stick
Black pepper

Crush the cumin and coriander seed in a pestle and mortar. Melt the butter and add with the cinnamon stick, pepper and mustard seeds. Heat until foaming and drizzle over the soup.
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What a relief that the days of mayonnaise laden, traditional coleslaws are largely a thing of the past. A 21st century slaw is far more likely to be made with the merest hint of a dressing, relying instead on herbs, spices, nuts etc to provide interest and contrast to the vegetables. Cabbage and carrot may well still feature but are more likely these days to be partnered with arguably more interesting vegetables such as fennel, mangetouts, broccoli or whatever it is that fires your enthusiasm.
Gorgeous with anything from pulled pork, salmon fillets, chicken or just a bowlful on its own, I love making this fennel and snow pea version and although a few hours in a cool place will improve it enormously it rarely lasts long in our house – guilt free pleasure that those on a strict diet can make even more virtuous by reducing the olive oil content and leaving out the dates and pecans.
This is a recipe to play around with according to whatever you have available in the vegetable drawer. Or add in some finely shredded crisp apple. The dressing can be adjusted – a little buttermilk whisked in will render it a little more creamy or even a couple of teaspoons of double cream. I like this simple lemon and olive oil version but if you prefer, use cider vinegar. I discovered the other day that if you dissolve a little sea salt (never table salt) in the vinegar before adding the rest of the dressing ingredients it takes away a lot of the harshness and mellows it nicely.
Add the herbs to taste the amount doesn’t really matter. Just chop and add until to your liking. Seasoning is very important!

Serves 4 (or 2 greedy people)

1 medium bulb of fennel
1 chunk of Savoy cabbage, freshest and greenest bit about size of the fennel
12 snow peas (sugar snaps)
1/2 to 1 shallot, depending on how big it is
1 or 2 pitted medjool dates
30g pecan nuts
Sea salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Very small squeeze honey
1 lemon
2 teaspoons sumac
Fresh mint (Small handful, chopped)
Fresh dill, finely chopped
Fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Remove the tough outer layer of the fennel and remove the core. Save any fronds. Using a sharp knife or a mandolin finely shred and put into a bowl. Squeeze over the juice of half a lemon.
Finely shred the shallot, snow peas and cabbage. Add these to the fennel with a good amount of sea salt and black pepper. Toss well.
Finely chop the dates and toast the pecans. Chop these and then toss these into the slaw.
Add the olive oil, a tiny squeeze of honey, all the herbs and the sumac. Add any fennel fronds, chopped. Toss all together well and then adjust with more lemon juice, olive oil, herbs, seasoning. Finish with an extra sprinkling of sumac.
Leave for an hour for all the flavours to make friends although that is not entirely necessary. It will keep well for a day or two.

Serve as a side dish with chicken, salmon or pork. Or just have on its own.

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I have always loved soy based dressings and have recently been using the Japanese tamari in place of the Chinese soy. Tamari is a little richer yet less salty than the traditional soy, adding that elusive ‘umami’ to stir fries and dressings. It is a by-product of miso paste and owing to the absence of wheat is gluten free.
A pot of almond butter has been lurking in the back of my cupboard for ages and I have finally found a most excellent use for it. Combined with the tamari, a little citrus and thinned with cold water (excellent for lowering the calorie content!) this makes a dressing/dip that is quite delicious served over steamed and cooled green vegetables and here I have used purple sprouting broccoli, drizzled with the dressing and finished with a sprinkling of toasted almonds just to add a bit of crunch. It is extremely moreish (that’s the umami for you!) and I hope you like it as much as I do.

Serves Four

4 tablespoons almond butter
1 tablespoon tamari
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 – 4 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon maple syrup
Sea salt and black pepper

Using a small whisk, sound and stir the almond butter, lemon juice, tamari and 3 tablespoons of water together until well blended and about the consistency of double cream. Add water to adjust the thickness if need be and a little maple syrup to taste. Season. Adjust according to taste.

One idea is to serve the dressing over steamed/boiled sprouting broccoli and top with crunch toasted almonds. Or use as a dip for crudités.

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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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