Archives for category: Starters and Salads

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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Surely the prettiest of the bean family, these Italian supermodels of the veg patch provides stunning colour and if growing conditions are right, an endless supply of beans that are so versatile in the kitchen. Add to salads, soups, stews or ratatouille or simply boil until tender and toss in oil, lemon, salt & pepper and enjoy just on their own. I think this hummus recip is a great way to us them. It is so simple – like any hummus it’s just a case of blending the cooked tender beans with your chosen flavourings and keeping it as smooth or chunky as you like. I think borlotti go wonderfully with sage so I have added a little here, but parsley would do as well.

Serves Four

150g fresh borlotti beans, prodded weight
Bayleaf
Fresh sage leaves
One lemon
Tahini
Natural yoghurt (Yeo valley is my top favourite, green pot)
Clove garlic (optional)
Sea salt
Black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Simmer the beans in enough cold water to cover them with a bay leaf, sprig of sage and some salt until tender. This could be twenty to forty minutes depending on how big the beans are. I tend to go for medium sized ones that are a lovely pistachio green colour. Try to keep them evenly sized and reserve any tiny ones for decoration.

Drain the beans, discard the herbs and reserve the cooking liquid. Put the beans into a small food processor or mini chopper. Add a spoonful of tahini, the same of natural yoghurt, the rind of the lemon and juice of half, some finely shredded young sage (about a teaspoon), lots of sea salt and black pepper and the garlic if using. Blend until smooth. Add either some of the cooking liquid or some cold water to help soften the texture. You will need at least two or three tablespoons. Add a tablespoon of the oil and more lemon juice as required. Check the seasoning.

Turn into a bowl and add a few very tiny borlotti beans if you have any, along with more shredded sage and a drizzle of extra virgin oil.

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It has been said many times that in order to stay healthy you should eat colour – lots of it. This easy salad is a great way to get a vitamin hit with maximum taste. Not only is it the prettiest plateful for your summer or autumn table, it also packs a punch with the harissa annointed vegetables and these, combined with the cooling minty dressing are seriously delicious. Serve it on it’s own, the veg warm from the oven or as a hearty but healthy side with grilled chicken or lamb. It makes a great starter or pack it into a tortilla wrap or pitta if you want lunch on the go.

The puy lentils could be left out but they add a lovely bite and make the whole thing a little more substantial. Add as many or as few as you like. The walnuts add a wonderful earthy crunch but you could just use pine nuts instead if you prefer. Add a tablespoon or two of tahini to the yoghurt dressing for a suggestion of sesame. This is a salad that you can play around with and make your own. Mint, yoghurt, harissa, root veg – it’s a marriage made in culinary heaven.

Use whatever beetroot you can find – the classic dark red are easily available in every supermarket but golden beetroot would work well here in combination with the red. Buy the smaller, more tender bulbs if you can.

Serves 4 for lunch, 6 as a starter250g small carrots (e.g. chantenay)

Four beetroot (or eight very small)
1 dessertspoon of harissa paste
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Squeeze honey
A little lemon juice
Salt and pepper
1 tsp. fennel, toasted and crushed
50g toasted chopped walnuts
Fresh Rocket
4 tablespoons cooked puy lentils, tossed in a little oil and lemon juice
Handful of fresh mint
1 lemon
Four tablespoons natural yoghurt

Pre-heat the oven to 220c (200c fan oven)

Cut the carrots into small lengths. Peel the beetroot and cut into small chunks.

Take a shallow roasting tin. Mix the harissa, oil, lemon juice and honey. Toss through the beetroot and carrot and turn into the roasting tin. Add seasoning and roast for 30 – 40 minutes until well roasted.

Remove from the oven. Allow to cool a bit for a few minutes. Toss into a bowl and mix with the lentils, walnuts and rocket. Check the seasoning.

Mix the yoghurt with lots of mint and lemon juice. Season to taste.

Pile onto plates and drizzle over the minted yoghurt or serve that separately.

carrot and beetroot salad

One of the wonderful things about our admittedly variable British summer is the fabulous produce available, harvested not only from the land but also the sea. Crab is for us one of the highlights and there is nowhere in the world that can better the sweet, delicate crabmeat that is found in the waters off our coastline.
Some people adore both the white and brown meat, others like me are more inclined towards the white. They are very different, the brown intense, rich, strongly flavoured and with a much softer texture. I find it useful in pate or a crab tart. The white, however is just so light, fragrant, flavourful and sweetly delicious. It is wonderful with asian flavours; equally good with just a squeeze of lemon and a little salt and pepper. Here I am making the most of it but combining it with a small amount of mayonnaise (more for the sticking quality than anything else!), enhancing it with a little chilli and marrying in some herbs that partner the crabmeat beautifully without in any way overpowering it. The crab must and does remain the star of the show.

Try these little toasts for a simple but spoiling lunch alongside your favourite chilled summer soup or they are great with my garden gazpacho.

Serves Four

3 slices of white sourdough bread, a classic loaf shape if you can find it
2 tubs white crabmeat
1 red or green chilli
Handful of chives, finely chopped
Fennel fronds, finely chopped
1 lemon, rind and juice
4 teaspoons mayonnaise
Salt and pepper

Finely chop about half of the chilli. Put the crabmeat into a bowl and add all the other ingredients. Go easy on the lemon juice, add it to taste. Check the seasoning.

Just before serving toast the bread. Pile on the crab and cut off the crusts. Slice into fingers, about three from each slice so you can adjust the amount on the last piece as you want to end up with eight pieces.

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As the weather warms up things change in the kitchen too. At this time of year its all about lighter, fresh flavours that refresh and revive rather than comfort and warm. Recipes need to be easy too. There is so much to do outside and no one wants to spent hours in the kitchen with the sun (hopefully) beaming down in the garden. This is a lovely salad for a weekend lunch or supper on a warm evening and will satisfy even the biggest appetites if you are generous with the beef. I often buy tail cuts of beef fillet from the butcher for this. They are much cheaper than the perfect centre cut and just as good. Sirloin is more flavoursome and a very good alternative, just slightly less tender but no less the worse for that. I have used rump steak to great effect here too – just make sure you rest it properly and you will have lovely tender pieces. You can ring the changes to fit whatever veg/salad you have to hand. I like to make it as colourful as I can – red radish is useful here, but green beans, sugar snaps, yellow peppers, cucumber etc etc or even a few bean sprouts wouldn’t go amiss at all. Mint is essential.

Serves four to six

1 red pepper
1 small red onion
A few radishes
1 small punnet of cherry tomatoes
2 handfuls each of fresh mint and coriander
110g roasted, unsalted peanuts
Bag of green leaves
4 asparagus spears (optional)
2 Spring onions
800g beef fillet/sirloin
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt & Pepper

Dressing

2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 red chillies, de-seeded and finely chopped
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 generous tablespoon fish sauce
30g palm sugar (or soft light brown)

Pound the garlic and chillies together in a pestle and mortar. Put into a bowl and add the rest of the dressing ingredients. Mix well. Check how it tastes and adjust with more chilli/fish sauce if necessary. Set aside.

Quarter the peppers. Slice thinly. Slice the red onions thinly and the spring onions. Halve or quarter the cherry tomatoes. Toss in a bowl with the peanuts and herbs.

Heat a grill pan. Cut the beef into thick slices. Sprinkle with a little olive oil and sear until just medium rare.

Rest for a few minutes before thinly slicing. Add to the other ingredients. Spoon the dressing over the salad and serve immediately, on a bed of green leaves if liked. Sprinkle the spring onions over the top with extra herbs.
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