Archives for category: Starters and Salads

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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If you are after a quick lunch or easy starter that delivers on flavour, is big on nutrition and looks beautiful into the bargain then look no further than this easy and delicious courgette salad. It is also very useful as a side dish – try with some simple chicken or lamb and it will turn the mundane into something special. Pomegranates combine brilliantly with the salty feta and the ruby jewel seeds bring this simple salad alive. To remove the seeds simply slice the fruit in half and bash hard with a rolling pin over a bowl. The seeds will just fall out (up to a point!). Try and pick the firmest courgette you can – the bigger they are the more water they contain and you will lose both texture and flavour.

There are lots of different feta cheeses to buy out there. My favourite is the Greek barrel aged feta made from ewe’s and goat’s milk and stored in brine. It is worth paying that little bit extra as it will make all the difference to your finished dish.

Sumac is a dried and ground berry from a bush grown mainly in the Middle East and is an essential ingredient in many recipes from that region. Slightly acidic and reminiscent of lemon, it not only adds a lovely flavour but looks very pretty as well with its deep red colour.

If you want a truly healthy salad then just make courgette ‘carpaccio’ but slicing very fresh and firm courgette with a potato peeler into ribbons. Leave to sit in the lemon & oil for a few minutes before eating.

Serves Four

Four small or two medium courgette
200g good quality feta
Large handful of washed fresh mint leaves
One lemon
Rapeseed or light olive oil for griddling
One pomegranate or a handy pack of ready done seeds
Sea salt & black pepper
Sumac
Extra virgin olive oil

For this recipe you will ideally have a ridged grill pan, nice and shallow.

Cut the courgettes on the diagonal into long pieces about 2mm thick.

Heat a little oil in your grill pan and once hot lay on the courgette slices, a few at a time. Sear on each side so that they have pretty brown marks and remove to a plate lined with kitchen towel while you cook the rest. Finely chop the mint, crumble the feta and remove the seeds from the pomegranate.

Take either one large plate or four smallish. Layer up the courgette, feta, mint and pomegranate, seasoning as you go and sprinkling each layer with lemon juice. Finish with a final flurry of mint and pomegranate and drizzle over extra virgin olive oil. Finally, sprinkle over some sumac and serve with flatbread.

courgette and pomegranate salad

Makes about 30 canapes

350g Maris Piper potato
2 balls\300g beetroot
100g butter, clarified
Fresh thyme
Salt & Pepper
Tub crème fraiche
Jar of horseradish sauce
One pack of smoked venison/beef/hot smoked salmon
Herbs to garnish (thyme, dill, parsley, chervil, chives)

Mix a couple of teaspoons of horseradish into the crème fraiche and season. Put back in the fridge to firm up for a few hours.

Peel and grate the beetroot, using a coarse grater.

Grate the potato using the same coarse grater into a clean tea towel and squeeze out the moisture. Put your potato into a bowl and add two good tablespoons of the clarified butter. Mix well and season. Add the beetroot and season again. Add some finely chopped thyme. Heat the oven to 180c.

Heat a non stick pan over a medium heat. Add a couple of tablespoons of the clarified butter. Take, if you have one, a 1.5 inch cutter. Put in the pan and half fill with your potato mixture. Start at 12.00 in the pan and work round, filling the cutter, pressing the potato down and then pulling the cutter off. Once you have filled the pan start turning the rosti over with a pallet knife, making sure they are turning golden brown underneath. Once you have browned them on both sides remove to a baking tray until you have cooked all the rosti. Keep an eye as they do burn!

Bake in the oven for about ten minutes or until tender all the way through. Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes.

Top the rosti with some horseradish crème fraiche and a piece of smoked venison/beef/salmon. Garnish with herbs.

You can make the potato mixture the day before and the rosti can be made in advance and then refreshed in the oven if you think they need it. The raw mixture will keep in the fridge for 24 hours.
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The new season for British Asparagus arrives in late April; a highlight of the foodie calendar and one greeted with greedy anticipation by everyone in this household.

A perfect fat bunch of those tender green spears needs little more than a gentle boil or steam for a couple of minutes and is best served as simply as possible. Salt, pepper and a drizzle of melted butter is perfect, but if you want to go a step further and serve up something truly special, worthy of the freshest fat bunch you can find then try this lime and mint hollandaise. It’s a gorgeous lunch for a warm day or an elegant, simple starter. You can keep the hollandaise warm over a pan of hot(ish) water or an easier way is just to put it into a thermos flask (you will have heated it first with boiling water). It will keep well in there for a couple of hours.

A useful tip when preparing your asparagus is to take the stem, holding it at each end and snap in half. It will break perfectly at the point where the stem is no longer tender.

ASPARAGUS with a LIME AND MINT HOLLANDAISE
Serves 4

Two bunches of fresh British asparagus
2 free range egg yolks
Water
110g unsalted butter
A little boiling water
1 lime
Handful of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
Sea salt and black pepper

First make the hollandaise.

Take a bowl and put in the egg yolks. Cut the butter into small chunks. Add a couple of teaspoons of cold water and whisk well. Sit the pan over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk the yolks for a couple of minutes. Then slowly add the butter, a piece of two at a time. The sauce will start to form, thin at first and then thickening up as the yolks start to cook. As you add the butter just be sure that the pan doesn’t get too hot. You should always be able to touch the bottom of the bowl with your hand with.

Keep whisking, adding the butter. As it starts to get very thick add a teaspoon or two of boiling water and whisk that in. Add salt and pepper and squeeze in the juice of half a lime. Taste and add more until you have the right balance. Keep whisking until you have a smooth, glossy and thick hollandaise. Put to one side while you cook your asparagus.

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Add the asparagus and cook for two to three minutes depending on the thickness of your stems. Put the thickest in first.

Drain well (keep a little of the asparagus water if you can) and season. Shake in a few drops of extra virgin olive oil and toss through.

Back to your hollandaise. If it is still quite thick you can add in a little of the asparagus water. Stir through your finely chopped mint leaves and serve with the warm asparagus and some crusty bread. Delicious!

Asparagus and mint hollandaise

I love cooking with beetroot.  It deserves it’s superstar status as a superfood with it’s earthy deliciousness.  This beetroot houmous is not only extremely moreish but a stunning magenta colour that that looks as beautiful as it tastes.  Serve it as a prelude to supper with some healthy crudités, crunchy tortillas or even better, herby pitta toasts.  Its extremely addictive so make lots!

BEETROOT HOUMOUS

Serves Six

Four globes of beetroot (about 400g weight)
1 tin chickpeas (400g)
Three tablespoons tahini paste
Clove Garlic
Juice 1 lemon
Cold water
Salt & Pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh coriander

Pre-heat oven to about 200C.

Wash the beetroot. Wrap in an oiled piece of kitchen foil and roast in the oven for around an hour or until tender and soft. Cool. Skin the beetroot and put into a food processor. Blitz until becoming a puree. Add half the tin of chickpeas, the crushed clove of garlic, half the lemon juice, the tahini paste and a splash of cold water. Blitz again until well blended. Add a little more water if it is rather solid. Add a good lot of seasoning and more chickpeas. How many you add is up to you. Blend again and taste.

You may prefer a smooth houmous or one that has more texture.   Adjust the flavour with more lemon juice, seasoning and maybe more tahini. Add a couple of tablespoons of the extra-virgin olive oil and blitz again.

Serve in a beautiful coloured bowl with more oil drizzled over and lots of finely chopped coriander sprinkled over the top.

Extras: Grate in a little bit of the rind of an orange (a little goes a long way) and add a teaspoon of freshly roast and ground cumin seed for a different flavour.

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Here is another idea for using beetroot.  (I’m quite addicted to it at the moment so we seem to be eating rather a lot of it).  This salad is perfect as a starter or just a lovely lunch.  You can pile it up prettily individual plates but more often than not I just present it in one large bowl and pass it around the table so that people can help themselves.
beetroot houmous
BEETROOT AND CARROT SALAD with HARISSA and MINTED YOGHURT DRESSING
Serves Four 

250g small carrots (baby or 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.

HERBY PITTA CRISPS

One pack of white pitta bread
Light olive oil
Fresh thyme, finely chopped
Sea salt & black pepper

Pre-heat oven to 180c Cut the pitta in half horizontally and then cut each into even strips. Brush each with olive oil (or just use one of those spray bottles) and sprinkle with finely chopped thyme and season.  Bake in the oven for about eight minutes or until a pale golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack and store in a tin.  They will keep for about a week.