Monday, 29 July 2013

Salad Days

So it appears we may actually be having a summer here in Blighty, although it’s probably clouding over as I type this. Not only is this new tropical climate putting everyone in a super good mood it means we can all plan BBQ’s, picnics and trips to the beach in ADVANCE. Yep, that’s right kids, you can invite your friends over, plan to eat outside and then actually eat outside! Crazy right!

The great thing about this heat as well is that the kinds of foods that your body wants to eat are the naturally healthy ones. I am pretty sure it’s the way evolution was supposed to work, it’s hot, you want salad, you become slim and beach beautiful!! No stress, no stupid faddy diets, everybody’s happy!

Salad used to get a bit of a bad press, the best you could hope for was usually a few limp iceberg lettuce leaves, a slimy slice of cucumber all topped off with a dollop of crusty Hellman’s mayo. It was never going to be enough to convince anyone to put the bread basket down. But times are changing, and they’re changing for the better.

Despite this I do have fond memories of salad bars in certain ‘restaurants’. I used to think they were amazing, which led to lots of pestering the parents to take us there for dinner. They have lost there magic somewhat since then, I’m not even sure what it was I liked so much about them to be honest, maybe it was just the sheer amount of different compartments. I felt like there was a surprise waiting in each one, unfortunately when I tried to rekindle the romance recently, reality struck, and I realised they’re actually pretty crap.

The key to a great salad? Pick really fresh ingredients, make a killer dressing and chuck something substantial in it too. Be it some warm squidgy goats cheese, marinated chicken, delicious fresh seafood…endless possibilities. Croutons too, home made though- obviously. I like to roast mine in the oils from the salami, try it and you'll never reach for the ready made ones again. Always dress it at the end, just before serving, to keep every ingredient at it’s best.

So here’s a recipe that will hopefully make even the most hardened salad dodgers reach for the leaves. Best bit, it’s so quick to whip up, you’ll be tucking in before you’ve even drank your first glass of chilled rose. Plus if there’s any left over lunch is sorted for tomorrow, man this salad just keeps on giving!

Chicken, mozzarella & salami salad with pesto dressing

2 chicken breasts
10 large slices of salami
125g ball mozzarella cheese
2 tsp pesto
fresh basil leaves
1 small ciabatta roll, chopped or torn into bite size croutons
drizzle olive oil
Bag mixed baby leaves
Handful baby plum tomatoes, halved
Few radishes, sliced
1 pack mustard cress, cress removed from dirt
1 carrot, cut into ribbons with a peeler
¼ cucumber, diced
few fresh basil leaves
2 heaped tbsp pesto
2 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6. Lay the chicken on a board and slice through the middle lengthways being careful not to slice all the way through the breast, open up like a book, season and spread with half the pesto. Lay on some basil, then ¼ of the mozzarella. Fold up and wrap in the 3 slices of the salami then place onto a flat tray lined with a double layer of foil. Repeat with the other breast. Lay another sheet of foil on top and being folding the edges of the three sheets together to create a nice parcel. Before you seal the final side chuck in a splash of wine should you have some open or a bit of water if not. This is going to create some lovely stream in the parcel and keep the chicken really moist. Cook for 20 mins.

2 Meanwhile in a small baking tin put 4 bis sof salami and a drizzle of oil. Add to the oven for about 3-4 mins, until all the nice oils have been released into the tin. Then remove the meat, (EAT, or keep as a crispy garnish) and toss your croutons in the fat. Season and cook for about 8 mins, keep an eye on them or they might catch.

3 Arrange all the lovely salad in a nice big bowl or serving platter, scatter on the rest of the mozzarella. Make the dressing. Mix the pesto and vinegar in a small bowl. Once the chicken is done, remove and slice the foil open from the top. Take out the chicken (and any escaped cheese) and pop onto a board ready to cut. Pour the parcel juices into the dressing and mix well, season if you need to.

4 Slice the chicken and tip onto the platter, along with any juices from the board. Scatter on the dressing, then top with your crispy salami tasting croutons.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013


I’m not exactly a fan of foraging, unless it’s around the fridge at midnight when I’m hankering for a snack. I mostly hate how trendy it seems to have become now. Pretentious foodies trying to make you feel guilty about popping to Sainsbury’s Local for a bag of rocket when you could “Totally go and gather it from the local meadow, which is literally bursting with the joys of Spring.” I don’t know about you but I don’t have the time or patience to spend the day picking enough leaves for one measly salad, which are probably covered in dog pee anyway (I know nobody over the age of 5 says pee, but the Mother is reading this so gotta keep it clean). The hypocrisy of it all is what gets to me, so called foragers #GettingBackToNature, while documenting the experience on instragram from their IPhone 5. Food should unite and be enjoyed, never used as a tool to make others feel less ‘cool’. Pipe down and let me enjoy my overpriced, prepackaged veg in peace. 

Having said that I do like wild garlic. My enjoyment of aforementioned food was enough to drag me round to the local church garden for a spot of “foraging” on a warm Sunday afternoon. While doing the deed I did feel a wee bit guilty. I mean I was basically stealing from God, which isn’t really cool is it…but I was pretty sure that when God saw the dish I was going create with his wonderous weeds all would be forgiven.
I’ve always loved Italian food, ever since I was a nipper. It’s the key ingredients that get me going…ripe juicy tomatoes, delicious creamy buffalo mozzarella or sharp nutty Parmesan coupled with a few torn basil leaves or fresh oregano and a drizzle of oil and I am literally in heaven. Never mind the fact that they invented the pizza, my favorite food and pasta too. Jesus, they have got it all going on, I should probably think about relocating to Italy.

Making pasta = satisfaction guaranteed. From just 2 simple ingredients, which even the most basic of kitchens probably have kicking about you can create a dish which is far greater than the sum of it’s parts. You don’t really even need any fancy equipment either. A pasta machine does make the task of rolling much easier but you can easily get away with a rolling pin and a bit of patience if you need to. For example half way through I realised that I had misplaced my ravioli cutters in one of my many recent flat moves and was able to improvise with a couple of washed out alphabetti spaghetti tins (another favourite of mine, I bet the Italians wouldn’t be too impressed).

If you can’t be bothered to forage then you can still try this recipe, just swap the quantity of wild garlic for the same amount of chives and chuck in a small garlic clove too. Bob will, as they say, be your uncle.

N.B. All of the good pictures below were kindly taken by my lovely friend Andrew Jackson, the rubbish ones by the lovely me, thanks Jacko, you rock!

Asparagus & pecorino ravioli with wild garlic pesto
Serves 2

200g 00’ flour, or pasta flour
2 large eggs
polenta, for dusting
Small pack fine asparagus tips
50g finely grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
chopped soft herbs, about 2 tbsp, such as chervil, chives, parsley or tarragon
2 tbsp mascarpone, soft cheese or crème frache
2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
about 25g wild garlic, flowers removed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
50g finely grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese
zest and juice ½ lemon

1 Make the pasta; in a food processor pulse the flour and egg until the mix looks like damp couscous or breadcrumbs. Tip out and knead gently for a few minutes until you have a smooth, soft but not sticky dough. Wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

2 Snap the tips of the asparagus, about the top inch, and set aside. Finely chop the stems and tip into a bowl with the rest of the filling ingredients, season.

3 Blitz all the pesto ingredients in a food processor or mini chopper adding enough water to form a spoonable consistency. Season.

4 Roll out the pasta to the second thinnest setting using a machine.  With a rolling pin work on a lightly floured surface and roll until you can see your hand through when you lift the pasta sheet on top. Keep any pasta covered with a damp tea towel while you work to stop it drying out. Cut out circles (the size of a small alphabetti or baked bean can). You need about 24 circles in total, re roll the scraps if you need to.

5 Place a teaspoon of filling into the middle of each circle; brush the outside of the circle with a little water using a pastry brush. Place another circle on top, and seal making sure to remove all the air while you seal, or they will burst while cooking.

6 Transfer to a tray lined with polenta and loosely cover with cling film, leave for about 20 minutes to dry out a little. Meanwhile heat a large pan of salted water. Once boiling tip in the pasta and cook for 1 minute, then add the asparagus tips and cook for about 2-3 minutes more, until the ravioli is tender. Tip into a colander and put the pan back on the heat. Add the pesto, heat through then return the pasta and coat in the pesto. Divide between two plates, garnish with the flowers and serve with extra Pecorino or Parmesan, if you like.