Goat's cheese saladWhen I au paired in Paris I learnt a few things about food that came back to me when we were there recently. First of all French people don’t sit around eating croissants all day because um, croissants and all that other amazing bakery stuff makes you fat.  All those super chic skinny women you see in amazing clothes haven’t eaten a croissant (or much of anything else for that matter) since they were about 12. More importantly I saw for the first time that seasonal produce is the starting point for good food so before you decide what’s for dinner you go to the market. Thirdly, salad should be a daily event and the classic French dressing I learnt with oil, vinegar, wholegrain mustard and honey is one of the best I know. Over the years I’ve been swept away by balsamic, played with Sherry, dropped the mustard, dropped the honey, gone Asian but when I had it again recently its genius came back to me.

Eaten with the simplest of green salads there’s enough flavour in this simple dressing to keep things interesting but when you add the classic French salad cheese – goat’s, it really starts to make sense. The honey contrasts with the tang of the cheese while the vinegar lightens things up. A few walnuts are an addition you often get and they work perfectly. You can keep things really simple and simply crumble the cheese into the salad or make it more of an event by toasting the cheese under the grill just before you serve the salad. It’s a great lunch or simple starter that never lets you down.

A classic French salad with Chèvre chaud

You’ll need:

Enough lettuce for two people washed and dried

A small handful walnuts

180gr chevre cheese divided into 2 rounds – the soft variety they sell in logs

2 small rounds of bread for sitting the cheese on when grilling

For the dressing:

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard

1 teaspoon honey

A tiny pinch of salt

Whisk the salad ingredients together, adding a little more honey if you think it needs it then set aside. Set the cheese on the bread rounds and place under a hot grill and toast until golden. In the meantime, toss the leaves, walnuts and dressing together and divide between two plates. When the cheese is ready, set each one on the centre of each plate and serve immediately with lots of good bread and a glass of red.

Rainbow chard

This week’s rainbow chard is one of my favourite varieties.It’s just so pretty and I’m a sucker for that kinda thing. Tastes good too. You’ll have to move fast as,like a lot of these lovely delicate  summer varieties, it can go downhill fast. Fritatta is a great way to go and will give you the bones of a meal. A salad and some bread and you’re set.

I tossed mine with chickpeas, lemon zest and chili a la Heidi Swanson whose Super Natural Cooking books I’ve been using a lot recently. It’s a very simple approach with lots of flavour and the final dish is great with a bowl of rice for a simple lunch or snack or as part of a mezze style meal. Try it with maybe a Spanish omelette, a cous cous salad and a slab of baked feta….

Rainbow chard with chickpeas

Rainbow chard and chickpeas with chili, garlic, lemon zest and olive oil

You’ll need:

150gr rainbow chard washed and dried with any tough stems removed.

1 tin of chickpeas drained and rinsed

4 plump cloves garlic finely chopped

Olive oil

1/2 fresh chilli finely chopped or a pinch of dried flakes

The zest of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper

Prepare the chard first – chop the stems into pieces about 2cm long and set aside then roughly chop the leaves and set aside separately. In a pan heat a generous glug of olive oil, chili, garlic and a large pinch fine salt. Allow the garlic to sizzle but don’t let it go brown. Throw in the chard stems and toss for about a minutes to ensure they soften.

Tainbow chard stems in the pan

Add the leaves then the lemon zest and stir well.

Rainbow chard on the pan

Pour all this over the chickpeas in a bowl, toss well adding some freshly ground black pepper and serve.

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I’m on my own this week. Paul is out west fishing (so I better be writing about the amazing Wild Trout I ate all weekend next week or there’ll be trouble!). It’s been hectic, 2 small kids mean that most of the day consists of nonstop laundering, wiping, sweeping …(I could go on). There’s barely any time to eat never mind cook but somehow we’ve been doing alright.  Dan and I even made a mango and coconut cake the other day (not quite right yet so I won’t share).

Last night I fancied something a bit more grown up than the stuff I’ve been eating all week so I treated myself to a Vietnamese style rare beef salad – properly rare slices of Steak tossed in a flavour-drenched concoction of Garlic pounded with Peppercorns, Lime Juice and Nam Pla (the Vietnamese fish sauce) tossed in Greens, Scallions and Coriander. It’s a dish that’s pretty easy to put together and tastes a little different every time I make it. I like it fiery with lots of Chili but you can tone it down by taking out the seeds.If you don’t have Lime juice, lemon will do. No Fish sauce? Soy will do fine. This week’s Pak Choy could easily replace the Lettuce, just wilt it first. It’s a movable feast and a very addictive one…………

Vietnamese style Rare Chilli Beef salad (for 1)

You’ll need:

2 Cloves Garlic
5 Peppercorns
Juice of 1/2 Lime
Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons Fish Sauce (nam pla) or Soy Sauce
1/2 Red Chili
1 Steak
1/2 Head of Lettuce
2-3 Scallions
A generous bunch Coriander

Begin with the sauce. Using a morter and pestle, pound the Garlic and Peppercorns until smooth(ish). Add in the Lime juice,  Fish Sauce and a pinch of Sugar. Mix and set aside.

Heat a little oil in a pan. When it’s almost smoking hot add the steak. Cook on each side for 2-3 minutes adding a little Sugar to the crust on each side after the first 2 minutes. While the Steak is cooking wash and tear your lettuce. Chop the Scallions and add them to the Lettuce  along with some roughly chopped Coriander. When the Steak is cooked, remove from the pan and slice. Reheat the pan and thrown in the Chill, toss and then add the sauce and any meat juices left after slicing the steak.  Stir well to get all the juices clinging to the pan then throw in the Steak. Toss then place on  the leaves. Top with some Scallions and Coriander and eat with a cold beer. Fantastic!!

My other recipe this week is for Ana our lovely Spanish babysitter who is, sadly, returning to Madrid this week. I made this soup for her to have for lunch with the kids the first day she came and she loved. So, Ana ( te vamos a hecher de menos muchissimo!) this one’s for you (and for anyone else who has about 10 minutes to make lunch at 8.20 in the morning).

Carrot and Cumin Soup

You’ll need:

1 Medium Onion

1 teaspoon Cumin Seeds

Olive Oil

5 Medium Carrots

1 large Potato

600ml vegetable stock

Chop the Onion. Heat some Olive Oil in a pot and toss in the Onion and cook over a medium heat unless you’ve loads of time in which case slowly over a low heat will always work fine. As the Onions cook peel and chop the Carrots and Potato. When the Onions have softened and begun to darken add the Cumin seeds and toss well to make sure they all get coated in oil. Add the other vegetables and continue cooking for a few minutes then add the stock. Allow things to come to the boil over a medium heat. Then turn  back down again and simmer for about 20 minutes or until  the veg is cooked.  Blast with your handblender til smooth (always a bit of a jolt first thing in the morning!). Serve straight up or top with a little yogurt.

This week our Mediterranean selections have the first of this year’s Cherries. Hurray! So good you don’t need a recipe. That’s the point with Cherries. But as weeks go on I’m sure I’ll be thinking of ways to gild the lily so I’ll keep you posted. Next week I’d better be writing about wild Trout or there’ll be trouble!

Hope you enjoy these recipes,

Have a great weekend,

Sarah

Seems like a bit of an unlikely one given that it’s pelting it down outside but we’re in Lettuce season and this week’s bags have a lovely head that travelled, ooh, all of 45 minutes from Kilpedder in Wicklow to us here in Harold’s Cross. Now that’s what I call local. Superfresh, at it’s natural best it’s definitely time for salad.

Salad... lovely lettuce

Salad... lovely lettuce

Salad in our house is a pretty regular thing right through the year. Sometimes, simple and green with a very basic vinaigrette (3 parts your best Olive Oil to 1 part Red Wine Vinegar) it ends any meal perfectly and while I’m not keen on serving salad with a main course I do love to add it to the plate before the last bite’s gone as it’s perfect for mopping up the juices of what came before. We tend to eat mainly veggies so oftentimes I throw in other stuff to add bulk but also variety and interest. Things like Walnuts, Pecans, Hazelnuts and of course all kinds of Seeds, chopped Scallions, Avocado, a sprinkling of Feta or Goat’s Cheese are regular additions.
Sometimes salad is the meal especially when time is tight. Griddle or fry up some of this week’s courgettes or roast Carrot batons and serve on top of green leaves then sprinkle with Parmesan shavings and maybe some toasted Pinenuts. Fry up some Pancetta or streaky Bacon and throw on with some croutons and Parmesan. If you’re really famished fried spuds are great, as is a poached eggs and some Asparagus spears. In the middle of summer a Greek salad with Tomatoes at their peak, salty Feta, Olives and Cucumber makes a lovely lunch. Beans are plentiful at this time of year and always work well. Keep it simple with your default vinaigrette, and some new Potaoes or Nicoise it up with a boiled egg and Anchovies. I like Beans with a spicy tomato relish got by cooking onions in Olive Oil for ages til they almost melt, then Garlic then a tin of chopped Tomatoes and Chili. It’s not ready until it has turned a deep red and reduced by two thirds so I always make 2 tins worth. Cook your beans then sit them on top of some barely dressed leaves and top with relish and eat with good bread. Yum! Fried Mushrooms and Goat’s Cheese is lovely and a little dollop of Black or Red currant jam in with your vinaigrette adds something new although generally I don’t much care for dried fruit in salads except for maybe Apricots. Sultanas for me, work well in Cous Cous salads which I love love love. Add some Middle Eastern flavour with Onion fried with Cumin Seeds then some roasted root vegetables which are almost finished now til later on in the year but there’s still the Carrots. In this dish Peppers work well fried up with the Onions or you can also roast them (I do this on the stovetop over a naked gas flame then bag them for a few minutes so the blistered skin lifts off more easily).
One final thing lettuce with a scant dressing of Lemon juice is the perfect foil for fried fish. Fresh tender Calamari with a little lemon juice, salt and pepper rarely taste better when served on a bed of Lettuce….

There’s Rainbow Chard (it looks like Spinach but has gorgeous red and yellow stems) in a lot of our bags this week though as we only got a limited amount so some of you have regular baby Chard or Pak Choy. The Rainbow variety is supertender with no bitterness. Wilt it and dress with Olive Oil and Lemon juice. Don’t worry if you didn’t get any this week. We’ll definitely be reordering in the upcoming weeks.

Our larger bags have pink radishes (they look like carrots) which are for salads and add a lovely peppery flavour.

Have a great weekend,
Sarah

Hi everyone,

Courgettes, as you know, are a summer staple; not even all the wind and rain can hold them back. Nice as they are, at this time of year “Courgette fatigue” starts to set in. There are only so many Courgette pastas you can eat…. Salads are the way forward especially with vinegar as it brings up their flavour so well. Then to bulk things out and make a larger meal you can add Herbs, Cheese (Goat’s and Feta are especially good), Pinenuts, Tomatoes and Cous Cous. Below are a few of the many salads we’ve eaten over the summer months and for those of you fed up pretending it’s summer right at the end there’s a gratin and pasta recipe.

For one of the best Courgette salads just chargrill or griddle Courgette rounds (see below for details) then add a dressing of Olive Oil and Red Wine vinegar (4:1) along with a little Salt and Sugar. Add some torn Basil or Mint leaves if you have them and set aside for at least 20 minutes so all the flavours have a chance to soften and mingle. Serve with Cheeses, Hummus, Cous Cous, Green Salad and Olives for lunch or as part of a main course with grilled fish.

If you want something a little more filling try an extended version of this by adding Lettuce (or any salad leaves you have) Cherry Tomatoes, Feta Cheese and Black Olives. Because the Courgettes are cooked, this salad feels like a meal and really needs nothing more than good bread for a perfect lunch……..

Chargrilled Courgette Salad with Lettuce, Cherry Tomatoes, Feta and Olives

You’ll need:

  • 2 Medium Courgettes
  • 1/2 Head Lettuce
  • 300gr Cherry Tomatoes
  • A handful Black Olives
  • 100gr Feta
  • Olive Oil
  • Red Wine Vinegar

Begin by preparing your Courgettes. Either cut them into rounds about 1/2 cm thick or slice them into lengths (about 5 cms is perfect) of the same thickness. Heat your grill or griddle pan and when it’s ready place the Courgettes on it then cook on each side for about 2-3 minutes until the slices start to char (if you’re using a griddle pan you’ll get those snazzy stripes). When they’re done take them off the pan and put them in a bowl. Cover with a plate so the heat from the Courgettes generates some steam which continues the cooking process and leaves them lovely and tender.

While the Courgettes are steaming, wash and quarter about 300gr Cherry Vine Tomatoes (or chop 2- 3 regular sized ones) and make a dressing using 1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar and 4 of Olive Oil, a little pinch of Sugar (takes any bitterness out of the Courgettes) and a pinch of Salt.
Mix the Tomatoes, Courgettes and dressing together and and leave aside for at least 20 minutes. If you’re preparing in advance this could be done up to 6 hours before.
To put the salad together, wash and dry half a head of Lettuce then tear the leaves into manageable sized pieces with your fingers. In a salad bowl, mix the Courgettes, Tomatoes, Lettuce Leaves, Feta Cheese (crumbled) and the Olives. Toss together, check the seasoning adding more vinegar if necessary and serve.

Another Very Simple Courgette Salad

You’ll need:

  • 2 Medium Courgettes
  • 3-4 Cloves Garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Red Wine Vinegar
  • Basil Leaves

Slice your Courgettes and gently sauté in Olive Oil. Just before they start to change colour add 3 or 4 finely chopped cloves Garlic and continue to sauté until the Garlic has softened and the Courgettes are golden brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool before dressing with Olive Oil and Red Wine Vinegar (about 4:1 should be fine but you may need to adjust) mixed with pinches of Sugar and Salt. Add some torn Basil leaves and leave for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavours to soften and mingle. Serve with cheeses or perhaps a simple omelette and a green salad.

Warm Courgette salad with Pine Nuts and Goat’s Cheese (for 2)

You’ll need:

  • 2 Medium Courgettes
  • A handful Pinenuts
  • 1/2 Head Lettuce (or enough Rocket for 2)
  • Olive Oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • 150gr Soft Goat’s Cheese (Chevre rounds are ideal)

Once again, slice and sauté the Courgettes until golden brown but this time leave out the Garlic. When done, allow to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.

Begin by toasting a handful Pinenuts. To do this, place them on a dry frying pan and toast over medium heat until they start to change colour.

Wash and dry about 1/2 Lettuce.

Make a dressing by mixing Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar (again about 4:1 should do it) with pinches of Salt and Sugar.

To put everything together, toss the Lettuce leaves (tear them first if they’re too big) and Pinenuts with the dressing and put on a plate or platter. Scatter the Courgette slices and small rounds of Goat’s Cheese (Ricotta would also be lovely) on the Lettuce leaves and serve.

And if you fancy something more substantial try…

Courgette Gratin with Tomato and Parmesan (for 2)

You’ll need:

  • 1 Medium Onion
  • 3-4 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Tin Chopped Tomatoes
  • 3 Medium Courgettes
  • 80gr freshly grated Parmesan
  • Basil Leaves

Make a Tomato sauce by sautéing a medium Onion in Olive Oil over a lowish heat until soft and beginning to change colour (this will take about 15 minutes). Add a 3-4 roughly chopped cloves Garlic and continue cooking for a few more minutes until the Garlic has softened. Add a tin of chopped Tomatoes, a teaspoon Sugar and a generous pinch Salt. Continue cooking over a low to medium heat until the Tomato has reduced by at least half. Check your seasoning adding more Salt if necessary and a little more Sugar if the sauce seems bitter. Cook for a further 5 minutes then remove from heat.
While the Tomatoes are cooking, slice and sauté the Courgettes till golden brown.

To finish the dish, put a little Tomato Sauce on the base of a small ceramic gratin dish followed by a layer of Courgettes, some grated Parmesan and a few torn Basil Leaves if you have them. Continue layering the Courgettes, Tomato and Parmesan until everything has been used ending with a layer of Parmesan. Grill until golden and eat hot, warm or cold.

Pasta with Garlic, Courgettes and Chilli (for 2)

You’ll need:

  • 2 Medium Courgettes
  • 1/2 Fresh Red Chilli
  • 2-3 Cloves Garlic
  • freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
  • Enough Pasta for 2


Slice and begin frying your Courgettes along with 1/2 fresh Chilli in a generous dash of Olive Oil. While the Courgettes are cooking put on enough pasta for 2 (any kind works fine). When the Courgettes start to change colour add 2-3 cloves Garlic finely chopped. Be sure to keep moving the Courgettes and Garlic on the pan so the Garlic doesn’t burn.

When the pasta and Courgettes are ready mix together adding plenty of freshly grated Parmesan Cheese, Salt, Black Pepper and a little more oil if necessary. Serve immediately.

Variation: Instead of the Chilli you could throw in a handful of Capers at the end.