Tag Archives: rocket

Two simple summer salads

aubergine_summer_saladSummer is just around the corner. With warmer days and longer light evenings, bringing out the BBQ and indulging in some outdoor action is feeling more like reality than the distant dream of a few weeks ago. We’ve got to that time of year when simple, fresh flavours replace the slow-cooked comfort food of winter, colour reappears on our plates and cooking is as much of an assembly job as hours of pouring over a hot stove. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still be baking my favourite breads and treats, but my main meals will become a lighter, more summery affair. Something we could probably all do with after a chocolate-laced Easter and two boozy British bank holiday weekends.

summer_spring_saladIn the spirit of some simple summer joy (with a potential to BBQ), I bought a couple of beautiful sirloin steaks for our supper. Unsure what to serve them with, I went for a nosey round the Union Market on my way home from Fulham Broadway. If you live locally and haven’t been, this place is well worth a look. Located in the old tube station, it houses a wide selection of food counters (bread from The Flour Station, cheese from Neal’s Yard, fresh fish, British meat, seasonal veg etc) as well as a small restaurant, coffee shop and a wine store. The idea is to provide local residents with all the theatre and authenticity of a farmers market with the reliability and convenience of a supermarket (it’s open til 9pm on weeknights). In comparison to the plastic-packed shelves of the local supermarkets, it’s a breath of fresh air to be able to try before you buy, to have your meat weighed and sliced in front of you and to pick your own veg into brown paper bags. 

I came away with a muddy bulb of fennel, a box of fresh rocket, a bunch of radishes and a beautiful purple aubergine; colourful, fragrant, robust ingredients perfect for some textured summery salads. I made two;  thick strips of the firm, glossy aubergine grilled and tossed with simple, punchy flavours for a more meaty option and chopped fennel, radishes, avocado and rocket as a lighter second. Two delicious summery salads which work well on their own as well as being a great accompaniment for rare  barbequed sirloin steak, chicken or meaty fish.

I may have mopped it all up with freshly baked crusty bread. With a brownie for pudding. Old habits die hard, even in the face of a beautiful summer.

aubergine_chill_capersChargrilled aubergine with garlic, chilli and capers
Serves 2

2-3 red birdseye chillis, chopped (I included seeds but if you’re less of a chilli fiend I’d leave them out)
1 clove of garlic, sliced
A handful salted capers, rinsed well
A generous lug of olive oil
1 large/2 medium aubergines

*Quick note: I’ve found the trick to perfect aubergines is grilling them without any oil, then marinading in infused oil afterwards. This results in smoky, firm flesh rather than the flabby, slug-like consistency of over-oiled aubergines which tend to leach up any surrounding liquid as they cook. If you’re not using the BBQ then get a really hot ridged grill pan – it’s important you get those beautiful black lines for both flavour and appearance*

Put the chilli, garlic and capers in a small bowl and cover with the oil. Leave to infuse.

In the meantime, slice the aubergine thickly. Get your BBQ or grill pan nice and hot – it should be smoking – then lay the aubergine slices flat across the ridges. You may need to cook in batches. Cook until you have thick black grill marks on both sides.

Remove the aubergine slices to a serving dish. Pour over the garlic, chilli and caper oil and mix thoroughly. Best served at room temperature after 30 mins or so of infusing. This would also be delicious with torn mint leaves and feta, finely chopped parsley and coriander, or with a creamy tahini and yoghurt dressing.

summer_saladRadish, fennel and avocado salad
Serves 2

This is so simple it’s hardly a recipe at all. The perfect summer crunch.

A handful of radishes, around 10
1 bulb fennel
1 small avocado
1 small baby gem lettuce
A handful of rocket
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp mustard powder
Salt and pepper to season

Thinly slice the radishes and fennel into a large bowl, removing any tough outer bits. Peel and roughly dice the avocado into chunks and add. Tear the baby gem into the salad along with a  good handful of rocket.

Mix the olive oil, balsamic, mustard powder, salt and pepper in a small jam jar. Shake throughly then pour over the salad, stir and serve immediately.

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Rocket & Basil Pesto

basil_rocket_pesto
Artichoke ravioli with homemade pesto

You might wonder why I’m posting a recipe for pesto. Pesto is something that appears on menus and food packaging around the world. Over-used and under-appreciated, there’s most likely a sweaty jar of mass produced pesto lurking in most people’s deepest cupboard space (am I right?). As a student it certainly formed an essential part of our storecupboard staple of pasta, pesto and frozen peas (the 3 P’s), possibly washed down with a pint (make that 4 . . . P’s, not pints that is). The ‘middle class ketchup’ phenomenon . . .

So why a recipe? Because this much maligned sauce doesn’t deserve these bogus impersonators; mean little jars of processed cashews, sunflower oil, preservatives and stabilisers. Pesto should be eaten fresh. It should sing with the rich green notes of freshly torn basil, toasted nuts and salty cheese. Yes, the ingredients can be expensive, but, as with good quality meat and other little luxuries in life, I’d suggest quality over quantity. Instead of plonking pesto onto every baguette, salad, sandwich and snack in sight, savour it, allowing the flavours to shine through.

This recipe is so simple, it’s hardly a recipe at all. Almost as quick and easy as opening a jar of pesto, but infinitely nicer, once you’ve tried it, I’m pretty positive you won’t look back. My recipe mixes rocket and basil for a really light, fresh flavour, and I’ve included  few ingredient variations below for the budget conscious or more adventurous amongst you. If you have any other favourite or interesting pesto recipes, I’d love you to share them below.

Rocket & Basil Pesto (makes 1 jar)

2 tbsp pine nuts
Pinch of salt
1/2 clove garlic, crushed
150g rocket
100g freshly picked basil leaves
50g Parmesan, grated
300ml extra virgin olive oil

Dry fry the pine nuts in  pan until lightly toasted and golden. Pound in a pestle and mortar with salt and crushed garlic. Add the rocket and basil leaves, continuing to mash until it becomes a thick green paste (you could do this in a food processor, althoug purists would argue against this, preferring the subtler flavours of the bruised ingredients). Add the grated cheese and most of the olive oil until fully blended, reserving a little oil for the top. Transfer to a jar, cover with remaining oil and keep in the fridge for up to one week.

Serve simply with al dente linguine, Ligurian style with trofie pasta, potatoes and green beans, as I’ve done above with ravioli or spoon over chicken or white fish. Delicious.

Some tasty pesto variations:

Basil & pine nut – the classic
Coriander & cashew – omit the cheese and try a little chilli for more of an Eastern feel
Watercress & walnut – earthy and rich, perfect in winter

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