Gazpacho

Salad in a bag

I started this week with a salad bag which had two fat red peppers, a couple of baby cucumbers and some cherry tomatoes, two lovely baby gem lettuce and some cherry tomatoes and I immediately thought – soup!.  What with the sweltering weather this week, of course it had to be cold soup and nothing is more refreshing for lunch on a hot day.

Gazpacho is nothing more than a liquidized salad and you can add all sorts of different ingredients from lettuce to radishes to celery but the basics are red peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. I like to add a small red onion and one garlic clove but be careful because raw onion and garlic, if added too enthusiastically, can overpower the other vegetables. My only other addition apart from salt, pepper, Spanish olive oil and vinegar is a red chilli.

Gaz Salad

So simple, so quick, so delicious and so good for you. Just make sure you take the time to peel the vegetables before liquidizing to get a nice texture. You need a really efficient peeler for this so make sure you invest in a good one with a sharp edge. So many times I see people struggling away with a completely blunt peeler. I like the D shape ones best but if you can’t find a basic one then OXO always seems to make good equipment.

The balance of vinegar is important but just add a little at a time. It should be gutsy and not bland. I use a blend of half-half red wine vinegar to sherry vinegar. You can find some very good sherry vinegar in the supermarket which is worth the money, but for the red wine vinegar you can just go for the cheapest. Finally, it must be very cold. Add an ice cube or two when liquidizing if you are in a hurry.

Gaz in a Bowl Small

Gazpacho

1kg really ripe tomatoes

2 Red Peppers, peel of as much skin as possible with a peeler, de-seed and roughly chop

2 baby or one large cucumbers, peeled and roughly chopped

1 very small red onion, roughly chopped

1 garlic clove

1 fresh red chilli, peeled and seeds removed

A generous glug of extra virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish

A generous glug of sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar (I like to use half/half)

Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Make a small cross on top of each tomato with a sharp knife.  Blanch the tomatoes by placing them into a pan of boiling water for a few minutes.  Remove them and refresh in cold water.  Remove the skins.  Add all the other ingredients and either puree in a liquidizer or simply use a hand held blender.  Whiz until completely smooth.  Check seasoning and add more salt, pepper or vinegar to taste.  Chill in the fridge and serve very cold.

Braised Summer Greens with Pulled Ham Hock, Broad Beans, Peas & Lentils

I am very excited about peas in salads at the moment, especially baby fresh, uncooked ones. They are like a little crunchy explosion in your mouth. My pea harvest at my allotment has been particularly good this year and some have even managed to make it to the table. In past years the entire harvest has gone straight in the kids mouths. Anyway, back to this week’s box – summer greens and broad beans to use up, I came up with this rather successful recipe. Not quite salad, not quite a side, not quite soup, we ate it as a main and it was very enjoyable. As always with my recipes, it is easily adaptable and any greens would do including chard, kale or any sort of cabbage. You may have to adapt the cooking of the greens with a tougher variety of green such as kale but this method of cooking greens with olive oil and garlic is my favourite and is delicious just on its own.

I am a great fan of ready pulled ham hock. Although I know it is an easy enough to make your own and you end up with all that lovely ham stock, anything that saves a little time in the kitchen, helps. You can now buy it quite readily from good supermarkets or indeed, Riverford do their own.

When it comes to lentils for salads the ones from Le Puy in France are the most superior. They hold their shape and texture far the best and although you may see cheap imitations they are never as good. Merchant & Gourmand stock some fine ones and although they also do a ready cooked variety they are never as good as cooking them yourself.

With the weather as it is this June it is hard to know whether you want to eat salad or soup – well, this recipe really can be either, add some lettuce and you have a salad, add some stock and you have soup. I am always amazed how much the two can have in common.

Braised Summer Greens with Lentils, Broad Beans etc

Braised Summer Greens with Pulled Ham Hock, Broad Beans, Peas & Lentils

1 packet of summer greens

100g of cooked broad beans (boiling water for 2 minutes and refresh in cold)

A handful of fresh shelled peas or frozen

50g Puy lentils

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

2 cloves of garlic, very finely sliced

1 packet pulled ham hock

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Shred the spring greens finely and wash well. Do not remove too much of the water. Put the lentils in a saucepan with plenty of cold water and cook gently for about 15 to 20 minutes until tender. Drain off some of the water, but not all. Stir in the mustard and add a glug of good olive oil and season with salt to taste, whilst they are still warm. Heat a large saucepan with a good glug of olive oil. Add the very thinly sliced garlic and cook until the garlic is golden brown. Add the greens and sauté for a few minutes until the greens are tender. Season with salt to taste. Meanwhile shell the peas and slip the broad beans out of their skins. Mix the lentils with the greens and the ham hock. Check seasoning. Heap into bowls and scatter with peas and broad beans and serve.

Broad beand shelled

Courgette & Tomato “au Gratin”

Courgettes are one of those vegetables that needs help. There is no getting away from it – they are bland and watery. You can guarantee that if someone tells you they make a delicious courgette soup, pasta or risotto, there will be something else key in there to help the courgettes along: garlic, cream, butter, cheese or herbs, something to lift its dullness to a new height. They also benefit from grilling or frying which will intensify their flavour and helps caramelise their natural sugars. They do however have great texture and take on other flavours well and are best used as fresh as possible, so don’t push them to the back of the fridge; use them first and they will reward you.

I also got a free bunch of basil in my Medium Vegbox (less roots) this week. I just whizzed it up straight away with some good extra virgin olive oil using a hand blender. This will keep in the fridge now for at least a week and can be used to elevate all sorts of dishes from pasta to soups, marinades or sauces.

Talking of hand-blenders, it is time for my “Gadget of the Week”. Please invest in a good one. Do not be tempted by the economy range version for £5.00. It will last a month. Instead, invest in the best and it will reward you with years of hard work and save you hours of washing up. They are particularly good for pureeing a small amount of something and can make light work of even ginger and lemongrass. Also, it is just so much easier to blend a soup straight in the pan than have to decant it into a liquidiser. Rant over!

Courgette and Tomato au Gratin

Tomato and Courgette “au Gratin”

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

5 ripe beef or large tomatoes

4 courgettes

6 tbsp olive oil

Bunch of basil

2 clove garlic

40g parmesan cheese

40g parmesan

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 350F, 180C, gas 4. Top and tail the courgettes and slice them thinly, on an angle to get a larger surface area. Put them into a bowl and toss with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Heat a grill or griddle pan or use a frying pan. Either grill or fry the courgette slices on both sides until tender. Slice thinly the tomatoes thinly.

Very thinly slice the garlic, (A mandolin is good for this.) Whiz up the basil and the remaining olive oil until you have a smooth sauce.

When you can handle the courgettes, start layering the veg. starting with the courgettes put a layer almost standing up at the end of your gratin dish. Next almost cover them with a layer of tomatoes but leave the top still showing. Keep going, adding some garlic slices between each layer. Push the layers together to give you more room to a add more. You want to get in as much as possible. When finished, season with a little more salt and pepper and drizzle basil oil generously over the top. Mix the grated parmesan and the breadcrumbs together and bake for 30 minutes in the oven until golden on top.

Cougette and Tomato Gratin

Bunch of Carrots

Bunched Carrots are just lovely right now and there is no finer way of cooking them than simply roasting them in the oven. All vegetables benefit from a good roasting – it intensifies their flavour and helps release their natural sugars. There is never any need to add honey, they are sweet enough! Today I decided to turn them into a delicious salad with cumin seeds and dill which always work superbly with carrots.

When it comes to buying lentils, choose carefully. There may be lots of cheaper alternatives to the original and the best “Le Puy Lentils” but nothing holds their shape and texture the same or is so forgiving if you should accidently overcook them a minute or two. If you are feeling really lazy, Merchant and Gourmet do a ready cooked pouch.

Halloumi could be described as a lump of salty rubber but it is strangely addictive. People tend to cook it in slabs, which can be a bit overpowering but in this recipe I decided to cut it up into quite small cubes in an attempt to add a little salt and texture to each and every mouthful.

Into this salad, I also tossed in the Flat Beans from my box. I have never seen these particular beans available anywhere but Riverford. They look a bit like a Runner Bean but are much tender and less stringy, more like a French Bean, but flat!

Roasted Carrot, Flat Bean & Halloumi Salad with Cumin Seeds & Dill

Roast Carrots with Flat Beans, Le Puy Lentils, Toasted Halloumi, Cumin Seeds and Dill

1 Bunch of carrots

2 tsp. Cumin seeds

Small bunch of dill (don’t forget Riverford have lots of lovely herbs)

1 Bunch Flat Beans

50g Le Puy lentils

1 packet of halloumi

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sea Salt and Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 200⁰C. Wash your carrots and chop off the tops leaving a little green. Leave whole if small or cut in half if larger. Toss in good olive oil, season with plenty of salt and pepper and sprinkle with cumin seeds. Put in the oven for about half an hour until golden brown and tender. Meanwhile put your lentils in a pan of cold water and simmer for about 20 minutes until tender. They should still have a little bite. Drain and tip into a large bowl. Dress with plenty of good olive oil and a pinch or two of salt. Taste to check seasoning and adjust. Finely chop your dill and add that and then tip in the carrots. Put another pan of salted water on to boil. Cut your Flat beans into 1cm slices on the diagonal. Cut the halloumi into 1cm cubes. Heat a dry, non-stick pan and toast the halloumi on all sides until golden brown. Meanwhile add the beans to the pan of boiling water and cook for about 3 minutes until tender. Refresh and drain to keep the colour and texture. Tip the lentils and carrots onto a large plate and scatter with the Flat Beans and the halloumi. Drizzle with a little more good olive oil.

Carrots in a tin

Wet and Wild

 Wet and Wild

I was particularly excited about the first of the season’s wet garlic. I love this fresh garlic which has not yet been dried, especially as there is no need to even peel it. The internal skins have not yet formed so the whole head can be chopped. I love just baking them whole and spreading the creamy cooked garlic on a piece of toast.

Wet Garlic Cooked

When the stalks are fresh and green they can be cooked like leeks or finely sliced and used in soups, omelettes or even salads.

If you don’t get round to using it all up, just hang it up to dry in your kitchen and it will last up to nine months.

Wild garlic leaves are around now too, so keep your eyes peeled. I spotted a lovely patch in Cannizaro Park at the weekend, but obviously I am not telling you exactly where. If you manage to find some you could give the fantastically named “Wet and Wild Risotto” a go. And don’t forget to throw in some pretty garlic flowers too.

Wild Garlic

I decided to use mine simply sautéed with the delicious new potatoes in my box, but it would have been equally good with the mushrooms, just simply served up on a piece of sourdough toast.

Sautted Potatoes & Wet Garlic in a Pan

Sautéed New Potatoes with Wet Garlic

Give your new potatoes a good wash and put in a pan covered with plenty of cold water and a good pinch of salt. Bring to the boil and cook until a blunt knife will insert easily into the middle. Drain and leave to cool a little. Cut the potatoes in half, or quarters if particularly big. Heat some good olive oil in large frying pan and sauté the potatoes until golden brown. Thinly slice your wet garlic using the bulb and the stem and add to the pan with a scattering of sea salt. Sauté just until the wet garlic starts to wilt. Serve hot.

Sauteed Potatoes & Wet Garlic in a Bowl

Baby Spinach, Wild Rice, Broad Bean, Grilled Asparagus & Courgette Salad with Crispy Onions

Finally for this week, another really delicious salad and a meal in itself. I am back to grilling veg again and although I know that grilling courgettes maybe a bit laborious, I cannot think of a vegetable which is more elevated by this simple process. The rather tasteless courgette absorbs the smoky flavours of the grill and is transformed into something quite exceptional.

The crispy onions are another favourite of mine and are such a marvellous addition to so many dishes. You can make up a batch and they will keep crispy for up to a week in an air-tight container. The oil, which you can re-use each time you make a batch, also serves as a delicious dressing and gets more intense the more times you re-use it.

I love adding a couple of handfuls of shelled broad beans to my salads. Their pale green colour so quintessentially says “spring” so get them whilst you can because along with the asparagus, they will be finishing soon.

I love the chewy texture and nutty taste of Wild Rice and it is super good for you too. It is a little hard to get hold of so stock up on it when you see it because it is one of my salad ingredient staples.

Crispy Onions

Crispy Fried Onions

Thinly slice a few large onions. Cut off the top end of the onion and peel the rest of it. Slice as thin as possible. A Mandolin is really good for this or you can use a food processor. Place a saucepan on a high heat and add about an inch of vegetable oil. You don’t want to use too much oil as the more intense the flavour the better. Heat the oil to 180⁰C using a thermometer. Add the onions slowly and deep fry until light golden brown. Be careful not to burn, stirring regularly, especially in the corners where the onions will cook most quickly. Remove with a slotted spoon, straight into a colander lined with kitchen paper over a bowl. Break up any clumps and leave to crisp up. Season lightly with salt. When cool pour the oil into a bottle for further use.

Courgette, Asparagus & Broad Bean Salad

Baby Spinach, Wild Rice, Broad Bean, Grilled Asparagus & Courgette Salad with Crispy Onions

Serves 2 as a main

A Couple of handfuls of baby spinch (washed)

200g broad beans

1 bunch asparagus

50g Wild Rice (try Tilda)

2 courgettes

Crispy fried onions (see above)

Olive oil

Sea salt

First put your rice in a saucepan with plenty of cold water and a good pinch of salt. Boil gently for about 20 minutes until pleasantly chewey to eat. Drain. Meanwhile put another pan of water on the boil. Snap amy woody end off the asparagus and drissel with a little olive oil and sea salt. Slice the cougette into flat ribbons. A mandolin is brilliant for this, otherwise use a sharp knife. The slices should be about the thickness of a £1. Heat your grill or light you BBQ. Once the water is boiling add the shelled broad bean and boil for about 2 minutes. Drain and immediately refresh in cold water. Whilst you are grilling the courgettes and the asparagus, slip the broad beans out of their skins. Put the drained rice in a large bowl and add a tablespoon of the onion oil and a large pinch of salt. Taste it and notice how the flavour has come alive. Add the spinach and broad beans and gently mix. Tip onto plates and pile the courgettes and the asparagus (cut into 3cm lenghths) on top and finish with some crispy onions.

Asparagus

Spanish Omelette

 Being a bank holiday and the kids off school I know I am not going to have a whole lot of time for cooking this week. I ordered a small veg box original which came packed with lovely new potatoes, bunched carrots, bunched onions, baby spinach, courgettes & asparagus.

Box 2

First up I knocked up a Spanish Omelette with the delicious new potatoes and bunched onions. Waxy potatoes are imperative for this dish and Riverford’s new potatoes are perfect, especially as they are quite large, which makes them easier to peel. A good little non-stick, oven proof frying pan is important for omelette too. Try googling “GreenPan Rio 20cms” and you can pick a great one up for as little as £15.99.

Next, I can’t tell you how much time you will save in the kitchen with a good Mandolin. I find that the simple Japanese ones are the best. The best value one I found was “Grunwerg Benriner Mandolin” at Amazon for £17.14 – just do watch your fingers.

Don’t forget to order Riverford’s brilliant organic eggs as well. When choosing an olive oil – think “Spain”. You want something fruity, sweet and mild. Riverford have just started selling a new Andalucian olive oil “Nunez de Prado extra virgin flowers olive oil” which sounds delicious but is a little pricy. I promise to give it a try and let you know if it is worth it!

As always, there are numerous variations to my recipes and a few of my favourites are to add red pepper, chorizo or spinach. Serve up with some of Riverford’s excellent salad leaves. I always find this is one of the few meals the whole family enjoys, even though my daughter, as always ,insists on plenty of Tomato Ketchup.

Spanish Omelette

Makes two thin or one fat omelette

400g New Potatoes

4 or 5 Bunched Onions (depending on size and how much you like onions)

6 Eggs

Olive Oil

Sea Salt

Peel and slice your onions. Use the mandolin if you have one up until where the neck bends. Then you will have to use a knife. Slice as thin as possible right up to the green onion top. (You can use this thinly sliced in a salad like a spring onion.) Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a large saucepan, preferably on with a lid. (If not you can use a plate to cover it.) Sweat the onions on a low heat for about 5-10 minutes until melting but with no colour. Season with a good pinch of salt. Whilst the onions are cooking, peel the potatoes and thinly slice. A Mandolin is brilliant for this but if not use a knife. The potatoes should be about ¼ cm thick. When the onions are ready add the potatoes. Stir really well making sure each slice is separated and season with sea salt. Generously pour over some more olive oil, stir again and cover. Place over a low heat. After about 5 minutes remove the lid and carefully stir. Make sure that nothing is sticking to the bottom but try not to break up the potato slices. Cover and cook for a further 5 minutes or so until a blunt knife will easily insert into the potato. Leave covered to cool. Preheat your oven to 170 ⁰C. Meanwhile break your eggs into a large bowl. Whisk to break up the eggs. There is no need to season the eggs as the potatoes and onions should have enough salt. Tip the potato mixture into a large colander over a bowl and drain off the excess oil. Heat your small non-stick frying pan on a very low heat. Add a little of the drained oil (you can use re-use the rest in other cooking) and wipe round the pan with a piece of kitchen paper. Add the egg mixture and spread out so that it is even. Cook until the edges of the omelette are just set and put in the middle of the oven. Cook until completely firm. There should be no liquid in the middle when pressed. Allow to cool before turning out.

Omelette 2 Shrunk