Maybe I’m just making excuses to be lazy but the summer weather means I haven’t felt much like baking or cooking recently. It hasn’t even been consistently hot and sunny but here in Bristol, even on the wet, grey days, it’s been muggy: not the sort of weather conducive to standing next to a hot oven for a few hours.
The solution is either to get your husband to barbecue or to prepare salads and light dishes requiring minimal cooking time. I have managed to achieve both of these and thought I’d share with you some of the recipes we’ve enjoyed.
First up, this courgette tart, which was an excellent way of using up some superb homegrown courgettes a friend had given us. The recipe is by Rose Prince and appeared in the Saturday Telegraph magazine a couple of weeks ago. You will see that she recommends making your own rough puff pastry but I went for second best and used shop bought pure butter puff pastry. I was not that successful at getting my courgettes to form “ribbons” but it didn’t matter that much.
Next, burgers. This was a very last minute supper. It was a lovely warm evening and so we shelved our original supper plans and youngest son popped to Waitrose to buy some ground beef (not too lean) and burger buns. All I do to make burgers is add ground black pepper and an egg, mix well and shape. I don’t add onion or salt or garlic. This way you can really taste the beef and get additional flavours from the sauces and other toppings you serve alongside (eg gherkins, ketchup, bbq sauce, mustard, cheese, lettuce, sliced tomatoes). Sometimes we sandwich our burgers in ciabatta but, to be honest, the regular burger buns with sesame seeds work perfectly. On this occasion, in addition to the toppings listed above, I found some red Romano peppers in the fridge which I halved, deseeded, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt for my husband to grill on the barbecue. J invited his friend round to join us and by the time we were ready to eat it was nearly dark so we lit some candles and tucked in. Impromptu evenings like this are very often the most enjoyable.
Once again, my latest favourite cookbook, Honey and Co., came up trumps when I wanted a simple fish recipe the other Friday. The recipe in the book used sea bream but I could only get sea bass fillets; I doubt there’s much difference. I just roasted the fish fillets (one each) in the Aga roasting oven for 8-9 minutes with a little olive oil and seasoning and squirted on some lemon juice at the end. The salad ingredients are as follows (for 4 people):
- 4 small Lebanese cucumbers or 1 long one
- 250g red grapes
- 4 sprigs fresh mint, leaves picked and chopped
- 1 small bunch dill, fronds picked and chopped
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1 tsp salt
- Ground black pepper
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 200g pain yoghurt (I used Greek style)
Peel the cucumber to create a zebra-striped effect, slice in half lengthways and use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds. Chop into crescents and place in a large bowl. Wash and halve the grapes and add with the chopped herbs. Season with the lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil and mix well. Spread two tablespoons of yoghurt on each plate and pile some salad on top, ready for the fish when it’s cooked. Et voilà.
Salade Niçoise is one of my favourite summer salads. On summer holidays in France I would always order it. But what is it exactly?
Last weekend I decided to make it when my son W and his fiancée were home, but realised I’d never used a recipe and always just made it up as I went along. Browsing some of my cookery books, magazine cuttings and Google, I realised that there were many different versions of this salad. I consulted Twitter too: there were as many people declaring potatoes were definitely not to be added as there were those who insisted on them. What to do? The wonderful Felicity Cloake had of course done the research in this article in her “How to make the perfect” series, but her “perfect” recipe was not my perfect one. In reading about the salad, I was surprised at how many chefs, including Felicity, did not include tuna. For me, this salad is one of the best vehicles for tinned tuna. I was also surprised that green beans were not a regular addition. I liked the raw broad bean idea but it would be more time consuming for this fairly lazy cook. (I also didn’t skin or deseed my tomatoes: what of it?)
In conclusion, there doesn’t seem to be a an agreed upon, universal recipe for Salade Niçoise but what does it matter? Make a salad with the the ingredients you like and which you have to hand. On this particular occasion, mine was made with new potatoes which I added to the vinaigrette (some say mustard is a no no but I’m not one of them) while still warm, green beans, cooked and refreshed in cold water, tomatoes, tinned tuna, black olives, anchovies (essential) and hard boiled eggs. I also added cucumber but this was a mistake: too watery. It may not have been authentic, but with crusty ciabatta to mop up the dressing, it made for a delicious Saturday lunch. And next time I make it, it might well be completely different.