Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Cook – there's a caterpillar in my salad!

Chicken salad with orange and tarragon
This weather is glorious and, after a poor summer last year and a lengthy, demoralising winter that pretty much consumed the spring, nobody should be grumbling.

But, unaccustomed as we are to such soaring temperatures, it can make eating a little more difficult. After all, this is hardly meat-and-two-veg weather.

In which case, it seems the perfect opportunity to look toward the Mediterranean – not simply for holidays to come, but for culinary ideas for the here and now.

Wondering what to start the day with on Sunday, having seen The Other Half off to sunny Castleford for the Rugby League, I came up with a bit of an experiment: feta and strawberries. And it works.

It doesn’t need anything with it – the saltiness of the cheese gives seasoning. The textures are a nice contrast and the sweetness of good strawberries is always a joy.

What I’ve mentioned in the last week about vegetables and simplicity could hardly have been more timely.

For lunch on Sunday, some fine beans and late-season English asparagus, served with a piece of smoked mackerel and gooseberry terrine (Waitrose), and a drizzle of thick Balsamico – I opted for this over virgin oil, as it cuts through the natural sweetness of most of the other ingredients.

Dinner was back to Bruno Loubet terrain and his new book.

This time, a chance to try the grilled mackerel with salted, pressed watermelon and a lime mayonnaise.

I probably over-salted the watermelon, but the dish as a whole was light and fresh – perfect for this weather.

Mind, nothing in this weather, can lay a hand to a fresh gazpacho. There must be plenty of variations – every cook will have their own tweak – but the result is refreshing, nutritious, tasty and, well, simply perfect.

I was introduced to it one summer some years ago, when I was whinging about not knowing what to eat, by m’friend George, whose wife is Spanish. So it’s the real McCoy.

He wouldn’t give people the recipe unless decent tomatoes were available. In those days, I wondered why. Now, I have no doubts. It is a dish that needs good incidents – and a dish that is designed for exactly when they will be available.

It is, in other words, an icon of seasonal eating.

Smoked mackerel terrine and seasonal vegetables
You need properly ripe tomatoes – even better if you are growing your own and can pick them just as you need them. But otherwise, stick some on a plate and under the sun for a short while. That’ll help.

Take six or seven really ripe ones and blitz them. Follow that with a small cucumber – preferably one of those with a rough skin, which you peel first. This is also where using organic, if you can get it, is worth it too.

Next into the blender goes a handful of breadcrumbs.

Then a small onion – or as yesterday, a large shallot – followed by a clove of garlic (or two).

After that, it’s four tablespoons of wine vinegar. Actually, when making this yesterday, I realised that at the back of my great vinegar collection, I had a small bottle of raspberry champagne vinegar, with just about exactly the right amount left, so I used that.

Next, in goes a cup of olive oil and then salt to taste.

Chill. To serve, dilute to taste with either iced water or ice cubes.

And so thanks again to George for Gazpacho Doña Luisa.

It says everything about last summer that I never reached a point of wanting gazpacho: in the last few days, it’s been one of the things that was automatically on my mind.

I’d love to be able to make it in Collioure next month, given the divine tomatoes I can get there, but I don’t know whether there’ll be a blitzing facility. Fingers crossed.

What there will be, however, is a pan and a knife – and that’s all I’ll need for a ratatouille to make the most of local produce that I can find at the village market.

But back to the here and now.

On Sunday, I also roasted a chicken – my preferred River Café method; three and a half hours.

Set the oven to 80˚C (fan).

Stuff your bird – I can’t recall what the book says, as I just use what’s available. In this case, one and a half lemons and half a dozen cloves of garlic, crushed.

Pop the bird the usual way up in the tightest-fitting dish you’ve got. Pour in around 100ml of water and give it an hour. Then turn it over and give it another hour. Then turn it back to how it started – and give it a third hour.

There a caterpillar in here somewhere
Take it out and ratchet the heat up to 170˚C (fan). Message butter into the bird and season. At this point, you can add 200ml of vermouth, but it’s not essential. More water will do. And so give it a final half hour’s cooking.

The flesh will be tender and moist, and the skin will be crisp and brown.

It’s not really roast dinner weather, though, so the bird was then allowed to cool.

Yesterday’s first task was to strip the meat off it and make stock – easy enough, but rather hot for the weather!

The bulk of the stock has gone into the freezer, but a small jar was then further reduced, with the addition of the juice of half an orange and some tarragon leaves.

Strain and allow to cool, and then add some white wine vinegar, some olive oil and seasoning to taste.

Serve as a dressing over cold chicken, on a bed of leaves and garnished (if you feel so inclined) with an odd slice or segment of orange, and some fresh tarragon leaves.

The leaves on my plate were a combination of watercress and young lettuce leaves – the latter, the first crop from the potager.

Lesson one, though: rinse thoroughly before putting them in the salad spinner. That way, you’ll be able to rinse off any insect life that is too large to fall through the basket when you’re spinning it.

Mind, that small green caterpillar must have been dizzy.

The lettuce was a delight and the chicken was spot on.

Light dining that’s just perfect for these wonderful, hot days.

No comments:

Post a Comment