Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Lighter food for lighter, brighter days

Fresh and light and satisfying
With the improving weather – thank goodness we’re actually having a spring this year! – comes the desire to eat differently; lighter.

And it’s also the perfect time to try a few new things.

There have even been days, with real sun streaming down, when it was the perfect opportunity to pull out the salad spinner and rinse off some organic lettuce and winter purslane, and serve a huge plate of both, drizzled with virgin oil and a thinner balsamico, and topped with cheese.

Blue cheese suits such a dish perfectly, but in La Bouche earlier recently, I’d tried one that was new to me.

Beenliegh is an unpressed, soft blue from Devon, made from organic, unpasturised ewe’s milk. It’s creamy and moist, and beautifully fresh and subtle.

Get the right ingredients sourced and food doesn’t have to be complex to be very good.

A number of evenings recently have seen a dinner that was, if not a direct recreation, then was certainly inspired by a Jamie Oliver salmon dish that I’ve recently discovered.

He takes halved waxy potatoes and quartered fennel bulbs and boils them for six minutes, before draining and drying over the steam.

Salmon with fennel, sweet potato and herbs
Then they go in an oven-proof dish with olive oil, parsley, mint and garlic for something like half an hour, before the salmon – with more of the herby-garlicky mix on it – is placed on top and it goes back in the oven for a further 15 minutes.

It’s a lovely, easy dish, but I think a couple of tweaks help.

Set your oven to 180˚C (fan) and prep the fennel as above, not cutting off the base so that the pieces hold together. Retain the fronds.

Finely chop your mint, flat leaf parsley and garlic, and mix with plenty of olive oil.

Jamie’s version sprinkles the herbs and garlic over everything and then tops with oil, but I think that my way does two things: allows you to coat the ingredients more thoroughly and also reduces the chances of the garlic getting a tad burned.

So, pop in your fennel pieces and mix, and then add some sweet potato that has been peeled and cut into large chunks, instead of potato.

Gently stir around to coat everything. Season with good quality celery salt (my addition) and pop in the oven.

Lovely wild garlic
After 30 minutes, place your salmon fillets on top of the vegetables, scooping some of the oily, herby, garlicky mix on to the top.

And back it all goes for another 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.

Serve with a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice and some black pepper, and topped with the chopped fennel fronds.

The advantage of swapping the potato for sweet potato is that the latter is a vegetable rather than a starchy carb, so it makes the dish a two-portion one rather than having just a single portion.

Mind, if you use lashing of garlic and herbs, those add up too.

Anyway, it’s easy. And tasty – and healthy.

A couple of stalls on Broadway Market also had wild garlic last week, so I grabbed a good handful of that while the opportunity was there.

The English asparagus is here
Later, the leaves were shredded and blitzed together with some spring onions, chives, garlic, pine nuts, a little salt and a teaspoon of sugar, with enough olive oil to give you a good pesto consistency.

You could add parmesan, but I don’t, since The Other Half doesn’t like cheese.

And an ideal way to use some of this lovely stuff – which keeps well in the fridge in a jar – is to cook some pasta, drain and return to the pan, adding some of the pesto with a little double cream and re-warming gently.

You wont need to use a lot of the pesto – it packs a serious punch.

Serve with fresh asparagus and peas and plenty of freshly-ground black pepper, and if you want, more parmesan.

A perfect, fresh and seasonal dish for a midweek supper.

And on a final note – and a slightly different one: this is worth reading about the cost of asparagus from Peru.

Ignore the slightly puritanical tone of  lust for this luxury vegetable etc, but the point remains that there are severe environmental issues created by a global market for a cheap, seasonal vegetable, sent half way around the world to fill – or create – consumer demand outside our own season.

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