Summer is finally in full swing (although currently as I sit here the rain is pelting against the kitchen skylight like a million nails dropped from a giant bucket by a wood pigeon with some kind of vendetta, so it doesn’t feel all that summery!) and now that the lockdown is being eased a little more we can thankfully spend time in the garden and open spaces with loved-ones. Eating alfresco has always seemed such a wonderfully Mediterranean conceit; the warm evenings, late dinner on a veranda beneath a scented fig tree whilst the sounds of the waves crash against the shore. A cool glass of rosè in one hand and a prosciutto and oregano scented crushed tomato bruschetta in the other. The British version of this use to involve a warm can of larger and a raw-on-the-inside but burnt-on-the-outside chicken drumstick whilst we dash inside from the rain but I feel we evolved slightly when it comes to eating outdoors.
One of things I think we still struggle with is an interesting array of salads. To me the salad is as much the main event as the meat, it can in fact be a meal in itself and so I thought I’d share one of my favourite salads. The tomato and beetroot bit take a little time to prep but to be honest it’s mostly oven time and quite frankly the pay-off is spectacular so I don’t really care.
- 1 pack of vine baby tomatoes – on the vine (I’ve used the wonderful mini plum vine tomatoes)
- 4 0r 5 raw beetroots – topped and tailed and quartered but leave the skin on
- balsamic vinegar
- olive oil
- oregano and rosemary (fresh if you can get it) plus salt and pepper
- 1 bunch of asparagus
- the same amount of green beans (or fine beans)
- a little butter
- 1 lemon – cut in half
- 1 packet of mozzarella
- 1 avocado – sliced into eighths lengthways
- 1 bag ion mixed salad leaves
pre-heat the oven to 160C
Place the tomatoes and beetroot quarters into an oven-proof dish. You can do this in one dish or two separate dishes. The beetroot does tend to flavour everything else so if you want the individual flavours of the tomato then I would use two dishes. Drizzle generously with olive oil and splash a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar over them. Season well with salt and pepper and the fresh herbs, then roast slowly for at least an hour. The dishes should be filled with wonderful liquid, particularly the tomato dish. Carefully pour the liquid into a jug, then set everything aside to cool whilst you make the rest of the salad.
Warm some butter gently in a pan, then place the cut lemons cut-side down into the pan. Add the asparagus and green beans and let them gently sauté for about 6 minutes. Shimmy them around the pan halfway through. The lemon should caramelise gloriously as they cook. After 6 minutes, once the veg are soft, carefully squeeze one of the lemons over the veg. Set aside to cool.
Build your salad any way you like. I like to start with a bag of mixed salad leaves (although we’ve been growing mixed salad in the garden so I’m using that.) Then layer on the tomatoes and beetroot, followed by the green beans and asparagus, then the avocado and torn pieces of mozzarella. I’ve also sprinkled with chive flowers as I have them in the garden.
Finally, squeeze the other lemon half into the cooled dressing from the roasted tomatoes, stir through and pour over the salad.
Eat and of course, enjoy!