Tomato and Sorrel Salad
The bounty of summer is here. On my daily walks around the network of cycle paths near my house, there is a glut of various edible delights. Nettles and elderflowers are particularly abundant at the moment, and there are heaps of bramble bushes that are flowering. I can’t wait until they start bearing fruit in a couple of months time. Last week I went a little further afield to a favourite local wood where I reliably find girolle mushrooms every year. I was a bit too optimistic, as there were not yet any girolles to be found, but I did find sorrel, both the woodland and common variety. Sorrel has a delicate citrus flavour, and is typically served with fish. In the restaurant I used to work in, we only ever used wood sorrel, its tiny and pretty clover-shaped leaves being perfect as a finishing touch for many different dishes. Common sorrel is, although not as pretty to look at, just as nice and citrusy and the leaves can grow to be much larger than its woodland relative. This makes it a better candidate for being a main player in a dish rather than just a passive decoration. The lemony-ness of sorrel goes quite well with tomatoes, to make an excellent summer salad.
This is the easiest recipe ever. I randomly cut the tomatoes, seasoned with sea salt, then made a really simple herb dressing with the sorrel and some oil (using neutral-flavoured sunflower oil instead of olive oil so as not to overpower the delicate flavour of the sorrel), and drizzled it over the tomatoes, finishing with some whole sorrel (both varieties) as decoration.
- 2 large handfuls ripe tomatoes, mixed varieties
- 2 handfuls common sorrel, washed
- 1 small handful wood sorrel, washed
- 1 tablespoon sunflower oil, or vegetable oil
- sea salt
- extra virgin olive oil
Randomly cut the tomatoes and season them with sea salt. Place on the plates while you work on the dressing.
Set a few small spears of common sorrel aside for garnish, then roughly chop the rest and place in a food processor (or pestle and mortar) with a pinch of sea salt and the sunflower oil. Blend (or smash) until you have a smooth paste. Loosen slighty with a splash of water, then drizzle over the tomatoes. Garnish with the leaves of the wood sorrel and the reserved leaves of common sorrel. Finish with a few drops of olive oil.
Cured Salmon and Jersey Royals
Everyone knows that fish is best enjoyed as fresh as possible, so if you’ve bought some fresh fish on your weekly shopping trip, you ought to eat it within the first two days, ideally. There’s another solution though, which may not seem obvious. You can easily salt the fish to cure it, which extends its shelf life considerably. As a bonus, it also improves the texture and flavour. In my opinion, salting fish is a no-brainer. An old chef friend of mine, Hearty, is also a firm advocate of salting fish before cooking it. Often, he’s not salting it for as much as a day or more to properly “cure” it, but completely covering it in salt for just 20 or 30 minutes, which has the effect of firming up the fish and makes the skin extra crisp when fried in a hot pan. Curing it for longer, though, will preserve the fish for longer and allow you to continue enjoying it for several days.
Here I have made a herb-cured salmon, sort of a simple version of Swedish gravlax. The recipe combines the salmon with a wonderful combination of Jersey Royal potatoes (for me, one of the seasonal highlights of the year), basil and lemon. It’s a lovely light summer meal. The curing takes between 48 and 72 hours, and will then store in the fridge happily for up to a week. This process works better with large pieces of fish rather than small fillets, so you will end up with more than you need for the dish. You can keep the extra in the fridge for another meal, or freeze it.
- 700 g salmon, in one large piece
- 50 g sea salt
- 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
- 10 juniper berries, crushed
- 1 large handful dill
- 1 large handful coriander
- 1 large handful parsley
- 250 g Jersey Royal potatoes
- 1 large handful baby spinach
- 2 handful fresh basil leaves
- 0.5 lemon
- 2 spoonfuls creme fraiche
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- good quality extra virgin olive oil
Cut the salmon in half across the fillet to create two square-ish pieces. Place the salt, cracked black pepper, juniper berries, dill, coriander and parsley into a blender and blend to a paste. Spread the over the flesh of both pieces of salmon, making sure it is all covered. Spread a little onto the skin side, too. Place the pieces of salmon together with the flesh sides touching, then tightly wrap in cling film. Place in a tray, and put a heavy weight on top. Refrigerate for between 48 and 72 hours, depending on how cured you want it. The longer you leave it, the saltier (and more flavoursome) it will be. Turn the salmon over every 24 hours.
When the salmon is ready, remove the cling film and rinse off the cure mix briefly with cold water. Don’t rinse it too much as you will lose some flavour. Dry with kitchen paper, then cut off enough for the dish, about 80g per person. Cut into approx. 1cm chunks, then set aside.
Place the potatoes in a pan and cover with cold water. Add a generous pinch of salt, then bring to the boil. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
Saute the spinach, season lightly with salt. Squeeze out any excess liquid from the spinach, then place in a mixing bowl. Cut some 5mm slices (1 slice per serving) from the lemon, cut into dice and add to the bowl. Add the basil, the diced salmon and a generous glug of olive oil, then mix together whilst still warm. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Serve in wide bowls with a dollop of creme fraiche alongside. Finally, garnish with some basil leaves and small segments of lemon.
A series of recipes for this lockdown would not be complete without including sourdough. It seems like the entire country is making bread at the moment, but it’s not due to lack of it on the supermarket shelves, I think it is due to boredom more than anything else. We are spending more time confined indoors than ever before, and baking is an excellent way to occupy one’s self. It’s pretty satisfying, too, to be able to create something as beautiful and delicious as a loaf of sourdough bread.
My sourdough journey started after a visit to my aunt, who makes award-winning bread. Using a sample of her starter as a basis, after a few attempts I achieved reasonable successes. The bread was not quite like the glorious loaves you can buy in artisan bakeries, but it was OK. After three years of making mediocre bread, through numerous experiments and variations on the original recipe, I had a bastardised version of my aunt’s recipe that I was becoming more and more dissatisfied with. I was determined to improve the quality of my loaf, so I decided to broaden my horizons and do some research. I bought the book Super Sourdough, by James Morton; a former Great British Bake Off winner. It was highly acclaimed.
This book has literally revolutionised my breadmaking. I began again from scratch, starting with throwing my existing sourdough starter in the bin (one of the points James makes in the book is that he doesn’t understand the strange obsession people have with their sourdough starters, being proud to have used the same one for years on end. There is no reason for this, they are very easy to create from scratch, and he has had dozens of them, experimenting with different flours and different fruit juices). That was 6 months ago, and now my bread is almost indistinguishable from the professional artisan variety that you can buy in your local neighbourhood bakery. I couldn’t be happier.
I’ve deliberately omitted any recipe from this blog post. I could, arguably, put James Morton’s recipe here, with the minor modifications I’ve made for it (I make the dough a bit wetter, and add linseed), but it wouldn’t be feasible for me to write down instructions for creating this bread in the format of a blog post. I would need to copy out most of the book (the recipe I’ve been using, for the standard rye-wheat sourdough loaf, is 33 pages long). Even with a 33-page immensely detailed recipe, it took me 6 months to get even close to a point of mastery. The reality is, there are so many contributing factors to sourdough bread that it’s almost impossible to prescribe a method that is guaranteed to work every time. The book teaches you the fundamental principles and then guides you through the processes of autolysing, folding-and-stretching, proving, pre-shaping, shaping, scoring and, finally baking in a hot oven. It will likely take many attempts before you reach anywhere near perfection; in fact you will probably never get there, but I guarantee it’ll be a thoroughly enjoyable journey! I’m not being paid by James Morton for this blog post, but genuinely, if you want to make good quality sourdough bread at home, buy the book.
Lockdown Pasta: Spinach Puttanesca
While this lockdown is still in place I’m working on the theme of tinned fish. Previously, I pointed out how well mackerel works as a preserved, tinned product. Part of the reason for this is that it’s a particularly oily fish and it doesn’t tend to be dry when cooked. It’s also one of the most abundant fish in the ocean – especially around the british isles – so it’s sustainable. Another fish which ticks these boxes is the anchovy. Anchovies are one of the most abundant fish in the entire world. For sustainability points, they are hard to beat. They are also, of course, really really tasty.
This recipe combines two things I’ve always been very fond of: 1) pasta, and 2) bold, powerful flavours. Pasta puttanesca combines these in glorious fashion, so it’s no surprise that it makes it to my list of all time favourite pasta dishes.
Technically, this recipe isn’t really a true puttanesca (check out my previous post for a more traditional recipe). This is a bastardized version of sorts, where tomatoes have been switched for spinach. So we have a combination of spinach, anchovies and garlic, which is nothing new; these ingredients would be excellent partners to a roast leg of lamb, for example. The addition of two different types of chilli flakes, including smoky chipotle, makes for a really powerful flavour combination.
- 180g pasta, preferably rigatoni
- 2 handfuls spinach
- 1 tsp capers, chopped
- 4 fillets anchovies
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 tsp arbol chilli flakes
- 1/2 tsp chipotle chilli flakes
- 2 tsp butter
- parmesan cheese, to serve
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Get a large pot of water boiling for the pasta. Season the water, then add the pasta, removing it when about 1 minute from being cooked. Remember to reserve the cooking water as you will need it for making the sauce.
Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic along with a pinch of salt. Stir once, and cook for 20 seconds before adding the chilli flakes. Turn the heat to low and simmer gently for 2 minutes. Add the spinach, and stir-and-fry until wilted.
When the pasta is drained, add it to the pan with the spinach along with a ladleful of the starchy cooking liquid. Add the capers, anchovies and butter at this point, along with a generous pinch of cracked black pepper. Mix everything together vigorously for a couple of minutes: the pasta will finish cooking and some of its starch will be released into the water to thicken it. Add more of the cooking water if it’s getting too thick.
Serve in bowls immediately, with grated parmesan on top.