I have been thinking a lot about my forthcoming holiday lately and thinking I should probably go on a bit of a health kick in advance of the excesses that will no doubt ensue when I am surrounded by the culinary delights that Provence has to offer. In theory it should be easier to eat healthily during the summer months, but in practice I find this is rarely true.
But there is no doubt that the availability of fresh produce and the warmer temperatures make a good environment for some lighter meals, so I wanted to focus on a healthy theme for this blog. I had the perfect excuse to get creative with salads over the weekend as I was invited to a BBQ hosted by one of our neighbours for the residents of ‘our road’. We have these neighbourly events fairly regularly and it is great to get to know some of our neighbours a bit better. Some people (yes, I mean you Jim) will maintain that BBQs are all about the meat, but I would have to disagree. The meat for me is merely an excuse, a foil if you will, for the vast array of salads which I feel should be present at this sort of al-fresco dining event.
There always has to be a green salad of mixed leaves; this is the staple salad of any BBQ spread. My top tip for lettuce is to always serve it dry, if it is wet then the dressing will never cling to the leaves. If you don’t have a salad spinner to dry your lettuce after washing, I would recommend investing in one. I always make a tomato salad separately because I love the juicy sweetness of tomatoes in the height of their season and they don’t always stand up well when mixed with other crunchy vegetables. My salad is adapted from a Ree Drummond recipe (my favourite cowgirl cook) in which the tomatoes are marinated for an hour or two at room temperature with very finely sliced spring onions and lots of fresh basil and/or parsley in a dressing made from extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, light brown sugar and seasoning.
This is an amazing combination and the dressing is particularly good for being mopped up with crusty white bread at the end of the meal. My top tip for tomatoes is never to store them in the fridge. They taste so much better at room temperature; their natural sweetness will come through much more. Try mixing up the types of tomatoes in your salad; different colours and sizes or even heritage tomatoes if you can find them, make the visual impact much greater and the flavours better too.
Another beautiful salad is one that my Canadian friend Christine makes. She tells me it is originally a recipe by Rick Stein from one of his European odysseys, but I’ve always considered it to be hers! This salad combines canteloupe melon, cucumber, tomato, crumbly goats cheese and fresh mint leaves and is finished with a dressing made from olive oil, red wine vinegar, caster sugar and salt and pepper. The combination of sweet melon and salty goats cheese, seasoned with lots of freshly ground black pepper is a complete revelation and delicious on its own for a light lunch.
And the third salad I made uses one of my favourite summer ingredients, peaches. For me peaches and nectarines, which work equally well in this salad, are the taste of summer. They remind me of European holidays as a child, where I was amazed by the intense flavour and juiciness of these stone fruits when eaten in Greece or Spain on a hot sunny day. Although the flavours of peaches bought in this country is not always so good, in this recipe they are grilled and peeled which increases the intensity of the flavour. Mixed with rocket, feta cheese and crispy prosciutto or Parma ham in a balsamic vinaigrette this was the biggest hit with my neighbours on the day!
So here are the recipes – I hope you enjoy making them too.
Marinated tomato salad
6-8 ripe tomatoes, sliced
4 spring onions
150ml extra virgin olive oil
60ml balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
handful fresh chopped basil and/or parsley, finely chopped
- Cut the tomatoes and arrange in a shallow bowl. Slice the spring onions very finely and scatter on top.
- In a screw top jar, add all the dressing ingredients and shake together until well combined.
- Pour the dressing over the tomatoes and leave to marinate for 1-2 hours at room temperature before enjoying.
Melon & goat’s cheese salad
1/2 canteloupe melon
1/2 cucumber, peeled and sliced
2 vine tomatoes, de-seeded and sliced into wedges
150g crumbly goat’s cheese
12-14 mint leaves, roughly torn
60ml virgin olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp caster sugar
salt & pepper
- Slice the melon, cucumber and tomatoes and arrange on a serving platter.
- Crumble the goat’s cheese on top then scatter over the torn mint leaves.
- Whisk together the dressing ingredients until well combined then drizzle all over the salad.
- Season with some more freshly ground black pepper then enjoy.
Rocket, peach and feta salad
200g feta cheese, cut into cubes
6 slices prosciutto / Parma ham
100g rocket leaves
4 peaches or nectarines
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper
- Whisk together the dressing ingredients and season well with salt & pepper.
- Grill the prosciutto under a hot grill until crisp and remove to a plate to cool.
- Cut the peaches into quarters and remove the stones, then place under the hot grill, skin-side up for 3-4 minutes until the skins blacken.
- Take the peaches out and remove the skins with a paring knife. They should come off very easily.
- In a serving bowl, place the rocket leaves and toss with half of the dressing.
- Arrange the peach slices, scatter over the feta cheese and then chop the crispy ham into thin slices and scatter over the top.
- Drizzle with the remaining dressing and serve.