Category Archives: Salad

Coco – the crème de la crème of beans

Last week the wonderful Charlie Hicks dropped off a calico bag of the most amazingly creamy beans that I’ve ever tasted. Now, I’ve been a fan of semi-dried, or what the Americans call “shelling beans” for years. These beans are left on the plant until fully matured and beginning to dry. Their season is from late summer into early autumn so we’re really at the close- snap ’em up if you can or you’ll have to wait until next year.

When I was in my twenties I cooked on a very glam’ Italian yacht and the guests used to go bonkers with excitement at the beginning of the borlotti harvest and soon I loved them too. Last summer we spent a couple of weeks in Calabria and despite the fact that there were dozens of wonderful little restaurants and beachside lidos serving up zippy, chilli-fueled dishes I just couldn’t resist cooking some of the stunning pink-speckled borlotti from the market. Shopping was the first job of the day before the searing August heat set in and bean-podding made a change from the children’s other holiday job of making fresh lemonade. Podding was safer too; we only discovered that the lemon tree (that we’d encouraged the kids to climb) hung precariously over an 80 ft drop, on the last day of the holiday. What a way to go, plucking a lemon for your Dad’s G&T.

My way with borlotti is an Italian classic. You fry up some diced pancetta (unsmoked bacon will do), onion, celery and carrot and once your “soffritto” is meltingly soft then throw in the beans. Give them a stir and cover with water, or stock, and add a few herbs (such as rosemary or thyme) to the pot. Simmer until the beans are tender and then season, toss in some fresh tomatoes and some tiny pasta shapes. Cook until the pasta is ready. Heaven. (You can find a more detailed recipe in my book PULSE)

But now to the white beans. In Calabria I found fagioli a burro (Italian butter beans – not related at all to what we know as butter beans) and they were indeed pretty buttery in texture. It was about 40°c and so I made a really simple salad- in fact it was so hot when we decided to prepare my beans that Imi and I had to sit in the paddling pool to keep cool whilst we podded. I’ve cooked cannellini from the pod too, as well as delicious Spanish pochas, but until last week I was a coco virgin.

Coco beans

I have to admit that the Breton coco bean, or Coco de Paimpol to be precise (it has it’s own appelation d’origine contrôlée), is not much to look at in its pod – no flashy pink, just a rather mottled violety-beige, but it pops from the pod, glistening white and shiny. If the borlotti deserves Italian fashion status with it’s Missoni-esque markings then the aptly named Coco surely should be hailed as the pure chic, French Chanel.

The texture of the cooked coco is exceptional, Charlie tells me that they have been referred to as beany ganache, well it’s no surprise. These are the most melt-in -the mouthy legumes that I’ve ever experienced and that’s coming from someone who has spent a couple of years researching a book on pulses.

So what to do with them? …I kept it very simple.

Cover the beans in water, throw in a couple sage leaves and chop up a few fresh tomatoes (I picked the last few of our homegrown) Simmer the beans until tender and then season with salt.

We ate some of our beans hot with plenty of extra virgin olive oil alongside our monthly treat of rump steak (from our meat box). The remainder were shared with Sasha the fruit fairy up the road, and eaten as salad with some finely diced shallot, parsley, extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar.

I’m waiting for the 2014 Paimpol coco season already. You may have to badger your green grocer to track some down but do, the coco is honestly the crème de la crème of beans.

Pretty in Pink – Candy Stripe Beetroot Salad


A truly Barbie-esque salad. Raw, paper-thin candy-stripe beetroot is ridiculously pretty . It reminds me of the sticks of rock we sucked at in the back of the car as children, on the way back from our annual Welsh holiday. It always seemed magical how the Abersoch lettering never disappeared and, having done a bit of research, it’s still pretty baffling how anyone dreamt up the unbelievably complicated business of inlaying a stick of sugar with the name of a beach resort.

I found my stripey beetroot in the local green grocer, Reg the Veg, you’ll often find it at farmer’s markets too. It’s sometimes known as Chioggia beetroot (yes, it comes from the same region of the Italian Veneto as another pink favourite of mine, radicchio). Sadly the stripes do disappear when you cook it, but I still love the peachy-pink colouring especially if you combine it in a dish with traditional and golden beetroot as well.

The raw salad is not my invention, there are plenty of variations on the web, but it is rather special so I thought I’d share it with you. I’d serve this as a side salad with cold chicken or ham or as a simple starter with a sprinkling of goat’s cheese and some delicious rye bread. You could slice some apples equatorially too. I may even invest in a mandolin.

DSC_8161Candy-Stripe Beetroot Salad  Serves 4

1/2 a small red onion, sliced very finely
2-3 tbsp white wine vinegar, I love moscatel vinegar
4 medium sized beetroot, washed very throughly but skin left on
2-3 tbsp cold pressed rapeseed oil
a few coriander leaves
salt and black pepper

Place the sliced onion in a small bowl and tip over the vinegar, this not only tempers the strong  flavour but also helps the onion look turn sugary pink too.

Now slice the beetroot as wafer thin as you can, a mandoline is the ideal tool but a very sharp knife and plenty of patience will do just fine.

Lay the beetroot slices out on a platter. Sprinkle over the onion and the vinegar. Drizzle over the rapeseed oil, toss on the coriander and season well.

Chickpea, Egg and Potato salad with Salsa Verde

It’s been so hot over the last few days that I’ve had to rig up a sunshade over the guinea-pig hutch and seem to spend my life watering the tomatoes. I usually become mildly panicked when it’s sunny, incase I miss any opportunity to be outside, but now I’m relaxing into the seemingly endless warmth. Lunch in the garden feels almost normal and I’m rediscovering lots of great salads.

Parsley may not be as punchy as coriander, mint or basil but I love its summery freshness and there’s nothing like a good bunch to spruce up my Calabrian cockerel. I do try to reign myself in and stick to white china, so much better for photography, but can’t resist a bit of gaudy kitsch when it comes along.

Calabrian Cockerel with Parsley

But back to the parsley. I abandoned the curly English stuff years ago, you have to chop it so finely (otherwise it’s like eating sawdust) that it becomes a faff. Childhood memories of the rather gloopy parsley sauce that always accompanied the home-cooked ham, and the ever present garnish on the pub plate, didn’t hold much promise either. It wasn’t until I experienced Mediterranean ways with parsley such as Middle Eastern tabbouleh, the Spanish picada  or Italian salsa verde that I was really smitten.

Salsa verde is loaded with fresh parsley, salty anchovies, feisty garlic, acidic lemon juice or vinegar, slightly bitter capers, pungent mustard and rich extra virgin olive oil. It’s the perfect balance of piquancy, leafiness and oily richness that breathes new life into simple ingredients such as my chickpea and potato salad. Salsa verde is traditionally eaten with bollito misto (boiled meats) but it’s good with roast lamb, salmon and with the crispy, parmesan-fried chicken that I’ll have to share with you at a later date.

Salsa Verde

A large handful of parsley, roughly chopped
2 ½  tablespoons of capers
6 anchovy fillets, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbs of red wine vinegar or 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
6-8 tbs of extra virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper

Throw all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until you have a rough pesto consistency. Now taste and balance with more salty anchovy, oil or acidity as necessary.

I sometimes play around with the herbs in the sauce by adding a little basil, mint, chives or rosemary but always keep the parsley as the main player. You can, of course, just leave out the anchovy for a veggie version and add a bit of extra salt.

Chicpea, potato and egg salad with Salsa VerdeChickpea, Egg and Potato Salad with Salsa Verde

The salsa verde’s punchy flavours really give this salad some punch. I adore the potato/chickpea combination. It’s worth splashing out on a good salad potato- the knobbly Pink Fir Apple, the nutty Anya and, of course, Jersey Royals when they’re around.
Serves 4 as a main, 6 as a side

350 g/ 12 oz small waxy potatoes
500 g/ 1lb 2 oz home cooked or 2 x 400 g /14 oz tins of chickpeas, drained
100 g tender, green salad such as lamb’s lettuce or spinach
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 eggs, hard boiled (7-8 minutes on a rolling boil will give you a just-set egg yolk)
1 x Salsa Verde recipe

Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender, drain and place in a large serving bowl with the chickpeas.
Add the salad leaves keeping about a dozen for garnish. Stir through the olive oil to coat.
Spoon over the Salsa Verde, allowing the potatoes and chickpeas to peep through in places.
Peel and quarter the eggs and lay over the top of the salad with the remaining leaves.


Pure and Simple Carrot Salad

At last a balmy evening. Sunshine at seven, bumble bees gathering on the geraniums, Imi collecting earwigs and just the moment for a bit of outdoor eating.

I feel like a goose being fattened up nicely for Christmas except that, rather depressingly, we’re at the other end of the year and just warming up for baring it all on a beach (well not the tummy – I judiciously dropped the bikini about 5 years ago). I’m having a fantastic time taking part in the judging for The Bristol Good Food Awards : tapas tasting, bacon-butty sampling and savoring more three course dinners than most of us would do in a year. I know you’re not feeling sorry for me, I’m not expecting you to, in fact I’m loving the whole experience –  just dreading the beached-whale holiday snaps.

So what to do? I suppose that the 5:2 diet might be an option but that takes some organisation and discipline, neither of which are my strong points. Instead I’m opting for some very simple salads between my belly-stretching banquets.

I was thrilled to find the huge bunch of carrots in my vegetable box, as were Winnie and Bud (the guineas) who love the ferny tops. I decided to take the “less is more” approach. Years ago, in the ritzy arcade next to Milan’s duomo, amongst the glitsy Pradas, Guccis, D&Gs and Puccis, I popped in to an old fashioned café for their menù del giorno. My starter, whisked in through velvet curtains by the white-aproned waiter, was quite simply a salad of grated carrot, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt. Simplicity itself, I shall never forget it.

Pure and Simple Carrot Salad (per person)
2 very tasty carrots , grated finely
1-2 tbsp of the very best extra virgin olive oil
lemon juice and salt to taste.

Throw it together, taste and balance. I added plenty of freshly ground black pepper too.
Not a recipe at all, just a reminder of how good simple food can be.

And by all means add:
Walnuts, raisins, toasted sesame, sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Herbs such as mint or chives and anything else that takes your fancy.

Falling for Freekeh

It might seem bonkers to be writing about a grain, a green wheat infact, that’s virtually impossible to track down (I bought mine from the fabulous Ottolenghi online store) but Freekeh, Freekah, Frikeeh, Farik, or however you like to spell it, is really worth tasting. You’ll find it in Middle Eastern shops and, if you’re lucky enough to live in Bristol, at the fabulous Sweetmart. It’s tipped to be the next big “superfood” so no doubt it will be on the healthfood shop and supermarket shelves very soon too.

There’s nothing new about Freekeh, it’s been prepared in the Middle East for thousands of years but now the Aussies are on the case as well, as its popularity soars. The green wheat is harvested before it’s ripe and mature and then roasted over wood fires to remove the chaff, leaving you with stunningly smoky and nutritious grains. You can buy it cracked or whole. I went for whole grains even though they take about 30-40 minutes to cook (cracked cooks in about half the time) as I wanted to keep a bit of chew in my salad.

Our friends, the Pearsons, were meant to be coming for lunch on Sunday, but with sun on the horizon at last and our very small (let’s say bijou rather than pokey) city garden we decided to take our food to their airier, roomier and infinitely tidier abode in Tetbury. I’m not jealous at all! So we rocked up with my tripod, camera and an entire basket of cooked ingredients still requiring assembly. It was all rather idyllic, sipping chilled summery rosé whilst the children set up a woodlouse theme park in the garden and the birds seemed to be on a mission to out-chirp each other up in the leafy boughs above the terrace. After just a few minutes and a bit of minor faffing, as I took a couple of photos, we had this (and I’ll say so myself) very good salad.

Chicken, Roasted Roots and Freekeh Salad (Serves 4 as a main)


It makes sense to cook extra vegetables whenever you’ re roasting a chicken or joint of meat. My carrots and beetroot took up a spare shelf in the oven whilst my chicken was on the go, so that the following day I had everything ready on hand for the salad.

200 g freekeh
a handful of green beans
1/2 red onion, finely diced
3 – 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
2 tsps Ras al hanout  (or a mix of cumin, coriander & a pinch of cinnamon)
About 1/2 of a small roasted chicken, ideally leftovers
5 or 6 small beetroot, roasted wrapped in foil for about 30 minutes or until tender
6 small carrots, peeled and roasted with a drizzle of oil for about 20 minutes
Plenty of fresh mint and parsley

Rinse the freekeh and then pour it into a saucepan with a pinch of salt, cover in just about double its volume of water and bring it up to the boil. Give the grains a quick stir once boiling and then put on the lid and simmer for about 30-40 minutes until cooked but still slightly chewy. You may need to add a little water to the pan as you go but ideally the grains will have absorbed the water and there will be no need to drain them.

If you are using green beans, as I did, you can place a steamer on top of the freekeh and cook the beans for a few minutes on top of the pan. Refresh the beans in cool water as soon as they are tender.

Add red onion, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and the Ras al hanout whilst the freekeh is still warm so that the flavours can mingle and develop.

Once ready to serve, shred your chicken and arrange the carrots (cut in half lengthwise), the beetroot (no need to peel as long as you washed it well), the green beans and herbs over the grains. Play around with the seasoning and then I can’t help but splash a bit of extra virgin olive oil on top.

Chargrilled Courgette, Butternut and Feta salad with Freekeh
(Serves 4 as a light main)


I’ve fallen back in love with the garden since Imi and I did some feverish weeding and planting yesterday. A six-year-old’s excitement and enthusiasm is just so fantastically infectious although she does seem slightly more excited about our very healthy snail population than the seedlings. Anyhow I fancied a light lunch outside and had plenty of left over freekeh (I’d definitely always cook up a double batch) in the fridge. I had a couple of courgettes and a small butternut squash from my veg box just shrieking to be eaten and so this salad was born. I devoured it as a veggie lunch but a lamb kebab straight from the barbie would turn this into a feast.

200g freekeh (cook as above) or a few spoonfuls of leftover grain from the fridge.
1/2 red onion, finely diced
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
200 g butternut squash, peeled and finely sliced
2-3 courgettes, sliced finely lengthwise
1 small hot red chilli pepper, finely diced
1/2 tsp cinnamon ( or to taste)
a good handful of mint leaves
150g feta cheese

Mix up the cooked freekeh with the onion, oil, vinegar and seasoning.

Toss the squash and courgette slice with a dash of oil, literally a dash or you’ll smoke out the kitchen. Get a ridged griddle pan really hot and sear the vegetables on both sides until nicely charred with stripes. Don’t overcook, it’s good to leave a bit of bite.

Now stir most of the vegetables along with the chilli, cinnamon and mint into the freekeh. Arrange the remaining vegetables on top and crumble over the feta.

& what to do with the rest of the packet…..

Substitute freekeh for bulghur wheat in Tabbouleh or any other Middle Eastern or Turkish style salads.
Use as a stuffing for peppers, tomatoes or even a chicken with dried fruits, nuts and seeds.

Rhubarb, Rhubarb


I can’t help muttering “rhubarb, rhubarb” every time I decide to cook some. It’s rather like shrieking “Basoool” in a Sybil Fawlty-esque voice whenever I make some pesto. It’s really not funny but there are certain bits of ridiculous British humour that have become lodged in my brain for life. I’ve not seen the Eric Sykes film Rhubarb, Rhubarb for decades. I’m not even sure that a farcical game of golf between a policeman and a vicar (whose only words “rhubarb, rhubarb” are repeated many, many times) would be that amusing any more, but now I’m determined to track the film down just to see.

I’m especially in love with rhubarb at this time of year when the stalks are still slender, tender and lurid pink. I loathed it as a child. It was the school pudding that did it;  slimy mush topped with undercooked pastry, all floating in a pool of lumpy Bird’s custard. Now I just can’t get enough of the stuff whether it’s the stunning Barbie-pink forced stems or the more sturdy garden varieties.

So, I had my big bunch of rhubarb and had already decided that the finer pieces would end up on top of a gingery meringue whilst I made a zippy sauce with the stumpier pieces to go with some wonderful fresh mackerel. Disaster, no mackerel. We’re not the only ones who are throughly peed off with the shockingly cold spring. The freezing easterly winds have sent the mackerel in the English Channel packing, seeking refuge in deeper waters, and only some milder westerly weather will bring them back. Thankfully David Smith, my fantastic fishmonger, does stock some delicious smoked mackerel from the local Severn and Wye Smokery too.

I changed tack and decided to try a dish using raw rhubarb. A Dutch friend had told me that he used to munch at the stems dipped in sugar when he was little. I tried it today. Not bad but rather like the super-sour sweets that children pretend to relish. I’m sure that they’re the junior equivalent of the posturing male’s Vindaloo curry, managing to look like you enjoy them brings some bizarre form of kudos amongst peers. I was more up for trying the traditional Iranian salad of salted rhubarb and cucumber that I’d found in Paula Wolfert’s brilliant book The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. The tart, fresh crunch was a great combination with the rich oily fish. I swapped watercress for the rocket, did add a pinch of sugar, a splash of rapeseed oil and of course the smoked mackerel.

rhubarb and mackerel salad

Smoked Mackerel and Raw Rhubarb Salad

Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a light lunch

2-3 stalks of rhubarb
1 small or 1/2 a large cucumber
2 tbsp salt
1 large bunch of watercress
2 fillets of smoked mackerel, skin removed
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
Black pepper and a pinch of sugar

Slice the rhubarb and the cucumber as thinly as possible (mandolin or knife, that’s your choice). I’d only bother to peel the cucumber if I was using one of the delicious, but tougher skinned, continental varieties & maybe thicker garden rhubarb would be best peeled too.

Put the rhubarb and cucumber in a colander and toss with the salt. Leave for 10 minutes and then rinse and drain it.

Now throw the salad together in a bowl, shredding the mackerel flesh in with the rhubarb, cucumber and watercress. Add the mint, lemon juice, rapeseed oil and pepper. Balance up the flavours with a pinch of sugar or salt, or maybe both.

Delicious with some sourdough bread and plenty of butter.

rhubarb and ginger pavlova


Mini Rhubarb and Ginger Pavlovas

The rather decadent mini pavlovas went ahead as planned. The classic combination of rhubarb and ginger is heaven. I really did pile the dried ginger into the meringue mixture, as well as serving some little chunks of the fiery crystalised stuff on the top. The pinky, pink rhubarb really looks beautiful. Save fools and crumbles for later in the season when it’s lost its good looks but still tastes great.

Serves 4 (with 4-6 left over meringues for another day – keep in a sealed bag/box/tin)

4 medium egg whites
225 g caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp cornflour

For the top
3-4 sticks of rhubarb, cut into 5cm-ish pieces
150 ml double cream, whipped until just stiff
8 pieces of crystalized ginger, sliced

Pre heat the oven to 180c. And line 2 baking sheets with baking paper.

Take an oven proof dish and place the rhubarb in 1 layer, sprinkle over the sugar and then cover with foil. Cook in the oven for anything between about 8 and 15 minutes until just tender (timings will depend on the thickness of the stalks). Watch it like a hawk as it can turn into a rather messy looking mush if you leave it just a couple of minutes too long. Set aside to cool.

Now for the meringue. Whisk up the egg whites until stiff and then whisk in the sugar a few tablespoons at a time until the meringue is really firm and glossy. Add the ginger, vanilla, vinegar and cornflour and whisk those in too.

Use a small blob of the meringue underneath the paper to stick it to the tray. Divide the meringue into 8 or 10 circles, leaving some space in between them as they will expand a little. Flatten the meringues, making a bit of a dip in the centre.

Place the trays in the oven and turn the heat down to 120 c. Bake for about an hour until crisp and golden.  Cool.

Serve the pavlovas piled with double cream, the fabulously pink rhubarb and a few pieces of chewy ginger.

Other Ways with Rhubarb

You’ll have to hold out for the rhubarb sauce (the one for the fresh mackerel) as my friend Kate   has promised me some stems from her garden this week so I’ll post about that recipe if the Mackerel have been lured back by the warmer weekend (although it was hardly balmy).

Rhubarb coulis. Cook up thicker rhubarb in a saucepan with a couple of oranges (juice and zest) and good dose of sugar. Once tender, puree with hand held blender until smooth. Try adding a few strawberries or better still raspberries for extra flavour and colour later in the season. Fabulous with vanilla ice cream and you crumble over some Ginger Nut biscuits for a bit of crunch.

And of course there’s fool, there’s crumble, there’s pie. There’s another post waiting to happen.