Ultimate summertime salad

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The weather is starting to hot up and thoughts start turning to lighter meals to enjoy al fresco (well, hopefully if this lasts!). If a Greek salad and Italian panzanella had a lovechild then this salad would be the result. It packs a punch and combines savoury, crunchy and satisfying ingredients to create a healthy but filling salad. To be honest this is a great meal to use up whatever salad vegetables may be lurking in the fridge as you can’t really go wrong. This salad is ideal to take on a picnic as you can make the main elements and then assemble it at the last minute to avoid soggy bread disasters or make a big bowl of it to serve at a BBQ to eat with grilled meats or fish.

Ingredients- serves 3-4
150g sourdough bread- cut into bite sized cubed
1 red onion- finely sliced
350g assorted vine tomatoes
Half a cucumber- deseeded and sliced
200g feta
1 tbsp oregano
100g pitted mixed olives
2 tbsp.red wine vinegar
4 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Freshly chopped parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 150c/ 130 fan. Place the chunks of bread on a baking tray so they are arranged in a single layer. Drizzle with a little olive oil and bake until slightly golden and crisp around the edges. Remove and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the tomatoes. Cut them into a combination of halves and quarters and place in a bowl. Add the sliced onion along with 2 tbsp of red wine vinegar and 3 tbsp olive oil. Season well and  set aside to infuse.

3. In another bowl, combine the cucumber, feta, olives and oregano along with a good crack of black pepper and another tablespoon of oil.

4. Choose a suitable bowl in which to serve the salad and add half of the bread into it before adding the tomato mixture, cucumber mixture and tossing well. Add the remaining bread. Serve with an additional sprinkling of parsley and allow to stand for a few minutes before serving so the brad can soak up the juices from the tomatoes.

Ultimate summertime salad- I promise you you’ll be making this time and time again!

 

 

Tray bake ‘fry up’

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The term ‘fry up’ conjures all sorts of images of greasy spoon cafes offering calorie laden breakfasts with tea so strong that you can stand a spoon upright in it but this is a completely different take on this. Rather than a meat heavy breakfast this makes the best of two of my favourite things which are both in season in the UK at the moment- Jersey Royal potatoes and asparagus. Each year I eat the best part of a family’s asparagus quota to myself and I hope this year will be no exception. My tray bake ‘fry up’ is much lighter and healthier than the usual fry up but it is perfect not only as a breakfast but also as a brunch or even a midweek dinner. It’s speedy but also is low on washing up which is always a bonus in my mind!

Ingredients- serves 2-3
Glug of vegetable oil
Jersey Royals- as many as you want depending on hunger!
1 red or white onion
1-2 garlic cloves
4-6 rashers of streaky bacon
Bag of baby spinach
200g asparagus spears
Cherry tomatoes on the vine
4-6 Portobellini or Portobello mushrooms
1 tsp chilli flakes
2-3 eggs

1. Start by preheating the oven to 200c/ 180fan and bringing a medium pan of water to the boil. Take the tray that you will be making the majority of the meal in, add a splash of oil and heat on the hob over a medium heat. Meanwhile simmer the potatoes until just tender; drain well. Take a separate tray, add another small glug of oil and toss the potatoes in it. Season with salt and pepper and roast until golden whilst you crack on with the rest.

2. When the oil is warm, add the onions and garlic and fry until softening. Shred the spinach and add to the tray; stir until combined with the onion and garlic and continue to cook over a lower heat until wilted. Remove from the hob whilst you assemble the rest.

3. When the potatoes are golden, use a slotted spoon to remove from the tray and use the back of a fork to lightly crush them. Add the asparagus, tomatoes, mushrooms and potatoes to the pan. Sprinkle with chilli flakes and season well. Brush the vegetables with a light coating of oil so they don’t catch in the oven and bake until just tender. Make a couple of hollows in between the vegetables and crack an egg into each; return the tray to the oven and cook until the eggs are set.

4. While that is in the oven, fry the streaky bacon in a dry pan or even wipe out the tray that you used to roast the potatoes and use this on the hob to minimise washing up further! Streaky bacon has a high fat content so you won’t need any extra oil. Fry until golden and remove from the pan. Towards the very end of cooking you have a bacon related decision to make… You can either serve the bacon on the top of the tray bake in whole rashers or you can do as I did and crumble a couple over the top whilst keeping a couple whole so it’s up to you. Serve immediately.

Tray bake ‘fry up’- just as delicious but minus the calories!

 

Gnocchi with red pepper, tomato and asiago cheese

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Asiago is an Italian cheese that I have recently been using in everything from pasta to salads. It is a sheep’s milk cheese which reminds me of feta in texture and taste. When trying to rustle up a quick dinner the other night I stumbled across some tomatoes and peppers that were nearly seeing better days and, with a few added extras, this gnocchi dish took shape.

I have added another couple of my favourite ingredients here to really lift the flavours- anchovy and capers. The capers add a zip and zing whilst the anchovy dials up the savouriness of the sauce to eleven so do try them! I have kept the tomato sauce purposefully light for this time of year however a similar sauce could be made using tinned tomatoes if you prefer. You could also try baking the gnocchi in the sauce in the oven with a liberal extra sprinkling of the asiago to finish.

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Ingredients- serves 2
400g gnocchi
Olive oil
2 garlic cloves- chopped or crushed
Chilli flakes- as many as you dare
2 anchovy fillets- finely chopped
1 red pepper- finely sliced
6-8 tomatoes- roughly chopped
1 tbsp capers
60g asiago cheese
Handful of freshly torn basil to finish

1. Take a pan and heat a glug of olive oil over a medium heat. Add the garlic, chilli and anchovy and cook for a couple of minutes. Pop in the red pepper and continue to cook until softening.

2. Next up, the tomatoes followed by the capers. At this stage lower the heat to low and allow the tomatoes to break down and simmer. You want the sauce to be able to lightly coat the gnocchi. If the tomatoes look dry at any point, simply add a splash of water. When the sauce is nearly ready, bring a pan of water to the boil and cook the gnocchi for 2 minutes or as directed on the packet. Drain and add the gnocchi to the sauce to finish. Crumble in the asiago and finish with the basil before serving.

Gnocchi with red pepper, tomatoes and asiago cheese- the perfect introduction to this Italian beauty!

 

 

Tuscan panzanella salad

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From time to time most households have leftover bread that it heading past its best but there’s no need to waste it- that’s where panzanella comes in! Panzanella is a traditional Italian tomato and bread salad that’s full of fresh, seasonal flavours. There is no one panzanella recipe so this is my take on it. I included fried capers to give an added dimension and texture. Anchovies are also added to ramp up the savouriness but you can omit these if you prefer.

For the perfect panzanella the tomatoes you choose are important as you want the freshest available. I have used a combination of smaller heirloom varieties which have become easier to find and add a range of colour. Panzanella makes a great light lunch or it can also be served with simple grilled meats for a more substantial meal. if you have any leftovers, you can simply baked the remaining pieces of bread on a tray in the oven until crisped and then serve with the salad- delicious!

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Ingredients- serves 4
200g open textured bread such as sourdough or ciabatta
500g assorted tomatoes- chopped
1 red onion- sliced
Jarred or fresh red and yellow peppers- finely sliced
6-8 anchovy fillets- finely chopped
2 tbsp capers- drained
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
6 tbsp olive oil
Salt
Fresh basil

1. Take your bread of choice and roughly tear it into pieces. Place on a tray and leave for around 20-30 minutes to help dry it out a little. Meanwhile pop the chopped tomatoes, peppers and onion in a colander with a bowl underneath and add salt and pepper. Leave to sit so it draws some moisture out of the tomatoes and softens the peppers.

2. Take a small frying pan and add a small amount of oil over a medium heat. Fry the capers until crispy. Tip the bread, tomatoes and onion into a bowl along with the peppers, anchovies and capers. Drizzle over the vinegar and oil; taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Finish with some freshly torn basil and serve immediately with some simple grilled meat such as chicken if you like.

Panzanella- a sunshine dish to brighten up even a rainy summer’s day!

 

Nduja and cherry tomato vongole

Now if you’re expecting a traditional spaghetti vongole then think again! Vongole is a classic Venetian clam pasta dish but this is a twist on it. I have used a touch of nduja which is a Calabrian spreadable salami to add a chilli hit along with some vine cherry tomatoes which give the pasta a wonderfully light, summery feel to it. It is also a perfect way to try clams in pasta if you haven’t had them before. I also used linguine instead of spaghetti for a change and the sauce clings perfectly to it.

Clams can be bought fresh or you can also get them jarred in good Italian delicatessens. I was recently bought a jar so used this and I was pleasantly surprised! They needed very little preparation apart from a quick drain and I then removed any that were already open and any pieces of broken shell and away I went!

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Ingredients- serves 2
200g linguine
1 tbsp olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves- finely chopped
1/2 tbsp nduja
50ml dry white wine
100g vine cherry tomatoes
250g clams or one jar of clams- washed and drained
Fresh basil- chopped

1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil for the pasta and cook according to packet instructions. The pasta will be finished off in the sauce so aim for al dente; drain and set aside whilst you crack on with the sauce.

2. Take a wide pan and heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the garlic cloves and cook for a couple of minutes until starting to soften. Stir in the nduja so it starts to break and melt into the oil before pouring in the wine. Simmer until reduced by half. Take the cherry tomatoes and quarter them. Add the tomatoes in and simmer until the tomatoes start to reduce and thicken. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

3. When the tomatoes are nearly ready, add the drained linguine into the pan and combine with the sauce so it is well coated. Carefully tip the clams into the pan, cover for a couple of minutes and steam until the shells open. Discard any that do not open. Finish with the basil and serve in warmed bowls immediately.

Nduja and cherry tomato vongole- a summery version of an Italian classic that is perfect for dining al fresco!

 

Mediterranean sea bass tray bake

Sea bass is a wonderful, readily available fish that deserves a place on all good dinner tables across the land. Cooking fish can be a daunting prospect if it is not something that you are used to and a tray bake is a brilliant introduction to it so read on and give it a try. I have taken inspiration from the Med and used sweet cherry tomatoes, olives, capers and peppers to ramp up the flavours. The ingredients are so fabulous that very little needs doing to them. I used Jersey Royal potatoes which are currently in season in the UK but new potatoes work well if you cannot find these.

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Ingredients- serves 2
2 boneless sea bass fillets
1 tbsp vegetable oil
200g Jersey Royal potatoes or new potatoes
1 red onion- cut into small wedges
150g cherry tomatoes- halved
50g pitted black olives- halved
1 tbsp capers
2 jarred roasted red peppers- sliced
Squeeze of lemon juice
Torn basil leaves to finish

1. Start by making sure that the sea bass fillets are boneless as nobody likes to find one of those. Preheat the oven to 180c/ 160 fan and think about what you are going to bake this in; a normal baking tray or roasting tray is perfect but I used a cast iron roasting pan. As the oven is heating, pop your tray of choice in there to heat too with a glug of vegetable oil.

2. Meanwhile slice the potatoes so they are 5mm thick. Remove the heated tray from the oven and place the potato slices in. Leave to bake for 20 minutes or until starting to turn golden and soften.

3. Remove the tray and add in the onion wedges, halved tomatoes, olives, capers and peppers and cook for a further 10 minutes. When the potatoes look like they are nearly ready and the onion is nicely softened pop on the sea bass fillets to finish off for 5-7 minutes depending on the size of the fillet. Use your judgement with your oven, if you think the fish skin won’t quite crisp up to how you like it then you can always cheat a bit and pan fry the fillet skin side down for a couple of minutes before finishing in the oven for another 2-3 minutes. When the sea bass is ready the fish will be translucent- do not overcook. Finish off with a squeeze of lemon juice to bring all the flavours together and a few torn basil leaves. Serve immediately.

Mediterranean inspired sea bass tray bake- a colourful addition to your culinary repertoire and a summertime winner!

 

Baked melting mozzarella stuffed nduja meatballs

Like meatballs? Like melting cheese? Yes, of course you do! You’d be mad not to! Well this is your ticket to an easy, crowd pleasing dinner. I try to use the best quality mince I can as you really do taste the difference compared to cheaper ones on offer. This recipe calls for a mixture of beef and veal mince but you can use one variety if you prefer. Veal mince keeps the meatballs moist and it is worth a try if you have not tried it before. It has a more subtle flavour than beef and I also love using it in spaghetti bolognese.

Now this is not the first time I have used nduja in recipes on this blog and it certainly won’t be the last. This soft, spicy Calabrian beauty’s popularity has risen over the last few years and is now readily available in delis and supermarkets. The lovely people at Duchy Charcuterie very kindly sent me some of their award winning nduja to try and I was smitten. Compared to some other ndujas I have cooked with in the past, this one is more mellow but still packed with flavour. You can find out more about the nduja from Duchy Charcuterie from marc@duchycharcuterie.co.uk.

Red pepper and nduja are a match made in heaven so I have laced the tomato sauce with roasted pepper. The ready roasted jarred peppers are always in my cupboard on hand and are perfect for a quick fix. They soften into the sauce beautifully but of course can be substituted with fresh red peppers if you like.

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Ingredients- serves 4
200g beef mince
200g veal mince
Salt and pepper to season
2 mozzarella balls- cut into small chunks
2 tbsp nduja
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion- finely chopped
2 garlic cloves
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
3 jarred roasted red peppers- sliced
Handful of freshly torn basil to finish- optional

1. Kick off by choosing the correct pan that can be used to fry off the meatballs and that is suitable for popping in the oven- purely a washing up saving device! Get started by making the meatballs and this can be done in advance. Take the two types of mince and add the nduja into it; season well. Some nduja is more solid than others so I tend to pinch small pieces off and then distribute through the mince mixture. Squish together well to bring the mixture together- the meat will bind after a bit of working and that’s when it is ready to shape so it holds. I find that using egg to bind mince can result in a stodgy meatball but trust me that these will still keep their shape! You are after meatballs which are slightly larger than a golf ball. Take the mince, flatten it in the palm of your hand and then pop a cube of mozzarella in the middle before wrapping the mince around it. Repeat until all the mince has been used. Make sure the cheese is well wrapped as you don’t want it oozing out. Pop the balls on a tray and chill until you’re ready to cook.

2. Take the pan of choice and add a glug of olive oil. Heat to medium and take the meatballs in batches and fry until golden on the outside. Remove from the pan and set aside whilst you make the tomato and red pepper sauce. Preheat the oven to 180c/ 160 fan in preparation.

3. If there is a lot of fat from the mince then drain some off to leave about a tablespoon of it. Don’t throw it all away as it is full of flavour! Over a medium heat, add the onion and cook until softening. As garlic cooks more quickly, add this in a minute or two before the onion is done. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and sliced roasted red pepper and bring to a simmer. If using fresh peppers you may like to add the pepper in first and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the tomatoes.

4. Add the golden meatballs back to the pan and arrange so they are not all crammed in and they have space between. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the meatballs are cooked and the sauce is nicely reduced. Finish with some roughly torn basil if you like and serve. These meatballs are as delicious with pasta as they are with a hunk of bread so it’s up to you!

Baked melting middle nduja meatballs- pimp up your midweek dinner!