We’re entering into the kitchen gardener’s busiest but most satisfying time of year. All that hard work in the early spring, sowing seeds and pruning trees, has paid off and by mid July the results are coming in fast and strong – quicker than one can know what to do with, in fact. This heady abundance is what makes a good salad such a staple of summer cooking, when all you’ve to do is toss a few sun-ripened ingredients together and then beat a retreat to a shady corner.
It’s one of those times of year where you can really see – and taste – how the seasons collide. Alongside the sun-worshipping tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes, you’re still using up the best of the late spring vegetables, like Jersey Royals and the last of the rhubarb. The first roots that will see us through the cooler months are making their first appearance, in an often-missed baby form. Tender beetroot, carrots & radishes with their distinctly earthy, mineral notes are a brilliant way to balance out the sweet, acidic flavours of summer tomatoes. If you can get them with their leaves still on, even better, as the pepperiness of radish and carrot leaves are brilliant as a replacement for rocket in a green salad, together with the meaty leaves of the homegrown lettuces we devour through summer.
We like to think that the seasons, fruits & vegetables divide neatly into four categories, but to do so is to miss out on flavour combinations that nature so easily provides for us. Rhubarb, so often designated a winter or spring vegetable, is in fact still going well into summer. Poached or baked, its tartness is counterbalanced perfectly by a handful of strawberries or raspberries. I like to drape this mixture over ice cream, haphazardly tipped into wine glasses and topped with chopped nuts as a lazy summer pudding. These easy, quick combinations are such a strong argument for cooking seasonally – minimum effort, maximum flavour.
Anchovy, Red Pepper & Radish Niçoise
The fiddliest part of this recipe is roasting the peppers. You can buy very good jars of roasted peppers, which I use if I’m in a rush. However I would encourage you to try it out yourself, as these are such a versatile ingredient. Once roasted, you can do so much with them – marinade with basil & thyme and serve on crostini, toss through pasta with parsley and capers or simply serve alongside a barbecued joint of lamb – that flavour combination is wonderful.
2 red peppers
2 free range eggs
300g new potatoes or larger, chopped into small chunks
200g green beans
200g tomatoes – I used cherry
Tablespoon capers, rinsed
Small bunch parsley, chopped
One head of little gem
Handful of radishes and their leaves
2 tablespoons of black olives
2 tablespoons of good red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus a tiny bit for the peppers
2 cloves of garlic
8 anchovy fillets
- Preheat the oven to its hottest temperature (mine goes to 230͒C). Smear the peppers with a little olive oil and roast for 25 minutes until charred.
- Meanwhile, bring a medium-sized pan of water to the boil and fill a bowl with ice water. First boil your eggs for 6 minutes, and plunge into the cold water. Immediately tip in the beans, boiling for 3 to 4 minutes until al dente. Pop those into the cold water too.
- Pop the potatoes into the boiling water and cook for 12-15 minutes.
- In the meantime, prepare the dressing. Finely grate or crush the garlic into the salad bowl with the olive oil and red wine vinegar. Whisk together with a grinding of black pepper and a little salt. You don’t need lots of salt in this salad, as the anchovies and capers are already well-seasoned.
- Prep all the other ingredients into a separate bowl. Cut the radishes into quarters, the tomatoes into halves and tear the little gem into bite-sized pieces. Use some radish leaves, whole, for added spice. Tip in most of the olives, capers and chopped parsley, together saving some for garnish. Add in the drained beans.
- The potatoes should nearly be ready by now. Once cooked, drain and then tip straight into the dressing at the bottom of the salad bowl – they’ll soak up the garlicky oil.
- Peel the eggs and cut into halves or quarters.
- For the peppers: Once well charred, carefully remove from the oven and place in a bowl, covering it with cling film. Leave to wilt for five minutes. Then – wearing rubber gloves as the peppers are still going to be quite hot – pull out the stalk and discard. Tear the peppers into two and remove the seeds. Using a small blunt knife, peel away the outer burnt skin, it should come away quite easily but use the knife to scrape if not. Tear into slices.
- Pop the peppers and other salad ingredients on top of the potatoes and mix well. Taste to see if it needs more seasoning, olive oil or vinegar.
- Place the eggs and anchovies across the salad, sprinkling with the remaining capers, olives and parsley.
- Serve with baguette, if needed.