Summer is finally in full swing and now that the lockdown is being eased a little more, we can thankfully spend time in the garden and open spaces with loved ones. Eating alfresco has always seemed such a wonderfully Mediterranean conceit; the warm evenings, late dinner on a veranda beneath a scented fig tree whilst the sounds of the waves crash against the shore. A cool glass of rosé in one hand and a prosciutto and oregano scented crushed tomato bruschetta in the other. The British version of this used to involve a warm can of lager and a raw-on-the-inside-but-burnt-on-the-outside chicken drumstick whilst we dashed inside from the rain – but I feel we have evolved slightly when it comes to eating outdoors.
One of things I think we still struggle with is an interesting array of salads. To me the salad is as much the main event as the meat. It can in fact be a meal in itself and so I thought I’d share four of my favourite salads. They’re mostly quick and easy to make, although one or two need a little time but believe me it will be worth it.
Pre-heat the oven to 160ºC.
Place the tomatoes and beetroot quarters into an oven-proof dish. You can do this in one dish or two separate dishes. The beetroot does tend to flavour everything else so if you want the individual flavours of the tomato then I would use two dishes. Drizzle generously with olive oil and splash a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar over them. Season well with salt and pepper and the fresh herbs, then roast slowly for at least an hour. The dishes should be filled with wonderful liquid, particularly the tomato dish. Carefully pour the liquid into a jug, then set everything aside to cool whilst you make the rest of the salad.
Warm some butter gently in a pan, then place the cut lemons cut-side down into the pan. Add the asparagus and green beans and let them gently sauté for about 6 minutes. Shimmy them around the pan halfway through. The lemon should caramelise gloriously as they cook. After 6 minutes, once the veg are soft, carefully squeeze one of the lemons over the veg. Set aside to cool.
Build your salad any way you like. I like to start with a bag of mixed salad leaves (although we’ve been growing mixed salad in the garden so I’m using that). Then layer on the tomatoes and beetroot, followed by the green beans and asparagus, then the avocado and torn pieces of mozzarella. I’ve also sprinkled with chive flowers as I have them in the garden.
Finally, squeeze the other lemon half into the cooled dressing from the roasted tomatoes, stir through and pour over the salad.