It’s so hot that even the Single Gourmet Traveller didn’t want to eat as much as usual. But she did want to eat, of course. My family know it’s time to worry if I ever don’t want to eat. I had to do some work today so planned to take a portion of bolognese ragu out of my freezer for a simple pasta meal. But when it came to it, I didn’t want anything hot. So I thought about what salad I could make.
When I was a child a ‘salad’ was a miserable concoction of boring lettuce, tasteless tomatoes and chunks of cucumber. It was never ‘dressed’ in anything as exciting as a vinaigrette but dollops of salad cream (not even mayonnaise). My family were quite sophisticated eaters really, and I’ve talked of our trips into London to shop for food delicacies in Soho each Saturday morning and being taken to posh restaurants for special treats from the time I could sit up properly at the table. But in general, English food was pretty awful and boring back then. It’s what got English food a bad name. I remember having au pairs when my kids were little. Young French girls of about 20 would turn up telling me their family were worried that they’d have to live on fish and chips. They were quite surprised by what they got instead and discovering that an Englishwoman can cook quite as well as a French one. And I don’t think I ever served them fish and chips!
Nowadays England is home to some of the best chefs and food in the world. And salads are exciting. But what is a salad? I’m not sure I actually know the answer to that question. Once upon a time, it was a question easily answered: a salad was medley of raw vegetables but now it might easily include cooked vegetables and perhaps contain meat, fish or fruit; nuts and seeds. Mrs Beeton in my 1923 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Cookery Book tells us that a salad is ‘composed of raw materials’. What is still valid in her description is telling us that ‘it is absolutely necessary that the plants and vegetables employed should be young, freshly gathered, and crisp’. My Oxford Concise Dictionary also says a salad is ‘a dish consisting of a mixture of raw vegetables’ but goes on to say, and ‘other cold ingredients’. But in 2013 a salad isn’t necessarily cold. I did a quick search of my Moro and Ottolenghi books but found no modern day definition of a salad. Of course, it doesn’t really matter, but it is interesting. And maybe when I have more time I’ll explore the question further.
My salad tonight would be warm for I planned to griddle the aubergine I’d bought in the local farmers’ market this morning. I was also going to use the gorgeous little buffalo iambor – little cheese – that I buy regularly in the market. They have a glorious flavour.
I already had a pomegranate and decided to use that and toast a few pine nuts and keep the whole salad simple. There are things that are best keep simple in my eating world: salads, pizza, pasta sauces and risottos being the most obvious to me. I want to taste one or two good things well and not have some mad concoction of everything hanging about in the fridge. The final run to supper was quite a fast affair and easily done. I sliced the aubergine lengthways, brushed on some olive oil and laid them on a hot griddle, turning once the underside was nicely browned.
When they were cooked I laid them straight onto a serving plate. Then I crumbled over some of the cheese. I added the seeds from about half a pomegranate and used some of the juice to make a dressing: I added some olive oil, half a clove of garlic crushed smooth with some salt, some pomegranate molasses and pepper and whisked it all together. I spooned that over the aubergine. Then I sprinkled over some toasted pine nuts. I finely chopped some parsley and mint from the garden and topped the salad with a sprinkling of the herbs. And there it was.
A fabulous, quick and easy supper. It was so delicious. I’d popped down the road once I decided to make it to buy an Italian baguette from Ruben’s Bakehouse to go with it. Now it’s open later with the Refettorio serving wonderful pizzas in the evening, I can get fresh bread late in the day. (I have to say that when I arrived I was quite tempted to just stay and have a pizza for supper, despite my desire for something cold! They are so good.) Back home, with my salad cooked and ready, my fresh bread ready to slice, I took it all into the garden with a glass of a delicious Malbec rose I’ve discovered in Majestic Wines.
It’s been marginally cooler today with a lovely gentle breeze but it’s still hot and it was perfect to sit in the garden and enjoy the summer’s evening. The salad made a great supper but I also thought it would be a good starter for a full meal – maybe just one slice of the aubergine with the cheese and other things. As it is, there’s some left for lunch tomorrow, so a little more of it for me to enjoy.