The weather breathed a gentle, warm sigh of summer over London today. I woke to the sound of birdsong. I’ve noticed it so much more over the past few weeks. But the dawn chorus is too early for me as we head close to the longest day so I went back to sleep. When it was finally time to get up I peeped through the edge of the blinds at my bedroom windows into the garden below to see what kind of day it was. A pale blue sky, clear and cloud free greeted me. The day was starting well. The slightly chilly air slowly warmed through the day until I could go dressed in summer gear and contemplate supper in the garden.
I had a lovely crottin – goats’ cheese – that I bought in the Duck Pond Market in Richmond last Sunday at a stall full of French cheeses and charcuterie. Crottin de Chavignol is produced in the Loire Valley and is one of the France’s most famous goats’ cheeses. Dating from the 16th century, it’s a matured goats’ cheese – aged for at least 4 weeks – rather than some of the very new, pale, mild and soft goats’ cheeses you’ll find that may be only a few days’ old. This ageing gives it a stronger, nuttier flavour; its texture is firmer. It is one of my favourite cheeses, either to eat as it is (and my favourite way to eat a good cheese is absolutely on its own; no accompaniment usually, although maybe a little good bread; never the Englishman’s fancy of biscuits!) or to grill it as I did tonight on some French bread. I wanted to keep it simple. I don’t like fussy salads with loads of things thrown in. I was remembering as I thought it through of a wonderful cheese salad I ate in France a couple of years ago while following the Route de Cidre in Normandy.
It was so typically French: fresh, simple and only the best ingredients. That’s how I wanted my salad for this evening. I had one of my favourite breads, a Campagne loaf – country bread – from Paul, a French bakery. That would be perfect.
For salad leaves I bought organic Little Gem, watercress and rocket (all from Waitrose, I’m afraid; no farmers’ market midweek). I try to buy organic whenever possible, as much for the better flavour as health. Although that’s important too. The watercress was bunched in the traditional manner and had the most wonderful strong peppery, mineral flavour. The Little Gem added a sweetness and nice crispy texture.
I played in my mind with what else to add. I decided on some radishes, sliced as thinly as I could manage. Although I remember eating radishes a lot as a child, I always think of there being something very French about them where they’ll serve them on their own as a simple starter, with sea salt for you to dip the bright crimson heads into.
Staying with the Normandy memories, I decided to add apple too – such a classic Norman ingredient.
Which of course meant using apple cider vinegar in the dressing as well (use wine vinegar if you don’t have cider, but definitely not balsamic). To the dressing – of olive oil, cider vinegar, salt and pepper – I added some Dijon mustard for a little extra French kick. I whisked it all together until emulsified with a fork then poured it over the salad leaves and radishes, which I’d put in a bowl.
Dress the salad in a different bowl to the plate you want to serve the salad on. Mix it gently with your hands and then carefully pile it on to a serving plate. Lay the sliced apple to the side.
Now prepare the cheese. Toast a slice of the bread on one side. Cut in half and then slice the crottin in half crosswise. Lay a half of the cheese on each half of the toast, untoasted side, and drizzle over just a little olive oil before putting under a hot grill.
Grill until brown and bubbling a little on the top.
Then lay the cheese-toasts on top of the salad. And violà! An almost instant but pretty fantastic supper!
When you cut inside the cheese you’ll find it’s soft and creamy.
It was a gorgeous salad; wonderful in its simplicity and a real taste of France. If you want to carry the à la Normandie theme through you’d drink some cider with it, but I settled for a glass of red wine from a bottle I already had opened.
Of the many things I like about summer, having the long days are one of the best. I love on warm evenings like tonight to take a post-prandial walk around nearby Twickenham Green.
The sight of cricketers in their whites playing a game on the Green is always a delight. It really felt like summer: sun, warmth, a gorgeous French-style salad and cricket. Well yes, that’s the English bit; I don’t think the French play cricket. Or to any noticeable level. Don’t ever ask me about cricket, though. I’ve barely a clue about the rules but it brings back memories of childhood, playing it in the garden, watching my Dad play in local matches, listening to glorious BBC Radio commentary with some of the greatest sports commentators of all time, like John Arlott and Brian Johnston. Just the sound of their voices on the radio was summer when I was younger. Ah summer! But of course, being England it comes in fits and starts. Today was summer. Tomorrow we have rain forecast all day!