The veg patch is bursting at the seams with salad crops and we have so many courgettes and cucumbers the neighbours are beginning to sprint the other way if they see us coming. I’ll sound insufferably smug if I list everything as not everyone has room for a veg patch. Mind you, if you saw the weeding we have to do, the welly boot would be on the other foot.
Suffice to say we have a lot of salad crops. But one of the joys of vegetables and fruits is that they’re usually fairly cheap to buy at the market or supermarket, so you can afford to stuff yourself with seasonal produce. Our one big failure this year has been the bulb fennel. It bolted (a bit like the neighbours) but I managed to find enough tender parts to make a refreshing and crunchy fennel and celery salad.
I’ve included two other summer salads here: griddled lettuce with chorizo and peas and a double cucumber number with fresh and pickled cukes. They’re all good as part of a summery lunch and versatile enough to work with meat, fish or vegetarian dishes such as, say, a courgette frittata. I’ve left the dressing quantities fairly vague as tastes differ so wildly – mix and taste and go with your personal preferences.
Fennel and Celery Salad
I think the dressing here should be very garlicky and very lemony, but it’s up to you.
1 bulb of fennel
1 celery heart
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove of garlic
Salt and pepper
A few fennel fronds if you have them
Fennel salami (optional)
Remove the tough outer leaves from the fennel and slice horizontally very thinly, preferably using a mandolin. Do the same with the celery heart.
Make a vinaigrette with the lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper and enough olive oil to make a good emulsion, to taste. Dress the veg, chop up the fennel fronds and mix in. Serve with the fennel salami, if using.
Double Cucumber Salad
1 large cucumber or 2-3 small ones
3-4 pickled gherkins
White balsamic vinegar
White wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
A few fronds of fresh dill
Borage flowers, to garnish (optional)
If the fresh cucumber has a tough skin, peel it. Cut it in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds. Chop into rough dice, place in a sieve or colander and sprinkle with salt. Stand it over the sink for 15-20 minutes, then rinse off the salt and dry the cucumber thoroughly on a clean tea towel.
Dice the gherkins to the same size and place both fresh and pickled cucumbers in a bowl. Whisk up the two vinegars (if you don’t have any white balsamic use a little more white wine vinegar and add a pinch of sugar), oil and salt and pepper to taste. The dressing ratios depend on how vinegary and/or salty your gherkins are, so taste and adjust.
Chop up the dill fronds and add them with the dressing to the cucumbers. Allow to stand for around 15 minutes to allow the flavours to meld before eating. Scatter with the cucumbery borage flowers, if using, just before serving.
Griddled Lettuce with Chorizo and Peas
Vegetarians can substitute crumbled feta cheese (uncooked) for the chorizo, or cube some halloumi and griddle it alongside the lettuce.
2-4 Little Gem lettuces, depending on size and appetite
A handful of spicy chorizo, diced
A big handful of peas, lightly cooked (or double-podded broad beans)
A few spring onions, very finely sliced
A small bunch of mint, shredded
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper
Quarter the Little Gems and brush with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and griddle until charred on all sides. In another pan, cook the diced chorizo gently until the oil runs. Drain, reserving the oil.
Arrange the lettuce on a serving dish and scatter over the chorizo, peas, onions, mint and lemon zest. Drizzle with the reserved chorizo oil. Taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice and a smidgeon of olive oil if necessary – it depends how much oil comes out of your chorizo.