It’s hot here and quite humid and the thought of turning the oven on makes me come over all queer. It’s salad days in Mrs Portly’s Kitchen.
My horizons have expanded somewhat since childhood when that meant my father’s home-grown tomatoes and lettuce with a dollop of Heinz salad cream on the side, or in dad’s case, a souse of malt vinegar. We would also eat tomato sandwiches sprinkled with sugar. Don’t shudder, they’re delicious. Occasionally my mum would go wild at dinner parties and serve tinned sweetcorn and peppers topped with tinned asparagus. I thought it was the height of sophistication, but I was only eight, or thereabouts.
Now we can casually shop for extra-virgin olive oil and classy vinegars and have earnest conversations about the quality of out of season tomatoes. We have discovered the joys of Niçoise and Greek salad laden with olives and feta. But as with other food it’s easy to slip into a rut and serve the same old thing time after time.
For anyone seeking inspiration I urge you to look up Emily Nunn at the Department of Salad. Witty and creative, her newsletter is a pleasure to read.
I’ve made a couple of salads this week we particularly enjoyed. One featured beetroot (should have used the pressure cooker but I braved the heat and roasted them) with bittersweet tayberries, both from the garden, and slices of feta. I dressed it with my home-made blackberry vinegar but a vinaigrette made with a good dash of pomegranate syrup would do the same job. Because of course you’ve all got pom syrup in your cupboard. I bet you have if you follow Ottolenghi, anyway.
The other salad was the suggestion of food writer Xanthe Clay and it was a blinder. Rather than make a Niçoise, I assembled all the usual elements and served it with a tonnato sauce. A note on tuna here: I buy jarred tuna in olive oil. It’s expensive but I’d rather eat it less often than consume the catfood sold as tinned tuna in this country. I have ranted about this in the past, see here and here.
If you’re not familiar with it, tonnato is essentially a tuna mayonnaise. A proper mayonnaise, that is, made with oil and egg yolks and other good things. In Italy it’s often served with veal but it partners brilliantly with potatoes, tomatoes, hard boiled eggs … you get the idea. You can make it by hand but it’s easier to use a food processor, if you have one. An immersion blender works, too.
I used Georgia Levy’s Guardian recipe as a guide, using the oil from the tuna jar made up with a bit extra from a bottle, keeping back some chunky flakes to add at the end. I also lobbed in a few raw peas and smoked anchovies, which would have appalled Nice’s controversial ex-mayor Jacques Médecin. But he didn’t approve the inclusion of potatoes either, and my husband would be deeply disappointed if I left them out.
Whatever, it was exceptionally good, and I’ll be making variations on the theme all summer. Give it a go, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.