Thursday, 26 June 2014

Tasting the rainbow...

Evenings that stretch out in a pimms-fuelled blur of beer gardens, guacamole and tortilla chips, the constant quest for a sliver of ice-cold breeze to take the edge off humid, sleepless nights, passion fruit mojitos, sticky chicken legs on smoking barbeques, sugar dusted strawberries, raspberries, salted caramel ice cream; Summer is pretty bloody good.

And as midsummer reaches boiling point, it is time for my favourite sunshine induced bonus of all. It is, of course, food related (what a surprise), and namely the glorious manner in which shopping baskets are slowly transformed from a bleak array of tins and root vegetables that were a constant companion through the long, wet winter, into a glorious rainbow of vibrant, fresh and flavour packed fruit and veg. Piled high with glistening, post-box red tomatoes, bright green and yellow courgettes, seemingly polished, purple skinned aubergines and the leafy greens of the tenderest salad leaves, this, if you haven’t noticed, is the time of year that gets me  excited.

Yes, as the long, balmy nights call for full al-fresco dining operations to be deployed at every opportunity, what better way to make the most of all this amazing produce than keeping it simple and showing off all that deliciousness in all its glory. Yup, much to my sheer delight, a fridge full of summer vegetables makes throwing together a gorgeous plate of exciting, vibrant food is as easy as A, B, C. Aubergine, beetroot, calvolo nero that is...

Add just a few store cupboard essentials, a healthy glug of something extra virgin and plates brim with sunny goodness in no time. Big platefuls of sliced, rainbow tinged heritage tomatoes drizzled with nutty olive oil, a splash of sherry vinegar and a scattering of fragrant basil leaves, an array of jewel coloured peppers, courgettes and aubergines, cut into thick chunks and barbequed with lemon, thyme and garlic, the possibilities are as endless as the big blue sky.

But my Plat de Saison is without doubt this beautiful salmon fillet, steamed with summer vegatables, capers, lemon and fresh herbs, topped with a refreshingly minty crème fraiche dressing and a scattering of marjoram flowers. Neon pink rimmed radish slices, delicately steamed in tin-foil parcels (or ‘en papillote’ if you’re posh and/or French) alongside spring onion stems, asparagus tips, fresh peas and crunchy slices of courgette and fennel, contrast perfectly with the salty bite of capers and refreshing zestiness from the lemon; it is perfection- Quick, easy and healthy to boot.

And if you have never experienced the joy of cooked radishes before, go for it. Not only are they the exact shade of pink I like to paint my nails, adding a glorious matchy-matchy element to dinnertime, but just cooked they have a delicious crunch and a slight pepperiness that manages to enrich the delicate green vegetables without overpowering all those subtle summer flavours. I say let them out of the salad bowl and onto centre stage for once, you won’t regret it.

This is also my favourite way to celebrate the very end of the English asparagus season (which officially concluded on the 21st of June), just make sure you keep the parcels in the oven just long enough for the salmon to be just cooked through, and to retain the gorgeous colour and wicked crunch of the delicious fresh vegetables. The perfect contrast to the creamy, mint flecked dressing, and as always, the tailor-made partner to a bucketful of Sauvignon Blanc.

Summer salmon with crème fraiche and mint dressing

4 salmon fillets

1 bunch asparagus, woody stems removed, tips left whole and stems sliced

1 bunch spring onions, halved

1 courgette, sliced and halved

1 handful fresh peas

1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced, including leaves

Small bunch of radishes, sliced

2 lemons

4 tsp capers

Small bunch fresh herbs (mint, parsley, marjaram, chives, etc) chopped

Extra virgin rapeseed oil

Salt and pepper

For the dressing

1 tub crème fraiche

1 lemon, juice and zest

Small bunch mint, chopped

Extra virgin rapeseed or olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180oc. Arrange the prepared vegetables on square of tin foil, drizzle with the oil, a good squeeze of lemon juice and scatter liberally with salt and pepper.

Scatter with the capers and herbs, before topping with the salmon fillets. Drizzle with a little more lemon juice and oil and season well. Wrap the fish and vegetables in the foil to create a parcel, leaving a little room for everything to steam.

Place the parcels onto a baking tray and cook for around 20 minutes, or until the salmon is just cooked.
Meanwhile, mix the ingredients for the dressing, stirring well until smooth and creamy. Season well and serve a top the salmon and steamed vegetables. Add some crushed new potatoes, a drizzle of extra virgin oil and get in there. It’s as easy as that...

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