The umming and ahhing is over. The decision has been made. Our house is now officially on the market and we’ll soon be leaving the sticks and heading back to the big city. Bristol, to be precise, which isn’t exactly a heaving metropolis and is actually one of the most laid back, greenest and coolest cities I know.
Bristol was home for us until our first daughter was about eight months old, at which point we decided family life meant a bit of the good life, the country life. And while we’ve loved it here and having space and green fields around us, a veg patch and apple trees, foraging in the hedgerows, picnics by the stream and drinking scrumpy at the annual village fete, it’s now time to crank the pace back up again with a bit of inner city living. You can take the girl of out of the city, but you’ll never take the city out of the girl, it would seem.
There are lots of things I’m looking forward to about being back in a city. One of them is not having to drive so much to get, well, anywhere really. I love the idea of being able to walk back home after a night in a restaurant, or at least being able to afford the taxi fare. And one of the restaurants I intend on visiting as soon as we’re in Bristol is Tom Hunt’s Poco on Stokes Croft, with its emphasis on seasonal ingredients, thrifty cuts of meat and sustainably sourced fish, most of which is sourced from within a 50-mile radius, and at the same time producing the minimum of food waste.
In the meantime, I’m making do with Tom Hunt’s beautiful book The Natural Cook: Eating the seasons from root to fruit, which the good people at Quadrille recently sent me a copy to review. The book is teeming with recipes and ideas for making the most of seasonal produce, what to do with the leftovers and how to eat good food without it costing the earth – all principles I try to stick to in the kitchen. I’m not always successful, I must admit, but with this book I feel those ideals might be a little easier to achieve.
The food photography by Laura Edwards is stunning, simple and not overly-styled, allowing the fresh ingredients and delicious dishes to seemingly speak for themselves. I like the way Hunt structures the book too, firstly dividing the recipes by season and then shining the spotlight on 26 ‘hero’ ingredients with three simple cooking techniques, followed by three ‘world-inspired’ recipes, and then further variations (alternative ingredients and the like), plus ideas for making the most of any leftovers.
As it’s summer and I currently have a steady supply of homegrown yellow and green courgettes (aka zucchini), it was the courgette section I turned to first for inspiration. Starting with Sauteed Courgettes with Mint (which he uses in a Green Minestrone with Spelt Pasta) and then Raw Courgette Spaghetti (brilliantly utilised in Courgette & Feta Fritters with Yoghurt), Hunt moves on to Char-Grilled Courgettes, the key component for his Grilled Salad of Courgette, Radicchio, Basil & Mozzarella. Since we’ve switched off our Aga for the summer and are using the barbecue as much as possible, this seemed to be the ideal first recipe to try.
I couldn’t get hold of any radicchio and since we already had chicory that needed using up, and I know how Tom Hunt likes us to adapt his recipes to what is available and in order to reduce waste, I decided to go with chicory instead.
This is a fabulously big, satisfying salad, full of flavourful, juicy vegetables and savoury, salty cheese and olives, with a good hit of tangy spice and lemon zest. And if this simple salad is anything to go by, I’m expecting the rest of this cookbook to be quite a taste adventure. I’m rather looking forward to winter, when I’ll be eating Turkish Turlu Turlu with Roast Caraway Turnips and Turnip Tops.
But for the time being, here’s my chicory version of Hunt’s grilled courgette salad…
Grilled salad of courgette, chicory, basil and mozzarella
For the char-grilled courgettes
light olive oil
Cut the courgettes into lengthways slices about 1cm thick. Light a barbecue and allow the charcoals to turn white hot, then cool down a little. Alternatively, heat a griddle pan on the hob.
Toss the courgette slices in a light olive oil. Place them on the barbecue or griddle side by side. After two to three minutes they should be charred on one side. Flip them over and and char on the other side. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
For the salad
1 quantity char-grilled courgettes (above)
1 red onion, cut into wedges
1 chicory, cut into wedges (or use half a head of radicchio as in the original recipe)
2 tbsp light olive oil
extra virgin olive oil
generous pinches of za’atar
100g black olives, pitted
grated zest of half a lemon
handful of fresh basil leaves
Toss the red onion and chicory in light olive oil and grill in the same way as the courgettes (above).
Arrange all the grilled vegetables in a large dish. Tear the mozzarella into bite-sized pieces and scatter over the vegetables.
Dress with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of za’atar, and scatter with black olives, lemon zest and basil leaves.
Serve with lots of fresh bread. Any leftovers can be used up the next day as a topping for pasta or as a filling for a tasty frittata.
I am entering this seasonal spicy salad into the following blog events: The Spice Trail (hosted here on Bangers & Mash) where August’s theme is Beach Barbecue; Ren Behan‘s Simple and in Season which is hosted this month by Elizabeth’s Kitchen; and the Extra Veg challenge from Fuss Free Flavours and Utterly Scrummy, which is this month being hosted by Maison Cupcake.