Trust Me Salad

I’m making dinner tonight for my esteemed friend, Mr. Ukelele, ‘cos I missed his birthday party last weekend. As befits a belated birthday treat, it is a slightly posh, 3 course dinner, but it still works out at about £2.50 a head for all 3 courses, even if you have buy all the ingredients.
Mr Ukelele is one of my non-vegan friends, so I’m making this salad for starters. I’ve come up with loads of recipes over the years, only to find out later that it’s a really common dish in a culture I’m not familiar with. This, however, I think I can safely say is an original 😉 When I invented it many moons ago, my French boyfriend teased me mercilessly about the ‘English and their fruit’… he was mainly referring to apple sauce with pork. He liked this salad, though.
I’m using strawberries from my plot in the community garden, but because it’s Wimbledon fortnight, they’re on special offer all over the place – I saw them for £1 for 400g in Lidl, so I’m sure the others have similar offers. Roquefort cheese is a blue sheep’s milk cheese from the south of France, with a pleasantly sharp flavour – I don’t think other blue cheeses would work.

You can make it stretch further by serving it on a nest of little gem lettuce, or, for a party, by placing a spoonful on individual leaves.

Ingredients – serves 4+ as a starter, or 2-3 as a main.
100g Roquefort cheese
200g strawberries
200g cucumber (or equal volume to the strawberries)
Coarsely ground black pepper
1 ½ tablespoon of walnut oil
1 ½ teaspoon of lemon juice mixed half and half with water. NB, if you have some, use walnut vinegar instead, but it’s hard to find in the UK, although it’s quite common in France – sherry vinegar would also work.
1 head little gem lettuce – optional

Method
Roquefort can be quite soft at room temperature, so make sure yours is well chilled in the fridge, as you’re going to crumble it.
Wash and de-hull the strawberries and half or quarter them. Cube the cucumber into 1cm blocks. Place in a mixing bowl and season with black pepper. Crumble over the Roquefort – you want the chunks to be smaller than the cucumber, as the flavour packs quite a punch, but not so finely that it all disintegrates into the dressing (although, inevitably some will). Pour over the oil and lemon juice or vinegar and gently turn to mix.
Serve in a nest of little gem leaves, at room temperature. You may also need a crusty baguette to mop up the sauce 😉

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Fennel Roasted Tomatoes – twisted No. 3

‘Cos of my ongoing oven issues, I had to fudge how I made this, this time – but the recipe below is how I normally make it. Tomatoes love fennel seeds, and the feeling is mutual. There’s an abundance of wild fennel growing quite near my house, in Mile End Park, so I collect the seeds for a year’s supply at the end of summer.

Ingredients

Tomatoes

Fennel seeds

Garlic, finely minced

Coarsely ground salt

Coarsely  ground black pepper

Few drops of oil

Method

Turn your tomatoes upside down and cut in quarters, but not all the way through – so they open up like four petal’d flowers. Deseed. Smear a baking tray with a few drops of oil. Lay your tomatoes quite closely, but not overlapping on the tray, skin side down, flesh side up. Sprinkle with salt, seeds, garlic and black pepper. Splatter with oil, but only a few drops.

Place on a shelf at the bottom of your oven and bake for 30-45 minutes (depending on the temperature you’re using for whatever else you’re cooking) – low and slow is best. You are aiming for about 50% dehydration, so they come out a bit like ‘sun blush’ tomatoes from the deli counter.

While you might want to wait until you’ve got the oven on for something else, it’s well worth making a whole trayful – they are really good in sandwiches, on a roast vegetable platter, or with anything grilled or barbequed. Fennel seeds feature in both Indian and Chinese cuisines, so they are also great with curry, dhall, or a black bean and ginger dish.