Defeated by this weather, I am yet again struggling to move into ‘spring’ food mode. I had a baked potato this week ffs! I haven’t had one of those all winter but this endless rain just sent me into a hibernate-and-turn-the-heating-on frenzy and all I could think of eating was stodge with added fat on top (sour cream and blue cheese if you’re interested). But there is only so much winter heaviness I can stand, even in this deluge, so I am once again looking for ideas that taste ‘warm’ whilst, at the same time, knowing that the sun is a long way off…
In such weather the salade composée, which has no real translation, is your friend. All you need is a layer of something soft and green (for a mild flavour to which you’ll add stronger flavours, go for lamb’s lettuce, Little Gem or Romaine; if you want more of a kick with a soft cheese, then watercress, land cress and rocket are better choices) to which you add the contrasts of hot (e.g. bacon, pancetta, poached eggs, boiled or steamed new potatoes), salty (e.g. feta, anchovies, olives), crunchy (e.g.croutons, toasted nuts, blanched green beans) or soft (e.g. goat’s cheese, soft-boiled or hard-boiled eggs, sautéed mushrooms, roasted squash). I think four different flavours and/or textures is plenty if you don’t want to lose their respective characters.
My first encounter with one was in France when a new Canadian friend made a spinach salad with crisp fried lardons, sautéed mushrooms and poached eggs. I was hooked and made it all the time, sometimes missing out the mushrooms but always keeping both the bacon and the eggs. I probably progressed to the ubiquitous goat’s cheese salad that set menus in France all seem to have as a starter followed by salade Niçoise, chicken, avocado and bacon salad and then, in the States, to all manner of combinations of roasted squash, arugula and toasted pumpkin seeds.
For a ‘shoulder’ or perhaps ‘umbrella’ season like this, you need something heartier but not too heavy. And, after a chance discussion at a post-choir pub session about the relative merits of different types of black pudding, I suddenly remembered that I once had a delicious black pudding and apple salad with walnuts in a very fancy-dancy pub in Cork. I grant you, black pudding isn’t the most obvious thing to put in a salad, nor does it take a very appetising photo (sorry about that!) but it is bloody delicious and ridiculously cheap. You could keep a packet in the fridge and then, unlike me you will always have something more exciting than a baked potato to warm you up in this filthy weather.
For two portions you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
sea salt and black pepper
English apple, Cox or Egremont Russet
packet of black pudding slices (four slices in total)
watercress, a good couple of handfuls
rocket, another good couple of handfuls
walnut halves, about 75g (about three tablespoonsful)
balsamic vinegar, a teaspoon or two
good bread, to serve
1. In a dry frying pan toast the walnuts until fragrant. Put to one side.
2. Cut the apple in half, remove the core, then cut it into thin slices. Put about a dessertspoon of olive oil into the same frying pan and once it has heated up, add the apple slices and allow them to soften and colour on both sides. Remove and put to one side.
3. If necessary put a little more oil into the frying pan and then add the black pudding slices. Cook them on both sides for about five minutes each until cooked through and slightly crispy on the outside.
4. Whilst the black pudding is cooking, rinse and drain the salad leaves and divide between two plates/bowls. Then divide the apple slices and walnuts between the two plates.
5, Finally, put the hot pudding onto the two piles of salad, drizzle over a little more olive oil plus a teaspoon or so of balsamic vinegar, season and serve.