fennel frond salad

We are officially in summer here in New Zealand and even though that doesn’t necessarily mean endless sunshine, it does mean that fresh, crisp salads are on my mind more and more.

Whenever I go to the market, I always try and buy something I don’t usually buy, there have been some failed new flavours but if you don’t open yourself up to new possibilities, you could miss the chance of finding a new favourite.

How philosophical.

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Fennel is my flavour of the month, and this week I purchased what is potentially the biggest fennel bulb known to man. Usually when people use fennel, they stick with the bulb and just throw everything else away. What a waste! The stalks can be used just like celery and I used the fronds to make a fragrant salad.

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Begin by slicing a carrot as thinly as possible with a grater or mandolin. Coat them with a whisper of olive oil and roast until cooked through and slightly crunchy.

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Next, remove the fronds from the fennel bulb, you can use it for a range of things, like this salad. I steamed the fronds for a couple of minutes to bring out the aniseed flavour, and it made the kitchen smell like liquorice!

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While the fronds were steaming, I sliced a couple of button mushrooms are doused them in a few teaspoons of the pickling liquid from my radishes.

After drying the fronds, I tossed them through some shredded lettuce. Add the mushrooms and pickling liquid with the frond salad, along with as many rondelles of pickled radish as you like.

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Add a dash of extra virgin olive oil and some fresh mint and parsley leaves, top with the carrot chips and you have yourself a colourful rainbow salad that’s bursting with so many flavours.

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It’s a perfect accompaniment to chicken, fish or red meat, or even by itself with a croute of crusty bread.

aubergine and sweet potato summer stack

Even though the in-between parts of seasons are problematic for guessing the weather forecast or planning a temperature-appropriate outfit, they are a great for a varying abundance of produce.

Unless you’re going to buy your produce imported or from a greenhouse, things that I try and steer away from, this recipe really is only viable while aubergines are in season. Even though it is warm and roasted, there are so many fresh and raw elements that it makes sense to limit it to the warmer months.

My aubergine and sweet potato stack is a dish stuck somewhere in between a roast vege salad and a plate of raw greens… in a good way! Layers of soft and warm eggplant, crisp discs of sweet potato and spinach leaves full of crunch, topped off with sweet smoked bell peppers, soft crumbly feta and capers for a salty pop.

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It’s so easy; the hardest part is stacking it all up without the tower toppling over!

Begin by roasting an entire red bell pepper under the grill of an oven, or, if you’re feeling dangerous, on a gas stove element. Roast on a high heat until the skin begins to blacken and blister; this will take a while but keep an eye on it and rotate it for even charring.

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Use this time to slice an aubergine into 1cm thick slithers, and one large sweet potato into 2cm thick discs. Getting a uniform consistency with the sweet potato will be difficult because they are such a beautifully ugly vegetable (one of the reasons I love them so!), but having nice even slices will make the stacking part a bucket load easier!

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Drizzle them in olive oil, turn the oven to bake, lower the temperature to 180°C and switch them the with pepper. If possible, bake the vegetables on different trays and place the aubergine on a lower shelf inside the oven. By arranging the trays like this, the eggplant slices will slowly bake without crisping, and by the time the sweet potato is cooked tender and golden, the aubergine will have garnered a soft texture; not too crisp but no longer tough and chewy.

Flip each rondelle after about 15 minutes and continue baking for a further 20 or until they look like they’re done.

In the meantime, slice the top off the smoky bell pepper and peel off the skin so you are just left with the tender red flesh. Slice into thin slithers and that component is complete!

Wash the leaves of one bunch of spinach and tear the leaves into manageable bite size segments. Fun fact: tearing the leaves, instead of cutting them, stops them from browning. Crumble some feta and once the eggplant and sweet potato are cooked, you’re ready to plate up.

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Begin with two mountains of spinach, on separate plates and pile alternate layers of eggplant, sweet potato and the remaining spinach with the utmost care – hold your breath so the tower doesn’t collapse if you think that’ll help.

Once you have exhausted your vegetable piles, dress with the snakes of red pepper and crumbled feta, top with a teaspoon of capers, a drizzle of olive oil and a grind of pepper.

Serve with a congratulatory glass of red wine – you deserve it!

red roasted radishes

They say that your tastebuds change every seven years, that your body almost resets itself and redefines the way it reacts to different flavours and textures. I have found that over the last year, the way that my body reacts to a variety of things has completely readjusted itself; I don’t particularly like white wine anymore and I am highly sensitive to pollen and olive trees, I have also fallen in love with radishes.

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“Fallen in love”, is technically not the right way of putting it; as a child I thought radishes were awesome. I remember being assigned a science experiment testing how radishes grew in varying environments – darkness, cold etc. and instead of placing my radishes in dank, cold cupboards where I knew they would die, I left them all on the veranda to flourish and changed the experiment to ‘how many radishes can I eat in one sitting’. But as the years progressed, leading up to my teens, I thought they were awful. I hated the peppery aftertaste, and texture; not a quite a crunch but not soft either.

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It wasn’t until a few years ago that I tried them again, and now I can’t get enough of them.

Most people are stumped at coming up with ways to use radishes that extend further than a pop of colour in a salad, but I love to roast them and cover them in brown butter sauce.

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Place your radishes, halved or quartered onto an oven tray and bake at 230°C for 20-30 minutes, until their skin is pink and crisp, not quite burning, but so close it almost hurts. The flesh will be plump and juicy, no longer dry and tart like when they’re raw.

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While they are cooking, melt a knob of butter and a pinch of salt, mix constantly over a medium heat until it shines like glassy caramel. Squeeze in a dash of lemon juice at the very last moment before serving – either pour over top of the radishes or serve on the side and dunk them in. Make sure that you have a napkin close at hand, you’ll need it to mop up the gooey butter and warm radish juice running down your chin!

adjectiveless chicken

The second task in my Will Write for Food challenge is about adjectives, or more accurately, a lack of adjectives. Many writers think that the more adjectives they cram into a piece of writing, the better it will be. The result is usually a flowery piece of writing with a lot of words, without very much substance. To avoid this, and to come to really understand the proper use of adjectives, this piece was originally written without any, afterwards I allowed myself to add in five where I thought they were most beneficial (oops I actually did six!)

How do you think I went?

Anyone who grew up in an anglophile home is going to have nostalgic memories of roast chicken, and I am no different. Since beginning my travels I have eaten roast chicken in many countries and in far more situations than a Sunday lunch on a winter’s day.

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Frango no forno is a perfect early evening meal served in Portugal; a series of lemon wedges artfully arranged along the edge of the plate and a scoop of fries nestled next to the glorious oven-roasted chicken. It may seem odd to serve fries as a standard accompaniment to roast chicken, but on any table on Britain you will find potatoes; either roasted, boiled or mashed, within an arm’s length of the stuffing and gravy – fries are just one more variation of a good old potato, offering a fluffy contrast to chicken’s crisp skin and moist flesh.

Since leaving Portugal I refuse to serve a roast without a dish of lemon wedges on the table, I often follow Jaime Oliver’s roast chicken recipe; a whole lemon in place of the stuffing inside the chicken’s cavity with a bunch of fresh herbs. The lemon’s juice keeps the chicken moist from the outside in, from the time in enters the oven until the time in enters your mouth. Not only are the lemon’s juices infused throughout the meat but the lemon’s flesh is infused with the flavours of your herb garden, the bitterness of the rind is cooked out and you are left with a tangy juice to add to your gravy or veges.