I hope that the weather has been as kind to you as it has been to us, in Bristol. While we have been busy not thinking about how many days it’s been since a crafty minuscule virus has stripped us off our basic freedoms, the summer has crept up on us. I could not be happier, my hammock is up and yesterday’s trip to the store has confirmed to me that UK grown strawberries are now available so I’m getting ready to ingest copious amounts of them before the season is up – this is how much I love strawberries. They are divine with a dollop of thick coconut yoghurt and some nutty granola in case you needed some strawberry consumption ideas 😉 .
We’ve had a few good, productive days since I wrote my last post. We tided up our front garden at the weekend, which was waiting in line for several months. It took a few hours but the results were really satisfying and we vowed not to let it get this overgrown and messy again. We have also tided the back garden a little – this is a much bigger project so is still a work in progress – but perennial weeds are finally giving us a free pass on our daily trips to empty the compost caddy, so it’s a small win. Once we are done with the DIY inside the house (which will be a while yet), we plan to turn our attention to our garden more often.
We do love spending our time there and are happy we chose to buy this house instead of another one that was so beautifully staged (I’m ashamed to say that I fell for it big time despite knowing all the tricks), but which had a garden the size of a postage stamp. It was also way more expensive and there was a lot of competition so even the asking price was nowhere near enough in the end. I was a bit sad to begin with, but now I can totally see the silver lining. Both of us and our little furry daughter – Tina – love this garden and with a bit of TLC we will be able to turn it into the beautiful green oasis we both crave.
Speaking of gardens, as the evenings are getting warm, it’s time to fire up the BBQ. We actually got one last summer but due to an unfortunate mix of events, we never got to use it. We plan to rectify it as soon as we can invite people over again and I am already thinking of what to make. One thing that I am definitely planning on serving is a gorgeous salad, full of deliciously contrasting flavours and textures. For the moment, today’s recipe gets my vote – we’ve been having it on repeat lately (did I mention that I tend to get periodically obsessed with stuff? 😉 ) It’s inspired by the flavours of Italy. Not consciously but it’s maybe to make up for the fact that just about now we were planning on roaming around Napoli. It marries fresh crunchy celery with earthy toasted walnuts and sweet slow-roasted tomatoes with tangy balsamic and bitter rocket. It’s bulked up with chickpeas, but feel free to use another type of bean. I love how these flavours come together and I hope you and your future BBQ guests will too. Enjoy! x
- 65 g / ½ cup walnuts*
- 12 asparagus spears
- 1 zucchini, sliced into 4 lengthwise
- salt, pepper, chilli flakes (if desired)
- 50 g / 2.65 oz mixed salad (I used lots of rocket, some red leaf and spinach)
- 36 cm / 14″ celery ribs, sliced thinly
- 1 cup (1 x 400 g / 14 oz can drained) cooked chickpeas
- 10 slow-roast tomatoes**, chopped small
- 30 ml / 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for grilling
- 30-45 ml / 2-3 tbsp quality balsamic vinegar***, depending how tangy you like it
- 1 small garlic clove, finely grated
- sea salt and black pepper, to taste
- Toast walnuts on a hot pan until fragrant and lightly charred in places, pan-flipping often to ensure they do not burn. Chop roughly and set aside to cool.
- Heat up a griddle on a low-medium heat (you can also do them on a BBQ). Snap wooden ends off (and discard) the asparagus spears, place asparagus on a large, flat plate and drizzle with 1 tsp of olive oil. Roll the spears in the oil to coat.
- Once the griddle pan is ready, place oiled asparagus spears on it (make sure they do not overlap). Allow them to char for about 3-4 minutes on one side, then gently roll to the other side. They should be cooked but still retain a bit of a pleasant crunch.
- Transfer asparagus to a chopping board, and place lightly oiled zucchini strips to the pan. Allow them to cook, undisturbed, until charred on both sides.
- While zucchini is grilling, season asparagus with salt and chilli (if using) and chop into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
- Take grilled zucchini off the pan, season and chop into smaller, bited-size pieces.
- Place all the dressing ingredients in a jar you have a lid for. Adjust the amount of balsamic vinegar to your taste and also be mindful of the fact that some brands have a more intense flavour than others. Put the lid on and shake the jar really well for the dressing to emulsify well. Adjust seasoning to taste.
- Place all of the salad ingredients (apart from walnuts) in a large salad bowl. Mix really well. Dress the salad just before serving (no one likes wilted salad leaves!) and sprinkle generously with toasted walnuts for an extra crunch.
**Available in most deli counters, I got mine in my local supermarket. They are not the same as sun-dried tomatoes, they are brighter red, sweeter and more tender (less dried). You could make them at home by cutting sweet small tomatoes in half, brushing them with garlicky (or not) oil and slow roasting them in a low oven for about 2 hrs.
***If your means allow it, I recommend investing in a high quality (65% grape must) balsamic vinegar as it’s much more flavoursome. Although it is often 4 times the price of cheap balsamic vinegar, the flavour is really so much better and more condensed so that a little goes a long way.