Darina Allen: Summer salads that will leave you grasping the opportunity to eat outside

This week, it’s summer salads.

Grasp every opportunity to eat outside and grab a picnic whenever you can and head for the beach, the woods or a river bank. I’m frightfully fussy about my picnic spots and putter along for ages trying to find the most idyllic spot near a babbling brook.

I love the sound of water or a pebbly strand. We also love to cook over a little driftwood fire or grill fish over the flames. We have a smoking box and a few repurposed biscuit tins to hot smoke fresh mackerel or pollock. All you need is a little clean sawdust and a wire rack inside. Fillet the fish, sprinkle with salt, leave for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, scatter a couple of spoons of sawdust into the bottom of the tin. Dab the fish dry and lay on the rack, skin-side down. We just snip a wire cake rack to fit. Put the box on the fire (or on your gas ring). When the sawdust starts to smoke, cover the tin and lightly allow to smoke for 6-8 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. Take off the heat and keep covered for another 5-10 minutes to allow the smoke to penetrate. Serve while still warm with a dollop of dill mayo or aioli. Sawdust can be sourced easily from a fishing tackle shop. We collect our own when we are pruning apple trees, you’ll need to use a neutral oil in the chainsaw.

A fine roast chicken or a spatchcock bird is brilliant for a picnic salad. Pair with some quartered little gem lettuces, add lots of fresh herbs, a few wedges of ripe avocado, some Chipotle mayo or Caesar dressing and a scattering of roughly chopped pistachio nuts.

Another simple favourite, hard boil some eggs, cool, shell and peel arrange on a deepish serving dish on a bed of rocket or watercress sprigs. Top each with a dollop of mayonnaise, add half a sweet cherry tomato and top with a leaf of tarragon or fresh basil. Grind some black pepper coarsely on top — sounds too simple to be delicious but use good eggs, sweet tomatoes and French tarragon is a little feast, partnered with good bread.

Rory’s salad of nectarine and tomato salad with mozzarella is also an irresistible combination.

For dessert, bring a gorgeous rich almond tart and top it with strawberries dusted with icing sugar and sprinkled with fresh mint leaves.

How to hot smoke fish

You don’t need any special equipment, even a biscuit tin will do.

Lay the fish fillets flesh side up on a tray, sprinkle the unskinned pollock with salt as though you were seasoning generously.

Leave for at least an hour but not more than three hours. Dry the fillets with kitchen paper, place on a wire rack and allow to dry in a cool, airy place for about 30 minutes.

Sprinkle two tablespoons of sawdust (we use apple wood) on the base of a rectangular biscuit tin or food smoker box (www.nisbets.ie). Put a wire rack into the tin and lay the fish, flesh-side up on top.

Put the box on a gas jet over a high heat for a minute or so until the sawdust starts to smoulder. Cover the box.

Reduce the heat and smoke for 6-7 minutes, turn off the heat and allow to sit unopened for five minutes.

Remove from the box and serve as you like.

Tomato and Egg Salad with Basil, Tarragon or Chervil Sprigs

6 really ripe and juicy tomatoes

6 eggs

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

homemade mayonnaise made with 1/2 extra virgin olive oil and sunflower oil (see recipe)

chives

basil or tarragon or chervil sprigs

Little Gem lettuce

anchovies – optional

First cook the eggs. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, carefully lower the eggs into the water (the eggs should be fully submerged). Bring back to the boil and cook for 8-9 minutes. Remove from the water and slide into a bowl of cold water.

Peel the eggs.

Slice the ripe tomatoes in half across the equator or in generous half inch thick slices depending on size, arrange in a single layer on one or two white platters.

Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Spoon a small dollop of homemade mayonnaise on each, top with a quarter egg, sprinkle with finely chopped chives and a leaf of basil or tarragon or chervil sprigs or an anchovy fillet.

Tuck some Little Gem lettuce or watercress sprigs around the outside.

Spiced Chicken Legs (Drumsticks)

Serves 6

1.5kg chicken drumsticks or a mixture of drumsticks and thighs (boned or unboned)

1 tablespoon toasted ground cumin seeds

1 tablespoon paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon castor sugar

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons salt

3 cloves garlic, crushed

5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2-3 tablespoons sunflower oil

Accompaniment

Ballymaloe Tomato Relish

Banana and Yoghurt Raita

Poppadoms

Mix the cumin, paprika, cayenne, turmeric, sugar, black pepper, salt, garlic and freshly squeezed lemon juice in a bowl. Slash the chicken legs with a sharp knife in a couple of places. Rub the mixture all over the chicken pieces, put in a bowl and cover. Keep in a cool place for at least three hours.

Heat the oven to 180C/Gas mark 4.

Put the chicken pieces onto a roasting tin with all the paste, brush or drizzle with a little oil and bake for about 20 minutes then turn over and bake for a further 20-25 minutes depending on the size of the pieces. Baste two or three times during cooking. Transfer to a serving dish. Spoon the degreased juices over the chicken and serve hot or at room temperature with Ballymaloe Tomato Relish, banana and yoghurt raita and poppadoms.

Note: Chicken breasts may also be used in this recipe.

Almond Tart with Strawberries or Cherries

This is quite simply the very best almond tart. Ruth Rodgers and the late Rose Gray of the River Café demonstrated this gorgeous moist tart when they were guest chefs here some years ago.

Serves 10-12

Pastry

225g flour

25g castor sugar

110g unsalted butter

1 egg

Almond Filling

285g soft butter unsalted

225g castor sugar

285g whole almonds

3 eggs

1 dessertspoon Amaretto or Rum

1 tablespoon of flour (optional)

450g fresh strawberries or 700g cherries

Equipment

1 x 30.5cm tart tin with pop-up base

First make the pastry.

Sieve the flour and sugar into a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and then rub in with your fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt, the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop.

Whisk the egg. Using a fork to stir, add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect it into a ball with your hands, this way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although rather damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven. The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper, shorter crust.

Flatten into a round, cover the pastry with clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 15 minutes. This will make the pastry much less elastic and easier to roll.

Heat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4.

Line the flan ring and bake blind for 20-25 minutes. Meanwhile, make the almond filling. Blanch the almonds in boiling water, remove the skins and grind in a liquidiser or food processor.

Cream the butter with the sugar until soft and fluffy, add the freshly ground almonds, flour, eggs and amaretto if available. Pour into the pastry case, reduce the temperature to 160C/Gas mark 3, and bake for 45 to 60 minutes.

Remove from the tin onto a wire rack. Allow to cool completely.

Just before serving, if the strawberries are too large cut in half or quarters and cover the surface of the tart. Use whole cherries. I even leave on some stalks. Sprinkle with icing sugar. Tuck some sprigs of fresh mint here and there between the strawberries or cherries.

Marsh Samphire with Melted Butter

8oz (225g) Marsh Samphire or Sea Asparagus

1-2ozs (25-50g) butter

Wash the marsh samphire well. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, throw in the samphire, return to the boil for 3 or 4 minutes, drain.

Toss in a little melted butter. Keep warm.

Hot tips

Marsh Samphire is now in season. It looks like a succulent mini cactus, tastes juicy and pleasantly of the sea, nibble raw or cook for 3-4 minutes in boiling water (no salt) and eat with smoked or grilled fish or in salads.

Have you heard of Traveling Spoon? It’s a brilliant new concept that connects travellers with local and authentic food experiences (from homemade meals to cooking classes) in people’s homes around the world. Instead of eating at a restaurant, travellers who are interested in authentic food and who like a cultural exchange would pay to dine at someone’s home. Traveling Spoon searches high and low to find the best hosts and is looking for them in Ireland. Email aashi at aashi@travelingspoon.com

Summer Foraging: Join Darina Allen at the Ballymaloe Cookery School for a day of summer foraging on July 29. Forage foods from local woods, fields, hedgerows and seashore that have been an important part of Myrtle Allen’s menu at Ballymaloe for over 40 years, quite a long time before the current trend for foraging emerged. In just one day, you’ll learn how to identify and use over 40 wild food plants, flowers, seaweeds and shellfish in season as well as many foraged food from the hedgerows. www.cookingisfun.ie



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