As we start our journey back to normality, Gastrono-me’s Gemma Simmonite says it’s thanks to the vaccine and gives us a tasty recipe to enjoy now we can meet up with our friends and family. . . as well as a warning about the future
As we sit on the precipice of a bank holiday weekend, there is a tangible feeling of hope and joy in the air. A full-on heady mix that is life beginning to return to normal: Of families and friends reuniting, maybe the taste of a cold pint supped in an actual pub garden, even the chance to get wayward hair trimmed and, in my case, thankfully dyed is part way of beginning to feel normal again.
The delicious feeling of our freedoms being flexed is such a positive one. We now have a harbouring hope that our world is going to keep returning to normal, and we’re all so hungry for it. At Gastrono-me, like so many other businesses, we’re still waiting – albeit impatiently – for May 17th when we too can join in the party and begin to live life normally again as a busy local business. But it struck me how incredibly blessed we all are to have this chance to begin again.
Last Friday I queued at a local surgery for my vaccine. I was, of course, a little trepidatious, but the alternatives don’t really bear thinking about. As I huddled under a blanket over the weekend feeling a little sorry for myself because of the after-effects of the jab, I read the real horror of India’s critical oxygen shortage, of people being turned away from dramatically overwhelmed hospitals and are subsequently dying in the streets. Makeshift funeral pyres that burn incessantly night and day are tragically symbolic of a nation that is literally on fire. Seeing scenes like this doesn’t feel far away or remote.
All of us can remember a feeling of ‘what if’ in this last year. What if our NHS became entirely overwhelmed and we couldn’t be guaranteed an intensive care bed and expert treatment? What if we ran out of life-saving ventilators? These were our very real fears such a short time ago. Suddenly, my shivery feeling from the jab felt like the luckiest one.
I pray that offered aid and life-saving medical equipment from the UK, EU and the US can start to help the many hundreds of thousands suffering. That India, along with other countries still deep in the trenches of the Covid pandemic, can begin to recover, along with the rest of the world. Because it is a worldwide problem after all, we need our entire world to be free of this terrible disease or at least in control of it, or there are fears that the pandemic’s strength will return to recovering countries once more.
With our renewed freedom comes not just responsibility, but a muscle memory of where we were a year ago. We have to remember that if we want a future that includes restaurants, shops, theatres and live music, we have to do our duty.
If we want to travel abroad with freedom, celebrate at weddings, stroll around museums and galleries and enjoy all the things we used to take for granted, we have to be part of the solution. The solution is the vaccine, and however much we read of scares, it is our only hope of preventing the return of lockdowns and, more importantly, the return of mass Covid casualties.
I found it utterly disturbing watching the scenes in Oxford Street last weekend of anti-vaccine protesters. Watching unmasked baying crowds holding aloft signs of ‘medical freedom’ and ‘ban coerced vaccinations’. It thoroughly confounded me that their blind arrogance and privilege could ignore countries being ravaged by the disease. Countries that haven’t been able to vaccinate or to lockdown effectively because of economic and social factors are now wretchedly, for want of a better word, ‘suffocating’.
As humans we all hate being dictated to – I personally despise herd mentality and always try to look at things from all angles and probably always err on the side of individualism. But when it comes to battling a pandemic, it is no longer a personal choice, it is a global one. If we are to benefit and enjoy an independent future then it’s by being part of the cure. We are not giving up our rights by being vaccinated, we are actually enjoying our privilege to be part of a Covid-free future.
I will further exercise my new-found privilege this bank holiday weekend by visiting my local pub garden whose landlords continue to amaze me with their brilliant hospitality and optimism. Like all businesses they are constantly adapting to new challenges and deserve our support and appreciation.
I’m also going to relish the luxury of having a few friends over to sit in the garden for a bite to eat, and by goodness I’m going to enjoy it!
I am so looking forward to listening to their chatter in the sunshine that I have chosen a dish that is simplicity itself – because after such a long time apart from these precious friends I don’t want to miss a single moment of their company.
The salad I’ve chosen is perfect because it’s all pre-prepared and will allow me to spend all my time with friends and family rather than on my own in the kitchen. If the sun doesn’t shine, I do not care a jot! I shall don a scarf, and my chilled rosé wine will convince me it’s a veritable oasis!
I truly wish you all a wonderful long weekend. I hope that you get to experience a refreshing drink (or two) in a pub garden, maybe something tasty in an outdoor restaurant, or simply just the joy of cooking for a much-missed friend. However you choose to spend it, let’s remember how very lucky we are and that better times are ahead x
ROASTED CAULIFLOWER CAESAR SALAD
This salad started its creation whilst I was thinking of alternatives to a chicken Caesar salad. I wanted it to have the same substance, crunch, and tang of a chicken Caesar, but I’m delighted to say I think this veggie version completely surpasses it!
Instead of chicken I have used cauliflower florets roasted until tender in a smoky chilli oil, I’ve added buttery ripe avocado slices, tangy pink pickled onions, and a creamy whipped feta dressing to pull all the delicious flavours together.
As the croutons, cauliflower and hard-boiled eggs can all be prepared beforehand, it makes this salad a breeze, and will only take a minute or two to pull together when ready to eat.
1 head of romaine lettuce washed
1 small bag of baby spinach leaves
1 ripe avocado, sliced
4 eggs, hard-boiled and halved
2 spoonsful of drained pink pickled
For the roasted cauliflower:
1 small head of cauliflower broken
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 teaspoons of smoked paprika
A good pinch of dried chilli flakes
Ground black pepper and rock salt
For the croutons:
A few slices of thick rustic bread, a few days old is perfect
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of oregano
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
Ground black pepper and rock salt
For the whipped feta dressing:
150g feta cheese crumbled roughly
2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
2 tablespoons of crème fraiche
1 crushed garlic clove
½ teaspoon of dried mint
½ teaspoon of dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 200C/fan 180C.
Toss the cauliflower florets in a large bowl with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, smoked paprika, chilli flakes, a good grind of salt and pepper and give everything a good stir until the cauliflower is coated. Roast in the oven firstly for 12 minutes.
Next chop the bread into big cubes, throw into the same bowl you used to coat the cauliflower, along with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the garlic powder, oregano and another good grind of salt and pepper. Give everything a good toss and when the cauliflower has roasted for 12 minutes, add the bread to the roasting pan with the cauliflower and roast for a further 8 minutes.
Whilst the cauliflower and croutons are in the oven, it’s time to make the whipped feta dressing. In a large jug add the feta and all the rest of the dressing ingredients, minus the salt and pepper. With a stick blender blitz the ingredients until smooth, if a little thick add a small amount more of crème fraiche. When at the desired consistency, season with salt and pepper to taste.
When the cauliflower and croutons are ready, you can start to bring your salad together.
Arrange the romaine and spinach in a large bowl, along with the avocado and hard-boiled eggs. Next, nestle in the crispy croutons and roasted cauliflower, then sprinkle over the pink pickled onions. Finish by drizzling over the whipped feta dressing, and another grind of black pepper and rock salt.
Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds
Read Gemma’s blog at gemwithrelish.com
Call 01284 277980