Gemma Simmonite: Summer salads that sizzle
Summer breeze makes me feel fine. . . and thanks to this beautiful weather I am feeling mighty fine. The sunlight hours are increasing, and my imagination and appetite are permanently fixating on al fresco menu options to enjoy in the garden.
We all crave salads as the temperatures rise, but something with a good degree of zest and tang, or evening something creamy and seductive is so satisfying. I am certainly not thinking of limp lettuce and a forgotten about cucumber, I want something far more challenging to the taste buds and something refreshing.
For a summery salad I like to play around with something a little sweet and then something a little savoury. I really adore tangy, juicy fruits paired with salty meats or cheeses, and if you’ve not tried it, it’s just the perfect combination.
I think I love this style of salad because it takes me back to my childhood years in Mallorca, where beautiful show-stopping salads would appear from the kitchens of tiny unassuming beachside bars, the produce so ripe and beautiful it remains technicolour in my memories. Most afternoons when I’d finally been dragged from the water by my mother to eat, I would rapidly devour slippy white asparagus, giant tomatoes, salty olives, alongside Soller sun-ripened oranges and think nothing of the differing combination of flavours, I just knew it was juicily delicious, and the perfect stomach filler from my hours of playing in the sea. Watermelon, of course, was such a favourite treat, so thirst quenching and beautiful in colour, and nothing like I’d ever eaten before in 1970s Cardiff – it literally was Spain in every greedy bite to me.
So, these are the two salads I’ve chosen for this month, because if this weather continues, I think we’re all going to be needing a few more salad recipes in our repertoire. The watermelon of my childhood but paired with salty feta and pink pickled onions – trust me it may sound strange, but it just works! Plus, a beautiful almost bacchanalian creation of grilled nectarines, prosciutto and burrata. Whichever one you choose to make first, you won’t be disappointed. They make the perfect accompaniment to a barbecue, but delicious enough to stand alone, or even as a stunning starter. I will leave you with a little quote which I recently came across by Eric Scott Tolman Jnr: “We are plants. We need water, food, sun and we grow”.
Griddled Nectarines with Prosciutto and Burrata
4 nectarines halved and de-stoned
1 tablespoon of olive oil
6 slices of prosciutto
1 burrata ball
A selection of baby leaves
A few radicchio leaves
A few slices of toasted sourdough
Extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of dried red chilli flakes
Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
Heat a griddle pan until hot. Rub a little of the plain olive oil onto the halved nectarine flesh and grill them until charred and just starting to caramelise.
Arrange the baby leaves and radicchio on the plates, then divide the prosciutto and burrata decoratively, finish with the grilled nectarines. Drizzle a little of the extra virgin olive oil over and season to taste with the chilli flakes and salt and pepper.
Small dishes of extra virgin olive oil and an aged balsamic will make the perfect accompaniment, as will a few slices of toasted sourdough for scooping up the delicious summery flavours.
Watermelon, Pink Pickled Onion and Feta Salad
½ a smallish watermelon, cubed and deseeded
2 tablespoons of pink pickled onions
100g feta cheese, crumbled
A few sprigs of fresh mint
½ tsp of sea salt flakes
½ tsp of red chilli flakes
Arrange the watermelon and pink pickled onions, crumble the feta cheese, then pick small mint leaves and scatter over. Finish with sea salt flakes and dried chilli flakes.
Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds and Bridge Street, Cambridge