Trish Deseine whips up two creative and colourful salads
Main featured image: Louis Laurent Grandadam
Summer is here and with it, sacred release from the tyranny of hot food – as long as you fully delegate any barbecuing. Indeed, for me, the most wonderful part of summer entertaining as a single woman, once more fully in command of all her kitchen appliances, is being able to ignore the often Neanderthal-ish realm of food-by-fire entirely.
My enduring memory of my last (fun) Irish barbecue is of the host, teeth gritted, rain dripping off his waterproof hood onto his nose, passing soggy sausages through the kitchen window onto the hastily decamped dining table. In France, it is more the timing which, dictatorial, tends to cast tension over all proceedings – (Vite! Maintenant! ASSEYEZ-VOUS!) – or temperamental heat management from either the cook or the machine involved, or both. So for me, no more calcinated Merguez, clammy lamb chops, frizzled courgettes, potatoes cannily baked in the ashes, only ever soft enough to eat at supper time or, worst of all, côte de bœuf never quite to everyone’s liking, usually ready to slice somewhere around dessert.
Of course, if you would like to learn how tame the flames and (literally in some cases!) worship meat, there are lots of fantastic courses all around Ireland. Big brand barbecues, like Weber, say, are often sold alongside the possibility of lessons and you can go Full Bro on gas or grill at places like Smokin Soul in New Ross, or John Doe’s cookery school Just Cooking in Kerry. Dunbrody House in Wexford, has a lovely-looking, (possibly more sedate?) one-day BBQ and Grill course with special accompanying accommodation rates available.
But not for me, thank you. Not for now, anyway. For summer entertaining, I still take my leaves from the book of the large, joyous, French family gatherings I loved so much when I first arrived here. The food was always ready to serve and cold – mostly made up of garlicky, milky, courgette gratins, traditional (composed) salads and the animal protein came in the form of cold cured meat platters and whopping cheeseboards. But never, for one moment, did it not feel festive and special. Nowadays, my go-to summer salads are much more exciting than the inevitable mayo, ham cubes, pasta, couscous and sweetcorn combinations from the 1980s, although these are all still alive and well and being served all over France as I write. (If you don’t believe me, pop into any traiteur-charcutier in any mid-sized French town and you will see them, sitting between the pâtés and palm hearts and under the chicken in aspic. It’s positively reassuring in these crazy times).
Playing with colour, flavour and texture in summer salads is a joy with so much fabulous seasonal fruit and veg available, and something you can do serenely, before the guests arrive. Matching salads works a little like creating any main dish. I like to offer at least three, sometimes four – something unctuous, juicy and meaty with a chilli kick, beef, salmon or lamb and noodles or pasta, something fresh and vibrant with a lot of green crunch, and then a more neutral, all-veggie-and-grain aromatic salad. Always on the side, a plain green salad, sliced, chilled melon and/or tomatoes jazzed up a little – because it’s summer and we can! – and extra vinaigrettes. Firmly banned from my menu are mayonnaise, curly parsley garnish and any type of tinned or packaged cooked vegetables – although, nostalgic for the epic High Tea poached salmon salads of my childhood Bayview Hotel, Portballintrae summers, sometimes I hanker for some boiled Comber Earlies, and maybe a couple of thick, hand-cut chips. You can take the girl out of Ireland …
Melon with Sumac, Lime & Pink Peppercorns
Aromatic, fresh and sweet/salty/tart, this blend has it all. Make sure the melon is chilled.
5 minutes preparation
• 1 small Charente or Galia melon, de-seeded, thinly sliced
• 4 slices watermelon
• 1 tbsp pink peppercorns
• 1 tbsp sumac
• 1 tsp grated lime zest
• 1 tsp lime juice
• 1 tsp fleur de sel
1. Arrange the melon slices on a wide platter. Sprinkle with juice, spices and salt. Leave to rest for a few minutes and serve.
Tomatoes with Whipped Ricotta & Shiso
I like to put raw vegetables on a cushion of ricotta or other soft cheese. Here I take advantage of the beautiful shapes and colours of high-season tomatoes. Use basil if you can’t find shiso (an Asian member of the mint family).
10 minutes preparation
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• Zest of a lemon
• A handful of shiso leaves
• Salt and pepper
• 6 to 8 tomatoes of different shapes and colours, sliced or halved
1. In a bowl, whisk the ricotta with the olive oil until it is soft and smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the ricotta in a pretty dish, arrange the tomatoes and shiso leaves on top and serve.