simple haloumi salad

haloumi salad
Three ingredients. No fuss.

Well, this is different. How many times do you get to say it’s really hot in London? Summer has found its confidence and is blazing away at a temperature that makes the thought of a pasta dinner just slightly uncomfortable. Thankfully, though, there’s haloumi – glorious haloumi – the delicious squeaky cheese that renders all who consume it instantly voluntary vegetarians.

Ok, so it feels like cheating to call this a recipe. But when it’s hot, the very last thing I feel like doing is cooking, so it’s gotta be simple: three ingredients (very Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) and there is zero chance of the oven going on. Slip it onto a plate, dress with balsamic or lemon juice, and slide out the door to enjoy the rest of the summer evening.

Simple haloumi salad
Half a 225g block of haloumi
Spinach leaves
Plum tomatoes
Balsamic vinegar or lemon juice

Fry the haloumi over a medium heat until brown, turning once to fry the other side.

Arrange the spinach on a plate and slice the tomatoes. Top with the grilled haloumi and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

lemon & ricotta cupcakes

Little pots of sunshine.
Little pots of sunshine.

When life gives you lemons…

… say ‘thank you’. Because you’re about to make something wonderful.

My favourite flavour of dessert is lemon, every time. There’s something bright and rather astonishing about it that’s always refreshing, and when that sharpness is tempered by something smooth and silky like yoghurt or cream… my goodness. All bets are off.

Lemon and ricotta: a truly spectacular combination.
Lemon and ricotta: a truly spectacular combination.

I’m not the only one who’s wild about this particular combination; lemon and ricotta is totally a thing. There are cookies, there are cakes, there’s pasta and pancakes and crepes and ravioli. There’s a whole world out there going nuts for lemon and cheese, and it’s spectacular.

I don’t know why I’m so late to the party, but I’m glad I came.

Spring is nearly here.
Spring is nearly here.

These adorable little cupcakes make me think of spring, of warm sunshine yet to reach its full heat, of little parties in the garden and afternoon tea with friends. They’re sweet, they’re tart, they’re incredibly exciting, and you must have them immediately.

Lemon and ricotta cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
200g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1 large egg
150g caster sugar
120g butter, melted
150g ricotta
1 lemon (juice and zest)
1 tsp vanilla essence
For the icing:
125g icing sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Sift the flour and baking powder together, then set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the sugar and the egg together, then whisk in the butter, ricotta, lemon juice and zest, and vanilla essence.

Add the flour and whisk until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Spoon the batter into 12 cupcake cases and bake at 180C for 25 minutes. Remove and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the icing by mixing sugar and the lemon juice together until it forms a thick paste. Spread on the cupcakes. The icing will set firm and dry to the touch.

Little darlings.
Little darlings.

spinach & ricotta lasagne

Warm and comforting.
Warm and comforting.

I’m not a vegetarian.

I mean it. I love meat. I celebrate spaghetti bolognese. I adore lamb shanks. I’m devoted to roast chicken. I have been known to weep with joy over a good unsmoked rasher of back bacon, damn it. Basically, if it swims or flies or roams this earth in a non-human not-too-exotic fashion, odds are I’ll have considered eating it at one point or another.

But despite my keen interest, I don’t really eat very much of it.

I know many people who belong to the ‘if it doesn’t have meat in it, it’s not a meal’ school of thought. Often, they are rightly concerned about the nutritional balance of a vegetarian lifestyle, which can lack protein, iron and magnesium if practiced incorrectly. Sometimes they approach it from a culinary perspective, because truthfully meat will add a taste and texture no other food can quite emulate. Mostly, though, the reasons have to do with a mental state; it doesn’t feel like a real meal if it doesn’t have meat in it.

The thing is, there are plenty of compelling reasons to eat less meat: environmental sustainability, health, cost and convenience being just a few. These are all solid incentives, but surely one of the greatest motivations is vegetarian food itself; it can be so darn good. The problem is overcoming years and years of bad restaurant PR – decades of limp pasta arrabbiata and dry veggie burgers – which is not at all representative of vegetarian cuisine.

Nothing limp or dry about this.
Nothing limp or dry about this.

Me, I’m a part-time meat eater at best, and this is what I’ve learned from my casual carnivorism: if you want to eat less meat, you can’t just cook traditionally meat-based dishes and leave the meat out. You’ll always feel like something is missing, and it will be, because you crafted it with meat in mind. Instead, you have to truly celebrate vegetables. After all, what is a chicken salad without the chicken? A pile of sad-looking lettuce and a mangled tomato, that’s what. But what if you created a salad with the earthy crunch of spinach, and added sweet kernels of corn, nutty quinoa, roasted pumpkin, avocado and a scattering of pine nuts? Would you truly feel deprived?

A meal doesn’t need meat to be satisfying; to me, what matters is how you use the ingredients you choose to include. So as an enthusiastic advocate of vegetables I want to share this recipe with you; it’s delicious and filling – I think the word ‘nourishing’ would be appropriate. It warms you from the inside out, like the pasta version of a big, warm hug, and it is: a pile of vegetables, loving you back.

Make and bake. Simple and delicious!
Make and bake. Simple and delicious!

Spinach and ricotta lasagne
250g lasagne sheets
500g frozen spinach, thawed and drained
250g ricotta
Pinch of nutmeg
1 egg
1 x 125g ball of mozzarella
2 x 400g tins of canned tomatoes
1 x 400g jar of passata
1 onion
1 vegetable stock cube
Mixed herbs
Salt and pepper

Make the tomato sauce first. Chop the onion and sauté gently until translucent, then add the tomatoes, passata, stock cube and herbs. Simmer for 15 minutes and taste, adjusting the seasoning. Depending on the sharpness of the tomatoes, you might need to add ketchup or sugar.

Mix the spinach with the ricotta, egg and nutmeg. Add salt and white pepper.

Starting with a drizzle of the sauce so the lasagne sheets don’t stick to the bottom, layer the sheets, sauce and spinach mixture in an ovenproof dish.

Bake at 200C for 20 minutes, then top with the torn mozzarella ball and return to the oven for another 30 minutes.

pumpkin & cheddar frittata

It's sunshine in cake form.
It’s sunshine in cake form.

Frittatas are gloriously summery. Sweet and eggy, deliciously filling and incredibly versatile, frittatas are this lovely golden yellow that always makes me think that they’ve found a way to catch Italian sunshine and smuggle it back for the rest of us. Somehow, despite being basically a collection of eggs and odds and ends, they’re unfailingly cheerful. I challenge you to stare at a frittata and not feel uplifted by its simple goodness.

It’s pretty difficult to stray too far off the path with a frittata, even if you’re not following a recipe. They’re the kind of thing you vaguely know how to make almost instinctively, and they’re fairly forgiving, so they’re the ultimate in stress-free cookery. What’s not to love?

I love making frittatas with sweeter vegetables like pumpkin and zucchini to bring out the natural sweetness of eggs. You can serve frittatas hot or cold and they’re great accompanied by a fresh salad, beans or some quinoa.

Serve with salad and quinoa.
Serve with salad and quinoa.

Pumpkin and cheddar frittata
1 x medium butternut squash
200g cheddar cheese, half grated, half cubed
9 eggs
Small bunch of chives
Salt and pepper

Cut the butternut squash into small chunks and roast in a 200C oven for around 20 minutes, or until soft.

Take it out and remove the skin – I find it easier and faster to do after it’s been cooked, but you do lose a little more pumpkin flesh.

Chop into cubes and place into a cake tin (one that doesn’t leak is helpful!) with the cubes of cheddar.

In a bowl, beat the eggs until light and fluffy, then snip the chives in and add a good strong pinch of salt and white pepper. Stir in the grated cheese and pour the lot into the cake tin.

Bake in a 200C oven for 40 minutes.