As you all know, I have been bringing Nigel to bed with me each night this week. Ever since he fell through my letter box I haven't been able to put him down . . . seriously. This just may be his best book yet, but then again . . . I say that every time a new one of his comes out.
I love his cookery-books because they read like a great conversation with your bestest foodie friend ever . . . I could just sit and read his prose for hours . . . but then, I get hungry so I have to put him down and high tail it into the kitchen . . . to put some of what I have read into practice you know.
He says he not a chef . . . and I guess technically he isn't, but he's one heck of a cook and a pretty good source of inspiration when it comes to cooking and eating. I could just eat his words and be quite happily fed . . . but the glutton in me really wants to eat his food too . . . and so I do.
One thing I really love about his style of cooking and his recipes is that they are profoundly inspirational . . . good solid basic skills and backbones, that . . . with a bit of knowledge about the chemistry of food and the way flavours actually work together . . . you can grab and run with them . . . flesh them out . . . put your own stamp on them . . .
One of his early September recipes is a lovely salad of plums, lentils and coppa, which is a lovely air dried Italian ham . . . (pg 357 in the book). It sounds fabulously delicious and the picture next to the recipe looks wonderfully scrumptious . . . a plate full of lovely lentils, plums and lentils . . . with a decadent looking dressing which looks steeped in herbs just gilding a corner of it's surface . . . I look at it with longing . . . wondering what the dressing is . . . but alas . . . there is no recipe for it.
So . . . I look at his recipe, and it begins to come alive for me . . . I can almost taste the sweetness of those ripe plums against the saltiness of the ham . . . and that nutty bite and meaty texture of the Puy lentils. It all looks and sounds so good . . . and I am craving it for our tea . . . I think about it for two days . . . and then I decide to do what I can with his recipe.
I had some lovely plums . . . not too ripe, sweet and still firm, perfect in every way, and quite able to stand up on their own in a salad. I didn't have any coppa . . .but I did have a nice ham hock sitting in my fridge, just begging to be used. It may not be most people's choice as they can be a bit fatty . . . but they can also be fabulously tender and flavorful, indeed most succulent . . . when simmered with a bit of onion, a bay leaf and some cloves . . . just until the meat falls away from the bone. If you let the hock cool down in the liquid, it stays all lovely and moist.
I wanted a creamy dressing though . . . something more than the simple herb lemon and oil that Nigel has put into his recipe . . . something that would go well with the ham and the plums . . . and the lentils too. A dressing that would bring an added depth to the sweetness of the plums . . . calm the saltiness of the ham . . . and really bring those nutty lentils to life. Something that would go pow in my mouth and dance across my tongue without taking away from anything else in the salad.
I decided on a creamy raspberry vinaigrette . . . filled with lovely bits of garlic, basil . . . flat leaf parsley. Some grainy dijon mustard for texture, a touch of honey for just a hint of sweetness . . . rich extra virgin olive oil, with it's light peppery quality . . . blitzed together to give a creamy emulsified dressing that would be very much at home on this salad . . . yes, it does make far much more than you need . . . but that's not really a problem.
I can see this dressing going very well on lots of different salads. It will keep for about a week in the refrigerator, but I wouldn't keep it longer than that because of the fresh herbs. You will also want to bring it to room temperature before using after storing it in the fridge. It would be fabulous on a sweet potato salad . . . with perhaps some cranberries and toasted pecans, spring onions . . . oops . . . there I go again. I grabbed that ball and started running.
In any case do try this salad. It's not quite Nigel's, but I thank him greatly for the inspiration. This is the perfect autumn salad . . .a wonderful marriage of color, texture . . . and flavor. Hearty enough to be the whole meal.
Quite, quite looking forward to the leftovers for my lunch today. ☺
*An Autumn Salad of Fresh Plums, Ham Hock and Lentils*
with an herbed raspberry vinaigrette
Loosely based on a recipe from Nigel Slater. I was inspired.
1 ham hock
1 small onion, peeled and cut in half
a few cloves
a bay leaf
2 cups of Puy lentils
3 cups of boiling water
1 cup dry white wine
2 spring onions, trimmed and chopped
a handful of flat leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
1 pound fresh FIRM ripe plums, unpeeled
For the dressing:
75ml of red wine vinegar
2 TBS raspberry vinegar2 TBS chopped fresh basil
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and minced
1 TBS chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 TBS liquid honey
1 TBS grainy Dijon mustard
375ml of extra virgin olive oil (1 1/4 cups)
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Start early in the day by cooking the ham hock. Place it into a saucepan along with the onion, cloves and bay leaf. Cover with boiling water. Bring back to the boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook until the meat is very tender. Allow to cool completely in the liquid. Once it is cold, remove, discarding any liquid and peel off the fat. Tear the ham into large chunks.
Bring the water and white wine to the boil. Rinse the lentils under cold running water, drain, then tip them into the pot with the wine mixture. Bring back to the boil, then reduce to a slow simmer and cook for 20 to 25 minutes. They should be tender, but not mushy, with a bit of an almost nutty bite. Drain them well and then rinse with cold water. Tip into a bowl, adding about 1 tsp of olive oil, tossing them to coat them with the oil.
Whisk together the red wine vinegar, raspberry vinegar and garlic with a stick blender in a tall beaker. Tip in the herbs, mustard and honey. Whisk again. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking continuously until completely amalgamated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Place the lentils in a large shallow salad bowl. Add 1 TBS of the vinaigrette and toss together with the flat leaf parsley and chopped spring onions. Wash the plums, dry with some paper kitchen toweling and then slice them in half, discarding the stones. Slice each half into 2 or 3 wedges, depending on the size of the plums. Gently fold them into the lentils, along with the ham hock chunks. Add a few TBS more of the dressing, tossing gently to combine. Sprinkle with a few coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley sprigs and serve, along with a nice crusty loaf (if desired.)