I have just returned from the most relaxing week in Brittany, eating out, exploring some of my old favourite haunts and dealing with the unexpected heatwave (on Tuesday it hit over 30 degrees in the shade, and the thermometer on the wall by the kitchen door was climbing over 40!) by hiding under the walnut tree on a picnic rug, a good book and plenty of mint flavoured Badoit water and Côtes de Provence, loaded up with ice.
On the days where we stayed at home, we barbecued all manner of veggies, sausages, veal steaks and marinated pork belly slices, but when we'd had a bigger meal at lunch, we turned to lighter, cold, easy to throw together dishes on the patio with an ice cold bottle of wine. One evening all we had was a big plate of crudités with plenty of French bread, local cheeses and duck liver pate. On another, I made salads of fat anchovies, plump, salty capers and cold, creamy local potatoes on a bed of buttery lettuce. We never buy salad dressings for our French kitchen; instead I finish everything with a fresh batch of vinaigrette, made to taste simply with Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar and grassy extra virgin olive oil.
The idea loosely came from the current issue of my favourite French food magazine, Saveurs, and the measurements below, while they will make two big, light supper bowls (served with an ice cold, sweet Bergerac, usually better suited to an aperitif but it works beautifully here), they are really just a guide. This sort of cooking, designed for when it is far too hot outside, is never about exact measurements.
- 4 Large or 5 Medium New Potatoes
- Sea Salt
- 4-5 Large Handfuls Lettuce Leaves
- 1/4 Cucumber
- 2 Spring Onions
- 1 tbsp Nonpareille Capers
- 30g Tin Anchovies in Olive Oil
- Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- Dijon Mustard
- Red Wine Vinegar
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Add the potatoes to a saucepan with enough cold water just to cover them, along with a generous pinch of sea salt. Bring them to boil over a high heat and allow to cook for about 15-20 minutes, until you can easily stick a sharp knife through them. The exact cooking time will depend on the size of the potatoes. If you are looking to avoid turning on the hob at all, I like to cook more potatoes than I need in the summer when I am making a potato salad, stashing the leftovers in the fridge to throw into salads or to cut into matchsticks for a crudité plate. Set the potatoes aside and allow them to cool.
Rinse and dry the lettuce leaves. Tear them into manageable pieces and divide between two bowls. Peel the cucumber, and cut it into small chunks. Top, tail and finely slice the spring onions, and divide the cucumber and the spring onion between the salads.
Slice the potatoes, peeling off as much of the potato skin as possible as you do so. Divide the potato slices between the bowls, and divide the capers and the anchovies, draining them and doing your best to keep them whole between the salads too. Depending on which brand of anchovy you buy, you may need to remove the spines. Finish the potato slices with a dusting of freshly ground black pepper.
To make the vinaigrette, place about a teaspoon of Dijon mustard in the bottom of a small bowl, and follow with a generous dash of red wine vinegar and the olive oil. Whisk until the dressing is smooth, and give it a taste. If it is too tart, add more oil. If it does not have enough flavour add a bit more mustard. If it is too flat, add more vinegar. Once you are happy with the dressing, drizzle it over each bowl before serving.
How did all of you beat the heat? We're due for another hot weekend (thankfully not that hot though!) and I have plans to make peach iced tea with some of the tray of white peaches from the South of France we brought back with us. If you are after a few more summer weekend recipe ideas, why not try my Barbecue Chicken, Bacon and Honey Mustard Skewers with a my Purple Cabbage Slaw with Cucumber and Dill on the side? Also, now it is English cucumber season I see a big pitcher of Cucumber and Mint Lemonade in my future, and perhaps I should make a jar full of Mini Marinated Mozzarella Balls for the fridge - they were my 'it's too hot to cook' go-to when I lived in California.