Red and White Rice Salad, with Butternut Squash and Pomegranate

I quite often find myself with absolutely no idea what to make for dinner. Despite having approaching 850 cookery books, and my own notebooks containing close to a thousand tried, trusted and delicious recipes, I still scratch my head some mornings. When faced with such a conundrum, I will often turn to what is lurking in the fridge or the pantry and use what I already have as a starting point.

I picked up a beautiful pomegranate the other day. I had no idea what I would do with it but it was such a perfect fruit I couldn’t leave it there. I spotted it in our fruit bowl, and from there it was easy: pomegranate means salad, the developing summer leads me to middle-eastern flavours, and from there I just hit the books until I spotted this wonderful, hearty salad courtesy of Sabrina Ghayour’s ‘Bazaar: Vibrant Vegetarian Recipes’.

It is studded with interesting textures and flavours, and the combination of sharp vinegar, sweet orange and honey, together with warming cinnamon makes for a knockout fragrance. It is perfect as an accompaniment to falafels (which is how I served it), and I think it would also be perfect alongside grilled fish or shredded cooked chicken, with some pitta bread on the side. It is hearty enough to act as a vegetarian main course all by itself as well.

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RECIPE serves 4

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into bite-size cubes

olive oil

2 tbsp cumin seeds

75g basmati rice

75g red Camargue rice

100g dried cranberries OR barberries

50g toasted flaked almonds

50g flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1 medium red onion, very finely diced

finely grated zest and juice of a large orange

1 tsp ground cinnamon

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

2 tbsp clear honey

extra-virgin olive oil

the seeds of a pomegranate

150g crumbled feta (optional)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Pre-heat the oven to 220C/ 200 C fan/ Gas 7.

Place the cubed butternut squash on a prepared baking tray and drizzle generously with olive oil. Scatter over the cumin seeds and season generously with salt and pepper. Using your hands, ensure everything is properly combined, spread out to ensure there is plenty of space for the squash cubes to roast properly, and cook in the middle of the oven for around 450 minutes until the squash is meltingly soft and just charring around the edges. If your honey is of the set kind, drizzle it over the hot squash now to melt and combine. Set aside to cool completely.

Meanwhile, cook the rice per packet instructions – in a separate pan for each type – until cooked but still slightly firm in the centre of the grain. This will take as little as five minutes for the basmati, and around 30 minutes for the red rice so keep an eye on things. Once cooked, rinse the rice thoroughly in cold water until completely cool, drain and set aside.

Put the cranberries (or barberries) almonds, parsley, onion and rice into a large serving bowl and mix well. Add the orange zest and juice, cinnamon, a generous glug (around 2 tbsp) of your best extra-virgin olive oil, the vinegar, the honey (if you didn’t use it earlier) and some salt and pepper. Mix well and taste for seasoning. Season carefully, adding more salt until the flavours are punchy – you may need more salt than you would expect.

A word on adding those liquids: the orange juice, vinegar and oil. Normally I would combine them in a small bowl and whisk together, then add the mixture as a whole. Adding them to the salad singly, as described above, somehow results in a less uniform distribution, no matter how well you mix the salad together. It means that every mouthful is different, sometimes startlingly so. It’s a new trick for me, one that I will think about whenever create a dressing in future.

Now add the butternut squash and pomegranate seeds and gently fold in, keeping the squash cubes intact. If you like, and depending on what you are having alongside this salad, you can crumble feta across the top as well for fresh, salty bursts of flavour.

Leave this covered, on the side at room temperature, until ready to serve.

Linguine with Salmon and Samphire

We are not hardened foragers in our house, though we do gather spring nettles for soup and beer, mushrooms (when we are 100% sure what we are faced with – we did a course and I highly recommend it if you want to pick and eat wild mushrooms and survive the experience), blackberries (of course) and many spring and summer greens such as wild garlic and wild leeks. There is still real abundance to be found, if you know what you are looking for.

Rule number one for a successful forager is: never tell anyone where you gather. If you do, then the chances are, when you visit next, the word will have got around and your spot will have been stripped bare.

The other day we were strolling along a fairly popular but rocky beach, when we spotted a small bunch of rock samphire. We were overjoyed and took only a couple of good handfuls. A little further along we were astonished to find another, bigger bunch, and beyond that it was growing in abundance – so much for leaving some behind for nature, we could have filled a carrier bag and still have left 95% of what was growing there. I still won’t tell you where we found it though…

Samphire comes in two main types: marsh samphire, which is like eating the sea and can be found on fish counters in supermarkets now, and rock samphire which is less salty but more citrussy. Either will do for this recipe, though the results will be quite different depending on which you use. The marsh samphire is more vibrant, whereas the rock samphire has an exquisite, delicate fragrance.

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RECIPE serves 4

approx 250g marsh or rock samphire

400g linguine or spaghetti

olive oil

a good knob of unsalted butter

4 salmon fillets

the zest and juice of a lemon


METHOD

Pick over and wash the samphire, roughly chop any large pieces, then set aside.

Pat the salmon fillets dry, season lightly and set aside for now.

In a large pan of lightly salted boiling water, cook the linguine or spaghetti per packet instructions until al dente, this will take around nine or ten minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet or frying pan over a high-medium flame until hot (but not smoking), drizzle the pan with a little oil, pop half of the the knob of butter in the pan as well, add the salmon skin-side down and fry for around two minutes until the skin is crispy, basting all the while with the melted butter and oil. Don’t be tempted to try and move the fish around in the pan, this is the most common mistake when frying fish. Just leave it to sit in place, the skin will release from the pan when it is ready. Flip over and sear the other side for around 30 seconds, then remove from the pan and rest over kitchen paper until the pasta is ready.

Drain the pasta, leaving it wet with a good slick of the cooking water. Return it to the cooking pan and add the samphire and remaining butter with a generous grinding of black pepper. Toss well and then add the lemon zest and juice. Check the seasoning now, it makes a huge difference to the finished dish and you may need more salt than you think.

From here I like to serve the pasta in bowls with the whole salmon fillet on top – my wife likes the crispy skin. You can however remove the cooked skin and flake the salmon while the pasta is finishing (leave the flakes large) and toss through the pasta with the samphire if you prefer.

Served alongside a large bowl of rocket leaves, lightly dressed with  fresh lemon juice.