It’s salad season

May was certainly a blow out; the weather meant we didn’t know whether we were coming or going. I was sat here one evening with the sun on one side of the house and rain on the other and my husband said it was just like living in the tropics. I love this optimism – 12C, socks on and we’re in the tropics!

The garden has jungle potential with all the rain and the seedlings have been rather battered. I’m hoping that by the time you are reading this the sun is shining, it’s warmed up and I’m getting to use my newly-purchased barbecue.

I’m very excited about the barbecue, it’s not a cooking skill that I’ve ever mastered but after so long without any socialising, I’m ready to learn and looking forward to sharing plates of food with friends. 

Despite the crazy weather we have plenty growing in the tunnels, lots of salad, spinach, fennel, chard and herbs. The beans and peaches are coming on and the beetroots are ready. 

This signals the beginning of salad season. Baby beetroots are delicious and we always grow a few different varieties, which are great for the colour scheme 

A favourite combination is beetroots, peas, lentils, and mint, the earthiness of the lentils complementing the brightness of the beets and peas. In better weather years, the peas might be thinking of podding up in June but this year there’s not a chance, they’re hugging the ground but hey ho we have frozen peas to fill the gap. 

We have plenty of mint, it doesn’t mind the weather and we have a big patch growing outside. Mint is one of these herbs that comes back every year, in fact if it wasn’t contained it would invade the entire garden. We’ll be able to pick this all summer long, well into autumn when the cool nights will burn the leaves and it’ll die back for the winter.

No barbecue recipes this month though as the bbq’s just arrived and is still in the box, but this salad recipe would be great alongside whatever has been cooked on the grill or for a summery lunch. We ate this with whipped West Cork ricotta on top, which was a delicious combo. 

Beetroot, Peas, Lentils and Mint with Whipped Ricotta

• 200g Puy lentils or lentils vert

• half tsp salt

• 100 mls extra virgin olive oil

• 4-6 small/medium beetroots

• 200g peas, fresh or frozen

• Handful fresh mint

• 1 red onion (optional)

• 1tsp sugar

• 2 tbs white balsamic or white wine vinegar

• 1 tsp Dijon mustard

• 200g ricotta

• Salt and black pepper

Wash the beetroots, trim the greens off but leave a little at the top otherwise the beets will bleed. There are two ways to cook the beets, roasting or boiling. Roasting definitely boosts the flavour but takes three times as long as boiling. For me, how I cook the beetroots, depends on how organised I am.

To roast the beets, pre heat the oven 180c. Wash the beetroots then rub a little olive oil over each one then put into a small roasting tray and cover with foil. Roast for one and a half hours at 180c, then check whether they are tender by piercing with a sharp knife. 

To boil, cover with water, bring to the boil then simmer for 30 minutes. Check by piercing with a sharp knife, if it slips in easily they’re ready, if not give a further five-10 minutes cooking and try again

Whichever way you cook the beetroot – this can of course be done ahead of time – they need to cool enough for peeling. The skins should just slip off when ready.

To cook the lentils put them into a small saucepan with at least twice the volume of water. Bring to the boil then cover with a lid and turn to a gentle simmer for 20 minutes. Check that they are ready then tip into a sieve and rinse under the tap. Put the lentils into a bowl, season with salt and drizzle a little olive oil over. 

Blanch the peas in boiling water for a couple of minutes then drain and refresh under the cold tap.

If you are using onion, peel it and slice very thinly. I like to rub the onion slices with a little salt. This tenderises and separates the rings.

Rub the peel from the beetroots then dice into roughly 2cm pieces. Season with a little salt. Strip the mint from the stems then chop small. Put all of the above ingredients into a bowl but don’t mix yet. The less mixing the brighter the salad will be.

Make the vinaigrette in a small bowl. Whisk the vinegar and Dijon together then slowly drizzle in the oil whisking continuously to emulsify. Taste to check, if it needs brightening up add a little more vinegar and/or salt. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and gently toss together. Do not overmix.

For the whipped ricotta, drain any liquid from the pot then tip the ricotta into a bowl. Season with a little salt and a few grinds of black pepper then drizzle over one-to-two tbs extra virgin olive oil then whisk together with a fork and it’s ready to go! (A great trick for pasta too.)

Serve the salad with a spoonful of whipped ricotta on top.

Here’s to a sunny June and socks off!

Karen Austin

Karen Austin is the co-owner of the Lettercollum Kitchen Project in Clonakilty.

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