Sunday, 10 May 2009

A lovely spring lunch

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Sometimes it's not so much a recipe you need, as an idea. Your poor mind is harried, nothing in the fridge holds much promise for you, you are bored senseless with chicken. You know you should be swishing around like a domesetic goddess but you feel more like a wanton slattern. I have moments when I have absolutely no idea what I want to eat. Today, I actually quite seriously considered making oeufs en gelee (I do apologise to my continental readers for the lack of accents; there seems to be no facility for these in this medium) simply because I discovered an ancient packet of gelatine in the cupboard at lunchtime.

In the end, good sense prevailed, and I ended up with a delightful lunch of bacon salad, followed by a plate of blackberries and strawberries. It could not have been easier; a child of ten could have made it. Yet despite its simplicity, it gave me an odd sense of contentment and achievement. I made it with care, and arranged it all on a big white plate, so it looked pretty, and took the time to add a certain little je ne sais quoi - a final addition of some torn basil leaves in this case - that made all the difference.

There are as many recipes for bacon salad as there are soi disant chefs. Some ponce around with raspberry vinegar and soft boiled quails' eggs. Others are frankly peculiar - I found one oddity that called for cream, and another that insisted that broccoli would be a good notion. (No, no, no, I shouted, are you mad?). One version decided an Asian slant would be a bright idea, with ginger and sesame oil, despite the fact that bacon is the least Oriental of all meats. I take a good slash with Occam's Razor and think plain is best in this case.

So here is my version, for two:

Take four rashers of streaky bacon. I like mine smoked. Snip it up into strips and cook in a dry pan on a medium heat until crispy. Today, just for the hell of it, I added a little dried chilli, for a tiny bit of spice.

Then choose your leaves. This is largely up to personal taste, but the best result will come from a combination of light crisp lettuce and dark, bitter leaves. I used frisee, which has a particular affinity with bacon - it's a texture thing, I think; then little gem, quite a lot of rocket, and a dash of watercress. Baby spinach leaves are also excellent if you have them. A little sliced celery and cucumber are welcome additions, but absolutely no tomatoes please. This is strictly a green salad. About three generous handfuls will do it.

Put all the salad in a bowl and dress with a good dash of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. I like my salad quite citressy and use about half the juice from half a lemon. If you prefer a more nuanced flavour just squeeze and taste until you hit the exact right proportion. Then add a pinch of Maldon Salt and toss it all about. I used to faff about with French dressings involving Dijon mustard and red wine vinegar and all sorts. Now I find that the simplest dressing of olive oil, lemon and salt gives me everything I crave; I use it on all salads except for tomato salad, where I am such a purist that it is olive oil and salt only.

Scatter the bacon on the top. It should be still just warm but not hot, or it will defeat the leaves. Today, for the hell of it, I added some pine nuts, and some torn basil leaves. Some chopped parsley would be lovely too. I did wonder if one final permissable ingredient might be a smatter of tart goat's cheese; I could imagine that going very well with the salty bacon and crisp salad, and may try it next time.

To follow, I sliced up some fat juicy strawberries, mixed with a few blackberries, and ate them with some plain yoghurt on the side.

I have a suspicion that this might be what my cousin V calls 'girl food'. Today I had it in solitary state, while the dogs watched in disgust. (They only get really excited when I have steak or lamb chops.) But it would be perfect for when your best girlfriend comes for lunch. Or just for you, when you want to give yourself an easy treat.


  1. Isn't it wonderful to finally start having weather when one actually longs for salad? Saturday down south was so cold and miserable and I felt so rubbish with a heavy cold, I remained staunchly wrapped in blankets and cardigans re-reading Don't tell Alfred and refusing to move. Sunday dawned so gloriously that lunch outside was a must and ended up being a curious mixture of pan amb tomaquet (Tranches of sourdough rubbed with tomato and olive oil - lovely as breakfast), cold leftover steamed asparagus and slivers of smoked salmon shared not - alas - with a dog but with my sister, thus the bulking it out with sourdough. The bliss of asparagus in the sunshine...! Who needs to breathe through the nose when it's sunny...?

  2. Oh Jo - pan amb tomaquet sounds fabulous. Sourdough hard to find in these parts but now am determined to hunt some down.

  3. Don't necessarily recommend this full version for breakfast, unless the dogs are exceptionally forgiving, but toast bread lightly first, rub with a garlic clove, then tomatoes, drizzle with oil, then sprinkle over salt. Thrifty, adaptable and endlessly pleasurable.

    And as for tracking down sourdough.... you could always have a bash at making your own, should you have a spare two weeks/need to unleash some writer's block frustration/feel the need to nurture something.


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