So long, summer…

Adios August, month of holidays, half empty offices and, if you’re familiar with Welsh culture, the National Eisteddfod.

Summer’s coming to an end and autumn is definitely in the air but it’s not here just yet. It’s that weird transitional stage when it’s still too warm to wear even a jumper but the shops are full of winter coats and you know that any day now, there’ll be a Christmas tree in the window of Marks and Spencer.

You might feel the same about eating. Unless we have an Indian summer (and there’s every chance that we will), we’ll soon be choosing stodge over salad but it’ll be a while before we get carte blanche to start laying down the winter blubber with pie and mash.

Summer produce is still in abundance and peas, broad beans, sweetcorn, tomatoes and strawberries (just) are still in season. And although the nights are starting to draw in, we can make the most of these sweet and mild flavours while it’s still warm enough to eat lunch in the garden.

Here are two recipes to try if you, like me, are feeling in inter-seasonal limbo: a simple salad with a twist and a summer soup.

Strawberry, avocado and mint salad

One of the many reasons I’ll miss summer is because it means no more strawberries. Out of season, they taste foul and I refuse to buy them, something I’ve ranted about before.

This salad takes about five minutes to put together and makes a lovely and light supper. You can always add boiled potatoes or grains if you want to bulk it up a bit. It also works really well with nectarines if you can’t get hold of strawberries. Don’t worry if you can’t find pomegranate molasses in the shops, but it really is delicious and I got a bottle for around three quid in Waitrose.

Strawberry, avocado and mint salad.jpg
Minty fresh – almost

Serves 2

Ingredients

Half a punnet of strawberries, hulled and sliced in half

2-3 big handfuls of spinach leaves (massage in oil and balsamic)

1 large avocado, sliced

400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Half a head of broccoli broken into florets

A handful of flaked almonds (optional)

A few fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (optional)

Method

Steam the broccoli for 4-5 minutes and allow to cool. Meanwhile, place the spinach leaves in a large bowl and massage with the olive oil and half the balsamic vinegar. Stir in the chickpeas and add the avocado and broccoli. Place the strawberries in a separate bowl and coat with the rest of the balsamic vinegar, then add to the salad. Sprinkle over the flaked almonds and the mint, then drizzle over the pomegranate molasses.

 

Courgette, pea and pesto soup

I’ll admit it, I’ve half inched this from the Good Food website. I’ve tinkered with it a bit though and I think my version is better. This is perfect if you have a glut of courgettes to use up. No, I don’t have an allotment but I was a bit over-zealous during my trip to the Riverside Market on Sunday and I bought way too many vegetables.

This is a really easy soup to make. Of course, you can use fresh peas (they’re lovely at the moment) but it’ll take you a bit longer to make. And if you have pesto to hand (remember you’ll need a dairy-free version if you’re vegan), you’ll save even more time.

Courgette, pea and pesto soup.jpg
Those are yellow courgettes in case you’re wondering…

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 garlic clove, sliced

500g courgettes, quartered lengthways and chopped

200g frozen peas

400g can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 l litre hot vegetable stock

2 big handfuls of kale or spinach, chopped

A squeeze of lemon juice

 

For the pesto

A handful of mixed nuts

1 tablespoon olive oil

5-6 basil leaves, roughly chopped

Method

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Cook the garlic for a few seconds, then add the courgettes and cook for 3 minutes until they start to soften. Stir in the peas, the kale or spinach, and the cannellini beans, pour on the hot stock and cook for a further 5 minutes.

If you’re making your own pesto, simply place the nuts, olive oil and basil into a blender, or grind in a pestle and mortar. If you don’t have either, spread the ingredients onto a chopping board and bash with the base of a mug.

Stir the pesto through the soup, squeeze over the lemon juice and season with lots of salt and pepper. Serve on its own or with crusty bread.

Advertisements

Chain reaction

I like Jay Rayner. Hell, I even fancy the guy (I have a real weakness for a man with a big shnozz) and I agree with almost every word of his Ten Food Commandments, apart from the bit about eating pigs – obvs. But Jay, do us a favour: stop doing Cardiff down.

In his latest review for The Guardian, Jay says some nice things about The Classroom, but concludes that Cardiff’s restaurants are crap. He moans that at 10.30 on a Thursday night, nowhere was open and he had to resort to a Burger King.

Do other cities outside of London serve food this late? Why didn’t Jay get his smartphone out? Yes, the city centre is pretty much awash with identikit Pizza Express, Zizzi and Nando’s (with the exception of The Potted Pig and the excellent Bar 44), but as many of the commenters on the Guardian piece say, had Jay jumped in a taxi to Cowbridge Road or City Road, he would have found plenty of places to try. And as someone pointed out, he could have had a Grazing Shed

Cardiff’s not all about chains and kebab houses and if you do your research, you’ll find some great little independent places. It’s the last bank holiday weekend of the year (sob) and I’ve gone all out with eating out. On Friday night, I paid (another) visit to Street Food Circus which anyone remotely interested in food will know about. This pop-up food festival runs until the end of September and is a mecca for foodies. I’m really pleased that there are quite a few options for vegans and veggies this year as well. I tried the thali from Bristol-based Gopal’s Curry Shack and it was delicious. This super fresh and healthy tray of goodness soaked up at least some of the post-work beers.

Gopal's Curry Shack.JPG
Gopal’s Curry Shack

On Saturday, I walked into town to clear my head and ended up at Crumbs, which has been popular with Cardiff’s vegetarians for years. It’s great for a quick lunch but you could just as easily while away a few hours here. If you want healthy but hearty fare, Crumbs will give you a cwtch in food form. I had the vegan spinach and chickpea pie (a heavenly triangle of buttery pastry with a subtly spicy filling) and a salad bowl and left feeling very full indeed.

Crumbs.jpg
Crumbs

Sunday was a double bill of Chai Street followed by Bar 44. Oh, it was a good day for food. Living in Canton means that I’m a regular at Chai Street,  which serves Indian street food and is the little sister of Mint and Mustard on Whitchurch Road. I normally have the thali but as it was a late lunch and I was meeting friends for tapas only a few hours later, I went for the thoran, a coconut based vegetable Keralite dish, and the tarka dal with rice. I also polished off most of my friend Naps’ masala fries.

Chai Street.jpg
Chai Street

Later on, at Bar 44 (my favourite place in Cardiff), I met some old school friends for a catch-up over cocktails. Bar 44 serves some of the best tapas in Wales (and offers a separate menu for vegans) and the food is tasty, well-presented and good value. Sure, the bill was eye-wateringly high but I think we can blame it on that final round of espresso martinis… As always, the service was brilliant and the staff did a great job of looking after twelve demanding diners.

I’m still dreaming about my recent holiday to Valencia so I had to have the pan con tomate and the version here really gives the real deal a run for its money. The butternut squash with mint and flaked almonds was light and full of flavour and the garbanzos, fried chickpeas, are little balls of joy, golden balls if you will. Oh, and of course, we shared a few plates of padron peppers.

Bar 44
Bar 44

You see, Jay, you needn’t look too far to uncover Cardiff’s not so hidden gems. He’s right about one thing though; Burger King has its merits and I certainly enjoyed my veggie bean burger (sans cheese) at 2.30 this morning. And no, I won’t be checking my bank balance (or the scales, for that matter) until this hangover passes.

Oh, Milgi, you’re so fine…

Cardiff’s Street Food Circus is back! Last night, the food lovers’ playground opened up for its second year after a phenomenally successful launch in 2015 when it won the ‘best event’ category in the British Street Food Awards.

Sophia Gardens is a vast improvement on its former site in John Street. It also happens to be dangerously close to my house. I know what I’ll be doing for the next six weeks…

There’s plenty on offer here from Cardiff favourites Ffwrnes, Purple Poppadom, Science Cream, Bangkok Café and more. There are burgers and ribs galore and non-carnivores can feast on curries, pizzas, toasted sandwiches and vegan ice cream (yes, you read that correctly). Perennially popular plant eaters’ paradise, Milgi, is also here with a pop-up yurt.

If you’re after a more sophisticated affair, you can enjoy a three-course sit down dinner every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Veggies and meat eaters alike will love the creative menu which features a light but flavoursome galette with basil houmous, harissa tempeh with minty peas and a delicious Caesar salad, and a raw blackcurrant cheesecake that is to die for – trust me: it’s truly amazing.

main course

 

See the full menu and get your tickets here. The meal will set you back £25 but it’s worth every penny, although you can also try a taster dish (last night’s was a harissa tempeh and peach skewer but it changes weekly) for a fiver.

Expect a friendly and cosy experience where you can catch up with old friends – and make new ones too. The yurt is a little escape from the carnival buzz outside and you can unwind with a glass of wine or Milgi’s ‘special brew’, a non-alcoholic fermented drink.

file-1.jpeg

The Street Food Circus is open from Thursday until Sunday until 25 September and it’s free to get in. It’s the perfect for an after-work jolly or as an alternative to your average Saturday night out with pals. Did I mention that there’s a frozen margarita bar? If the opening night is anything to go by, it’s going to be very popular so prepare to queue.

Silly season

It’s August and if you’re not on holiday, I’ll bet that half your office is. These few weeks in August were once known as ‘silly season’ in the halcyon days before Brexit, the latest Labour leadership contest and what appears to be an impending WW3. This is when things (usually) slow down a bit at work and you actually have time to take your lunch hour.

I’ve just come back from Valencia where I ate my own body weight in pan con tomate, olives, melon – and pasta. I also read a lot, and my favourite book of the holiday was Heartburn by the late, great Nora Ephron. This is Nora’s semi-autobiographical novel about a food writer whose marriage is falling apart. Sounds sad, which it is, but despite this (and the terrible, terrible front cover – of my copy, anyway), it’s laugh-out-loud hilarious, includes some handy recipes, and features possibly the best four paragraphs ever written in praise of the potato – you could call it potato prose, I guess.

Nora also shares her recipe for linguine alla cecca, which is basically hot spaghetti in a cold sauce. I will certainly give this a try using the fruits from my new tomato plant – if they ever ripen, that is.

So in honour of Nora (and the wonderful Dolly Alderton who pointed me in the direction of this book via her weekly newsletter), here’s my recipe for a simple spaghetti supper which tastes great at any time of year.

This is easy to throw together on a weeknight or weekend and if you make a big batch of roasted vegetables, you’ll have enough for a few packed lunches. Whenever and wherever you eat this, however, it must be done at a leisurely pace.

Spaghetti.jpeg

Spaghetti for all seasons

First of all, choose your vegetables for roasting. I used fennel, red onion and broccoli but try whatever’s in season or that you have in the house. Chop or slice the vegetables and place in an oven tray, season with salt and pepper and maybe some fennel seeds, dried herbs or fennel seeds, and drizzle over some olive oil. I’m a bit obsessed with balsamic vinegar at the moment so I’ve added a generous amount of that for a bit of sweet and a bit of sour. If you’re opening wine – or have the dregs of a bottle hanging around – add a glug of that to the tray.

Roast for about 25–30 minutes. Cook the spaghetti as usual. For extra texture (and protein), crush up some nuts. Any kind will do; I use those bags of mixed nuts you can buy from the pound shop. To do this, use a pestle and mortar (one ex-boyfriend was visibly aghast when he discovered that I didn’t own one – oh, how times have changed) or the base of a mug or a glass – or anything solid and heavy – if you don’t have one.

Once the spaghetti is cooked, drain and return to the pan, add the roasted vegetables, the crushed nuts and some olive oil, and heat for a minute, stirring continuously. You might like to chuck in some black olives and capers too. Serve in bowls and add some parsley or whatever fresh herbs you have in the garden/salad draw. Add more oil and balsamic if you so wish. Always be generous with olive oil. Life’s too short.