Thursday, 24 May 2012

Artichokes, hollandaise and halloumi salads

At last

Finally the sun has come out! It really makes such a difference, and means that the evenings can be made the most of instead of being huddled up inside watching the rain running down the window. 

One of the best things about the summer arriving is that I can eat outside as much as possible. My flat doesn’t have a designated dining room, so when it’s cold it’s mostly eating off my lap, but luckily I do have a good sized balcony. When it’s warm and the evenings are long, I can sneak out and sit at a small table surrounded by plants and the smell of barbecues. 
Globe artichokes with hollandaise 
Like barbecues and picnics, there’s something great about sitting outside and picking at food with your fingers. Globe artichokes are a great way to start any meal outdoors, and they go a lot further than you’d think after scraping the tiny amount of flesh from an individual leaf. Make sure that you peel everything away and get to the lovely tender heart in the middle. 

Hollandaise can sometimes be a bit of a nightmare, but once you find a method that works for you then it can be assembled without too much fuss. It’s definitely worth the effort though, as it works so well with the artichoke, clinging to the leaves much better than a vinaigrette. 
This is such a simple meal, but always looks dramatic and keeps with that interactive outdoor spirit.
Serves 2 as a starter
2 globe artichokes
2 lemons
For the hollandaise:
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar 
1 lemon - juice, put the squeezed lemon in the saucepan with the artichokes
120g butter
Fill a large saucepan with water and salt. Squeeze a lemon into the water and chuck the lemon into the water too.
In a large bowl, season the egg yolks then whisk well until they start to thicken. 
Heat the vinegar and lemon juice in a small saucepan until the mixture starts to boil. Pour slowly over the eggs whilst whisking quickly.
Now melt your butter until it starts to foam. When ready, transfer to a jug and pour very slowly - a few drops at a time - into the egg mixture, whisking all the time. As the butter is incorporated into the mixture it will thicken, but be careful not to add the butter too quickly or it will split. When all the butter has been added, taste and adjust with lemon, salt and pepper, which ever is needed. Cover and put aside until the artichokes are cooked. 
To cook the artichokes, trim the stem and peel off any tough outer leaves. Squeeze over half of the remaining lemon to help prevent discolouring. Plunge the prepped globes into the boiling salty lemony water, and use a colander to keep them submerged. Boil for 25 minutes before checking - try an outer leaf, and if the flesh is still tough then cook for another 5 minutes. 
Once cooked, drain the artichokes and squeeze with the last half of lemon. Serve quickly with a bowl or hollandaise for dipping. 

When I last ate these artichokes, I followed it up with this halloumi salad to make an easy to cook but really tasty week night meal.
Broad bean, radish, green bean and pea salad with grilled halloumi and a herb yoghurt dressing
Halloumi almost always gets used as a vegetarian substitute to a meat dish, and I bet vegetarians get sick of unimaginative hosts plonking it in front of them for every meal. However it is fantastic when simply grilled, and the saltiness goes well with a cooling and sweet salad. 

I’m a bit obsessed with fresh oregano at the moment, and luckily my local greengrocer always has loads of it. It adds such a fragrant citrus taste to anything that it’s added to, from soups to marinades and salads. If you can’t find any, any herb combinations will work, but try and use lots of mint. When seasoning the dressing, you want it to be quite strong, so add a touch more lemon, vinegar and salt than you thing you need, as it will be diluted when eaten with the crisp vegetables.
You can prepare everything but the halloumi (although you can have it  pre-sliced and ready), so as much time can be spent outside with a cold beer without the hassle of cooking up a massive meal. 
Serves 2
For the salad:
1 block halloumi, sliced into thick rectangular pieces
300g broad beans, podded and shelled
100g french beans, trimmed and cut in half
200g frozen peas
about 8 radishes, thinly sliced
4 spring onions, sliced
3 sprigs mint, leaves picked and torn
1 lemon - juice
a small handful of rocket leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
For the yoghurt dressing:
400ml natural yoghurt
1/2 bunch mint, finely chopped
1/2 bunch fresh oregano, finely chopped
2 lemons, the zest of one and the juice of both
1 tbsp white wine vinegar, plus more if necessary
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Put some salted water in a saucepan large enough to hold the french beans, broad beans and peas and bring to the boil. 
While the water is boiling, make the dressing. Put the yoghurt in a bowl and add all of the other dressing ingredients. Mix well and taste, adjusting with lemon, vinegar, salt and pepper as it needs. Set aside to infuse while you prepare the vegetables.
When the broad beans, peas and french beans are all trimmed, podded, shelled and sliced and the water has boiled, blanch them for 2 minutes. As soon as two minutes is up, drain the vegetables and plunge them in a large amount of cold water to stop them cooking. Shake as much water from the vegetables as possible, then add a small amount of extra virgin olive oil and squeeze the lemon juice over. Add the radishes, spring onion and mint, season well and mix together, then set aside until ready to plate up.
To cook the halloumi, heat a non-stick frying pan on a medium-high heat with a little oil. When it is hot, fry the halloumi quickly for a couple of minutes on each side until crisp and brown. 

To construct the salad, place a small amount of rocket in the middle of the plate and top with a large heap of the vegetable mixture. Spoon some of the yoghurt over the top, scatter some more mint leaves around and arrange the halloumi around the plate. Tuck in with a glass of wine somewhere nice outside. 

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