side dish | The Proof of the Pudding

Does a recipe need much more introduction than that video…? Probably not, but I’ll give you one anyway. Back in June I mentioned that I was going to France for a couple of weeks, and that I would be attempting to eat and drink all the cheese and wine that the country had to offer. Well, we put in a good effort and ate like kings (or queens) for two weeks. We had delicious homemade meals expertly cooked by my Grandpa, dined on fresh local seafood on the island of Houat, tried regional specialties like gallettes and cidre royal in Normandy and had the most simple lunch picnics by the side of the road that were turned gourmet due to the amazing quality of the ingredients – fresh baguette, perfectly ripe tomatoes and soft, melty cheese (thanks to the heat!).

By far the best meal we had out was in a small town in Normandy called Sainte-Mère-Église. Although it’s small, Sainte-Mère-Église is well-known and gets a lot of day visitors. This is partly because it was the first village to be liberated on D-Day, but also thanks to the incident involving the American paratrooper John Steele. In the very early hours of the morning on D-Day about 13,000 paratroopers of the Airborne Division of the US Army dropped into Normandy. The parachute of one particular paratrooper, 31-year-old John Steele, became tangled in one of the church spires, leaving him dangling on the side of the church. Despite playing dead, he was cut down and take prisoner by German soldiers, but he managed to escape a few days later and re-join his division to continue fighting through France. John survived the war and regularly went back to visit Sainte-Mère-Église during his life. He was made an honorary citizen of the town and had a statue erected in his honour – a model of a man, parachute attached, hanging from the church steeple. On our last night in Sainte-Mère-Église we ate at the Auberge John Steele, which is named after the soldier and was recommended to us by my parents. And so this is all a very long way round of saying that I had the best dauphinoise potatoes of my life at this restaurant! They were just the side to my main dish of steak and mushrooms, but I decided right then that I had to recreate them when I got home. So here we are: my version of the most indulgent, rich, creamy side dish you could ever ask for…

One year ago:
– Hot redcurrant and raspberry mousse

Ingredients (serves 2-4, depending on your appetite!) Butter for greasing 400g (about 2 large) floury potatoes e.g. Maris Piper, Red Rooster or King Edward 150ml double cream 100ml milk 1 garlic clove Fresh nutmeg Salt and pepper

15g parmesan, grated

Method 1. Heat the oven to 190C/170C fan/Gas Mark 5. Grease an ovenproof dish well with a little butter.


We’re finishing off Salad Week with a vegetable that is very much in the love-hate category for most people. If you love fennel, then you are definitely going to love this salad and will take no convincing to try making it. However, even if you think you dislike fennel, I’m going to try to persuade you to give this recipe a go anyway. I used to despise fennel – I found the flavour of cooked fennel overwhelming and just couldn’t understand how anyone could enjoy it. Then I discovered Jamie Oliver’s raw fennel and radish salad and suddenly I saw the light. Raw fennel is crisp, sweet and juicy. It still has a strong aniseed flavour, but somehow this worked for me in its fresh, raw form. After a few years of enjoying raw fennel in salads, I now find myself liking cooked fennel in certain dishes – particularly with white fish. I’m on the path to fennel enlightenment.

In my mind, this is a perfect way to get on board with fennel. The intense vegetable can stand up to the chilli heat and zesty lemon, and the courgette adds a sweet mellow flavour. If you really can’t stand fennel, but want a similar salad then substitute it for a bunch of raw asparagus sliced into thin shavings with a speed peeler. Or just double up on the courgette quantities, especially if you can get your hands on both green and yellow courgettes for a burst of colour.

Ingredients 1 medium courgette 2 small fennel bulbs A few sprigs of mint 1 red chilli 1 lemon 1 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

Method 1. Slice the courgette into thin ribbons. You can do this with a sharp knife if you have the patience and don’t want the thinnest possible slices, but the easiest way to achieve ribbons is with a speed peeler. You can also use a mandolin or the slicer attachment on a food processor, if you have those. Place in a large bowl.

2. Remove the fennel tops (keeping the fronds for decoration) and the bases. Thinly slice with a knife (or again with a mandolin or food processor if you wish) and add to the courgette.

3. Finely chop the leaves from the mint sprigs. Slice the chilli thinly on the diagonal. It’s a good idea to try a small piece of your chilli first to find out how hot it is – I used about half of the chilli shown.

4. Add the chilli and mint to the vegetables along with the zest from one lemon. Mix thoroughly, adding the juice from half the lemon and the olive oil. Season to taste and place in the fridge to chill for half an hour or more.

5. Once chilled give the salad another mix up and transfer to your serving bowl. Top with some of the delicate fennel tops and some extra sliced chilli.

This salad is very versatile. We had it with steak, chips and a large glass of red wine, but it would be perfect served with some grilled chicken or fish and chilled white wine.

How do you feel about fennel? Have you always loved it, grown to like it or is it firmly on the hate list? Might this recipe change your mind….?


Ok so this one might take some convincing. In fact, when I served it up last Friday night there were initially some suspicious glances and tentative prods with forks. But once everyone had tucked in and tried some, the conclusion was that this salad was a resounding success.

This recipe comes from a family friend of many years (Thanks Valerie!) and I absolutely adore it. I cannot get enough of watermelon, so I guess it’s an easy sell, and I’m sure lots of you love it too, as a sweet snack or dessert. However, you might not ever have had it in a savoury dish and right now you may be shaking your head at the computer screen, with an eyebrow sardonically raised. But, believe me, the addition of sharp onion, aromatic mint and tangy vinegar creates an unbelievable salad. It’s fresh, it’s sweet and savoury (the best combination to ever exist) and it’s super-summery. This is a refreshing, unusual side dish to serve up at a summer dinner or barbecue, and eat in the warm evening sunshine.

Ingredients 1 medium watermelon 1 small red onion 4-6 sprigs of mint 4 tbsp rice vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper

Method 1. Remove the rind from the melon and chop into bite-size chunks. If your watermelon is full of black seeds you probably want to remove these, but the smaller, thinner white ones aren’t a problem.

2. Dice the red onion and finely chop the mint leaves.

3. Mix the red onion and mint with the water melon chunks and sprinkle over the rice vinegar. Season generously with black pepper and toss thoroughly.

Chill in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. This salad is best eaten on the day you make it, as the watermelon doesn’t keep for long once it’s cut up.

Watermelon salad? Be brave and give it a go!


This week we’re all about salads. But never fear, these are not limp salad leaves topped with a sad halved cherry tomato and slice of cucumber, nor an uninspiring pile of shredded iceberg lettuce. These are fresh, vibrant, interesting salads that are bursting with flavour and made for summer eating.

Today’s recipe is a sweetcorn salad. It’s sweet from corn and cherry tomatoes, savoury from onion and pepper, fragrant from coriander and zingy from lime juice. The dish can take on different guises, as the name suggests: keep the ingredients chunky as I did in order to serve it as a salad, or finely chop everything to turn it into a delicious salsa which could be served with tortilla chips. If you feel like something spicier then some finely chopped red chilli would be an excellent addition.

Ingredients 250g frozen sweetcorn 150g cherry tomatoes 6 spring onions Small bunch of coriander 1 red bell pepper 1 lime 1 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

Method 1. Remove the sweetcorn from the freezer and allow to defrost at room temperature for a few hours. Quarter the tomatoes, chop the spring onion into small pieces and finely chop the coriander. If you forget about the red pepper (read: I forgot to buy a red pepper) then just chop it into squares and add to the salad later!

2. Place all the vegetables and the coriander into a bowl and mix well.


3. Squeeze the juice of 1 lime over the salad and drizzle with olive oil. Season to taste and pile into a serving bowl. Top with some extra lime wedges if it takes your fancy.

This dish is the ideal side dish for a barbecue. The first time I made it we had it with chicken marinated in my homemade barbecue sauce and sticky glazed sausages, and the second was as part of a Spanish meal alongside barbecued paella and some small tapas dishes. It would transport well in a tupperware tub for a picnic, or, as I suggested above, chop it finely and serve as a starter. I think this just might be my new favourite summer salad!


For the last few weeks I have been craving…vegetables. Now, before we fall out, I just want to reassure you that I’m not a total freak and also crave things like pizza, blue cheese, chocolate and salt and vinegar crisps (not all at the same time…probably). But right now, my current craving is for fresh, crisp, colourful veggies. I think it’s because I’m aware that summer is just around the corner, ready to bring with it such glorious presents as lettuce, peas in the pod, asparagus stalks, courgettes and globe artichokes.

One of my absolute favourite food blogs is Manger, written by the exquisite Mimi Thorisson. Literally, exquisite. I haven’t yet made nearly enough of her incredible looking recipes, but each one that I have made has been perfect: rustic, indulgent and utterly scrumptious. I’ve had her spring vegetable stew (La Vignarola) bookmarked for well over 6 months now, and finally had the chance to cook it last week. Unfortunately, in my impatience to make it, I was a little early for the Scottish artichoke and pea season, so I had to improvise with the fresh vegetables that I could get my hands on. Luckily asparagus is already available in abundance here, and our local market store had a large basket of broad beans. It was exciting to cook with lettuce for the first ever time and I completely adored the result. I have to confess that Ross wasn’t convinced, but I’ll put that down to his inferior taste buds…

Ingredients (serves 2-3 as a side dish) Large bag of fresh broad beans in the pod (about 300g podded beans) 1 little gem lettuce 2 spring onions 200g asparagus 1 tsp olive oil 100g pancetta or smoked bacon ½ lemon Small bunch parsley, finely chopped

Small bunch mint, finely chopped

Method 1. Pod the broad beans and set aside for later. I find podding beans and peas truly relaxing. It’s a slow, methodical task that should be savoured and, ideally, done outside perched on the back-door step. As we don’t have a garden I threw open the windows and put the radio on. To my surprise, as I snapped open some of the pods, inside the velvet cocoons were lilac and deep purple beans. I have no idea why this is –the variety of bean, the stage of picking, or something else altogether…if anyone can enlighten me I would love to know!… Quarter the gem lettuce, slice the spring onions and chop the asparagus into chunks.

2. Sauté the pancetta in a little olive oil until starting to crisp.

3. Add the spring onions and continue to fry for 30 seconds.

4. Add the asparagus and broad beans to the pan with 4-6 tbsp water and cook for a few minutes.

5. Nestle the lettuce amongst the other vegetables, cut side down, cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are all tender. You can turn the lettuce half way through if you wish.

6. Sprinkle a little lemon juice over the vegetables and stir through the chopped herbs and some seasoning to taste.

We served this dish as an accompaniment to our lamb shanks with mint sauce. It is the ideal side dish for a spring roast, but is actually generous and tasty enough to be the main event, perhaps served with some soft goats cheese and crusty bread. I think that in the original recipe Mimi served it as a starter, which would be a lovely idea for a special summer meal.

I was blown away by this recipe. The vegetables take centre stage and the last minute addition of lemon juice and herbs brings the dish to life with a zesty, aromatic flavour. I’m hoping to make this recipe many more times this summer, and am especially looking forward to using fresh peas, broad beans and artichokes from dad’s allotment, as the dish was supposed to include. If you’re going to make this recipe yourself, I wouldn’t worry if you can’t find the same vegetables as myself or Mimi – just use the best seasonal vegetables available to you and it will be stunning.