Fennel and Courgette Salad

Courgette and fennel salad  topped with fennel fronds and red chilli
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 for courgette and fennel salad
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.
Thinly slicing the courgette with a speed peeler
Thin ribbons of courgette for a courgette and fennel salad
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.
Thinly slicing the fennel for a raw salad
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.
Chilli and mint for a courgette and fennel salad
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.
Seasoning the courgette and fennel salad with lemon zest, chilli and mint
Mixing the ingredients for courgette and fennel salad
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.
Courgette and fennel salad topped with fennel fronds and sliced red 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.
Courgette and fennel salad served with steak, chips and red 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….?

Refreshing Watermelon Salad

Fresh watermelon and mint salad
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 for refreshing watermelon salad
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.
Chopped watermelon for a watermelon and mint salad
2. Dice the red onion and finely chop the mint leaves.
Chopped red onion and mint for watermelon salad
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.
Refreshing watermelon salad
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!

Rosemary and Garlic Slow-Cooked Lamb Shanks with Mint Sauce

Slow-roasted lamb shank with new potatoes and spring vegetable stew
As my dad used to say (in a funny voice): “Spring has sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where the birdies is.” Weird, I know. But it’s true and we’re making the most of it with adventures into the outdoors and seasonal cooking. Nothing says spring to me more than lamb with mint sauce, and our little kitchen window-sill mint plant was getting dangerously out of control, so last Sunday lamb and mint was what we had to have.
Mint plant
Usually we would always choose a leg of lamb to cook with, but with only two of us eating we decided that lamb shanks were much more economical and manageable. If you’re cooking for more, then the recipe will easily double, triple, or more. Of course if you’re treating yourself then you can also halve the quantities. The same goes for the mint sauce: make as much as you need. The measures below are a generous amount for two, as I like to drown my lamb and potatoes in the stuff.

We decided to use our new tagine again (last time we did BBQ pulled pork) and were once more amazed with the results. There is something magical about a tagine that transforms meat into the most delicate, moist dish after just a few hours in the oven. We have also discovered that sliced onions cooked in a tagine soak up all the surrounding juices and end up sweet, caramelised and melt in the mouth. Our new rule of thumb? Onions in every tagine dish. However, don’t worry if you don’t have a tagine to cook in. This recipe will work well in any heavy-based pot that has a lid and can go in the oven, or you could simply use a roasting tin well-covered in tin foil.

Lamb Shanks
Ingredients (serves 2)
Ingredients for slow-cooked rosemary and garlic lamb shanks
4 sprigs rosemary
2 small onions
4-5 garlic cloves
1 chicken stock cube
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 lamb shanks

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 150C fan/ 170C/Gas Mark 3.
2. Remove the thin rosemary leaves from the woody stalks and roughly chop. Thinly slice the onions and crush the garlic cloves. Place in the tagine and sprinkle with the stock cube.
Onions with garlic and rosemary in the bottom of the tagine
3. Generously season the lamb shanks and heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Quickly brown the lamb on all sides over a high heat.
Browning the seasoned lamb shanks
4. Nestle the shanks amongst the onion layer and fill the tagine to roughly ¼ of the way up with boiling water. Pop the tagine’s hat on and cook for 3 hours.
Lamb shank tagine ready to go in the oven
Covered tagine ready to go in the oven

Mint Sauce
Ingredients for homemade mint sauce
Ingredients
Bunch of mint (about 10 sprigs)
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
5 tbsp hot water (e.g. from a recently boiled kettle)

Method
1. Remove the mint leaves from the stalks and finely chop.
Finely chopped mint for homemade mint sauce
2. Put the chopped leaves in a small jug or bowl and mix with the vinegar, sugar and water. Adjust the balance of vinegar, sugar and water to suit your own taste.
Jug of homemade mint sauce

After three hours in the oven, the lamb shanks will be ridiculously tender and the meat will fall effortlessly from the bone.
Lamb shanks after cooking for 3 hours
Melt in the mouth slow-cooked rosemary and garlic lamb shanks
Serve with the soft onions, the mint sauce, steamed new potatoes and spring vegetables. We had a stunning vegetable side dish which I will give you the recipe for next time – it was a real treat! I don’t think this dish needs an additional gravy: the meat is so moist, the onions come swathed in a thick gravy-like liquid and the mint sauce is an added bonus.
Sunday dinner of slow-cooked roseamry and garlic lamb and homemade mint sauceEating this meal, with the windows thrown open and the evening sun sinking over the neighbouring buildings, made me so happy and excited for the months ahead. Spring really has sprung.