Good salads are essential to help you stay cool and healthy during the hot summer months and and upping your salad dressing repertoire allows you to transform a dull bowl of leaves into something fancy.
The secret to a great salad is a great dressing. They are the simple yet sublime components of countless appetizers, salads, main courses, and even some desserts. At first glance, making vinaigrettes could not be simpler: just a swirl of oil, a dash of vinegar, seasoning, and perhaps some mustard and herbs. But the making of a good dressing needs a little care and attention. They should be sublime and smooth with just a hint of tartness to coat and coax the flavour of all the other ingredients.
Mastering the art of the vinaigrette relies on a few basic rules that are easy to follow. Firstly it is important is that the ingredients should be of the highest quality, top quality olive oil, vinegar and the balance of those ingredients is crucial.
For me, the proportions of these ingredients depends on the dish, but the general rule is that there should be four parts oil to one part vinegar. Once the basic formula is grasped, all manner of variations can be used. I like to make my vinaigrette with fresh lemon juice, lime or grapefruit juice instead of vinegar but balsamic vinegar makes a sweeter dressing and aged sherry vinegar is also a fantastic option.
It’s always a good idea to add a little flavour and bite to a vinaigrette by adding diced tomatoes, chopped shallots and fresh herbs.
To add different flavours you could use walnut oil, hazelnut oil or even avocado oil in place of the olive oil or infuse the oil with spices, garlic, truffles and other flavourings for a tastier dressing. For a complete change substitute creamy natural yoghurt for the oil in a dressing and add lemon juice and herbs.
SALAD OF IBERIAN HAM with GRILLED PEACHES, HAZELNUTS and GOATS’ CHEESE DRESSING
30g hazelnuts, peeled
3 fresh peaches, pitted and cut into
olive oil, for brushing
12 slices good-quality Iberian ham
150g mixed salad leaves (rocket/arugula, lamb’s lettuce, watercress, etc.)
200g goats’ cheese, crumbled,
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
FOR THE GOATS’ CHEESE DRESSING:
100g soft goats’ cheese
1 tsp sherry vinegar
4 tbsp cream
5 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
sea salt and freshly ground black
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6.
For the dressing, place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend to a light purée.
Place the hazelnuts on a lipped baking sheet and toast in the hot oven for 2 minutes until golden and lightly toasted. Be careful not to burn them – they’ll toast very quickly.
Brush the peaches with a little olive oil. Heat a heavy griddle pan and place the peaches on the grill for 30 seconds on each side, or until grill marks appear. The peaches should be warm but still firm. Remove from the grill and set aside.
Arrange the Iberian ham slices on 4 serving plates. Top with the grilled peaches and salad leaves. Scatter with the toasted hazelnuts and a little crumbled goats’ cheese. Serve drizzled with the goats’ cheese dressing.
SEA BASS WITH A GRAPEFRUIT, GINGER & ROCKET LEAF SALAD
& A SWEET AND SOUR VINAIGRETTE
4 fillets of Sea Bass (150g each)
2 pink grapefruits, cut into segments
2 Bunches of Rocket leaves, cleaned
½ teaspoon of freshly grated ginger
For the vinaigrette:
4 Tablespoons Oive oil
2 Teaspoons of Clear Honey
1 tablespoon of Sherry Vinegar
2 Shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 Teaspoons of Chives, Finely chopped
Mix together all the ingredients in a bowl and season with a little salt & pepper.
Pan-fry the sea bass fillets, skin side down, until golden brown and crisp. Turn over and place in a moderate oven (180ºc) to finish cooking (1-2 minutes). Place the rocket leaves, grated ginger and grapefruit segments in a bowl and dress with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette.
Sit the sea bass fillets in the middle of 4 plates & drizzle a little of the remaining vinaigrette over each fillet. Garnish with a little rocket and grapefruit salad and serve immediately.