Gelf Alderson's panzanella

River Cottage Great Salads: 3 seasonal salad recipes to enjoy outside

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River Cottage’s executive head chef Gelf Alderson shares three perfect summer salads from his new cookbook.

While last week’s ‘heatwave’ may have been ever-so-slightly short-lived (for those that had it at all), we’re counting ourselves lucky that the sun still appears to be sticking around – even if it’s only for half a day and we still have a jacket, sunglasses and umbrella packed for all eventualities.

And when the weather does coincide with our days off (or just a leisurely WFH lunch), all we want to eat at the moment are generous bowls of fresh, seasonal produce. And though the UK may get a bad rep for only growing potatoes and carrots, at this time of year, we can enjoy an abundance of veg – from asparagus to tomatoes – so what could be better using them to their full potential in a deliciously satisfying salad? 

And when it comes to seasonal produce, few know how to use ingredients quite like the pros at River Cottage. Famed for its long-running Channel 4 cookery show, cooking school and dining experiences, those in the River Cottage kitchens have been foraging, fishing and farming since 1991 – and with executive head chef Gelf Alderson working with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall since 2012, you can be sure he knows a thing of two about seasonality, and how to make the most of produce. 

So it’s not surprise that with his new book, River Cottage Great Salads, he’s doing just that. Offering everything from quick meals to lunchbox-ready salads, all of the recipes use everyday ingredients, and give plenty of suggestions for seasonal swaps and delicious alternatives – all with minimal effort and time spent in the kitchen. 

River Cottage Great Salads by Gelf Alderson
River Cottage Great Salads by Gelf Alderson

Next time you’re craving a lighter evening meal – but one that still guarantees to deliver when it comes to flavour, texture and appearance – look no further than these three summer salad recipes.

The UK asparagus season started unusually early this year, but if you’re lucky, you should still be able to find British crops in supermarkets until the end of June. To make the most of the last of the harvest, Gelf’s roast asparagus, feta, almonds and sourdough croutons is ideal – pairing the simply cooked veg with crunchy nuts, croutons, creamy and tangy feta and a light citrussy dressing. 

There are few things that say ‘summer’ quite like fresh, juicy tomatoes. And a salad that well-and-truly shows of the veg is a humble panzanella. Here, Gelf takes the principles of the traditional Italian dish – stale bread, ripe tomatoes, red onion and torn basil – and incorporates the tang of gooseberries to enhance the flavour.

Finally, for a heartier salad, look no further than Gelf’s spiced spelt salad with apples and lime. The spiced spelt is given plenty of flavour with ginger, cinnamon and curry powder, with the salad given texture and freshness with the additions of crisp apples, corinder and mint. 

  • Roast asparagus, feta, almonds and sourdough croutons

    Gelf Alderson's roast asparagus, feta, almonds and sourdough croutons
    Gelf Alderson's roast asparagus, feta, almonds and sourdough croutons

    Gelf says: “Asparagus is one of the first signs of spring: as the weather warms slightly the brilliant green spears start to poke through the earth. Typically, the short asparagus season ends around the summer solstice, so the last of the crop heralds the start of summer. For this salad, the spears are roasted to enhance their amazing flavour, while retaining a good crunch.”

    Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a starter

    Ingredients

    • 2 slices slightly stale sourdough or good-quality wholemeal bread, crusts removed
    • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    • 100g almonds (skin on), roughly chopped
    • About 500g asparagus (at least 16 spears)
    • 1 Little Gem lettuce, divided into leaves
    • 150g good-quality feta
    • Juice of 1 lemon
    • Sea salt and black pepper

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 230°C/Fan 210°C. 

    Cut the bread into one centimetre cubes and place in a bowl with two tablespoons of the olive oil and some salt and pepper. Toss to coat. 

    Scatter the bread cubes on a baking tray and toast in the oven for five minutes until golden brown and crunchy. Tip the croutons onto a plate and allow to cool. Spread the chopped almonds out on the baking tray and toast in the oven for three minutes then set aside to cool. 

    Break off the tough ends of the asparagus and cut the spears in half on the diagonal. Place on a baking tray, trickle over the remaining one tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the asparagus in the oven for four minutes, then remove and set aside for a few minutes to cool slightly. 

    Transfer the roasted asparagus to a large bowl and add the almonds, lettuce leaves and croutons. Crumble in the feta cheese, then trickle over the lemon juice. Add a touch more seasoning if you feel it needs it and serve. 

    Swaps
    Once the asparagus season is over, grill plump spring onions instead.

  • Panzanella

    Gelf Alderson's panzanella
    Gelf Alderson's panzanella

    Gelf says: “I couldn’t write a book about salads without including a recipe for panzanella, it’s such a wondrous thing. At River Cottage, we like to include a little fruit, as it enhances the flavour of the tomatoes. Strawberries are my favourite addition, but gooseberries and raspberries are good too.”

    Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

    Ingredients

    • 2 slices of slightly stale sourdough or ciabatta
    • 1kg mixed, slightly over-ripe, tomatoes
    • 1/2 cucumber
    • 1 small red onion, finely diced
    • 1 tbsp capers, roughly chopped
    • 100g black Kalamata olives, pitted
    • 150g halved gooseberries, quartered strawberries or whole raspberries
    • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    • A small bunch of basil (25g), leaves picked

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C. Tear the bread into large chunks and scatter on a baking tray. 

    Toast in the oven for three to five minutes until crisp and lightly golden, turning once. Remove and allow to cool. 

    Pick the ripest two tomatoes (fairly soft is fine) and squish them in your hands into a sieve set over a large bowl. 

    Using the back of a wooden spoon, press the tomato flesh through the sieve; discard the seeds and skins. Cut the rest of the tomatoes into wedges or chop them roughly and add to the bowl containing the tomato juice. 

    Dice the cucumber and add to the tomatoes with the red onion, capers, olives, and your choice of fruit. 

    Toss in the toasted bread chunks and trickle in the olive oil. Roughly tear half of the basil leaves into the salad. Tumble everything together and allow the salad to sit for 15–20 minutes. 

    Season the panzanella with salt and pepper to taste and give it a final toss. Tear over the remaining basil and serve. 

    Swaps
    If you can get it, try using lovage instead of the basil – it works beautifully. Celery leaves are a good swap too.

  • Spiced spelt salad with apples and lime

    Gelf Alderson's spiced spelt salad with apples and lime
    Gelf Alderson's spiced spelt salad with apples and lime

    Gelf says: “This was inspired by a lunch concocted from some leftover takeaway biryani! I added some lettuce, apples and a squeeze of lime to freshen it up and the result was surprisingly light and pleasing. For this refined version I’m using spelt, as it has a great texture and the grains don’t stick together in the same way that rice does.”

    Serves 4 as a main

    Ingredients

    • 200g pearled spelt
    • 1/2 cinnamon stick
    • 25g fresh ginger, cut into slices
    • 1 red chilli, halved lengthways
    • 2 tsp good-quality medium-heat curry powder
    • 1 tsp garam masala
    • 2 limes
    • 2 eating apples, such as Gala or Cox
    • 2 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil
    • A small bunch of coriander (30g), leaves picked
    • 2 sprigs of mint, leaves picked and roughly torn
    • 50g lamb’s lettuce or Lollo Rosso
    • Sea salt and black pepper

    Method

    Put the spelt into a large saucepan with the cinnamon, ginger, chilli, curry powder and garam masala. Add the juice of half a lime and toss in the squeezed half-lime shell as well. Pour on enough water to cover the spelt by about five centimetres. (You can always top it up halfway through cooking if necessary.) Bring to a simmer and simmer for 15–20 minutes until the spelt is just cooked. 

    Drain the spelt in a sieve, picking out and discarding the cinnamon, ginger, chilli and lime shell. Set aside to cool to room temperature. 

    Squeeze the juice from the remaining one and a half limes. Quarter, core and chop the apples into roughly 1cm cubes and place in a large bowl with the spelt. Add the lime juice and rapeseed oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine. 

    Transfer the spelt mix to a platter and scatter over the coriander, mint and lamb’s lettuce. Toss lightly and serve. 

    Swaps
    Try using pearled barley or brown rice in place of the spelt, adjusting the cooking times accordingly. The salad is also delicious if you use olive green or Puy lentils in place of the spelt.

    River Cottage Great Salads by Gelf Alderson (£20, Bloomsbury Publishing) is out now. 

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Photography: Emma Lee     

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