Rice salad is one of the things I make most often during the summer months. I find the tepid mixture completely satisfying, all the flavours really pop at this temperature. It’s a dish that’s always available as there is always something lurking in the fridge that will fit in – some cheese, some ham – but it is a dish that really benefits from having the best quality components. The other dishes here have a slight American accent. This time last year a friend from the US made the most delicious Fourth of July lunch of baked tortilla with green peppers. It stood proudly alongside some pulled pork, though it could have been the main event should a vegetarian have been present. A week later, much inspired, I baked this polenta dish.
Insalata di riso
I know it’s obvious, but this salad really is as good as its ingredients, and brown rice makes it earthy and delicious. Enough for 4, with leftovers
garlic 1½ cloves
red wine vinegar 4 tbsp
olive oil 6 tbsp, plus a little extra for frying
red pepper 1, large
courgettes 250g, small ones
green beans 150g
wholegrain risotto rice 200g
girolles 250g, or any other mushroom, or an aubergine
parsley 1 small bunch
sardines 1 small tin in oil
anchovy fillets 6
basil 1 small bunch
capers 2 heaped tsp
cornichons 1 tbsp
small new red onion ½, finely diced
Add 1 garlic clove to a large pot of salted water and bring to the boil. Use a pestle and mortar or the back of a knife to crush the remaining garlic half with a pinch of salt and add it to a large salad bowl with the vinegar and olive oil.
In a grill pan, or over a naked flame, char and cook the pepper. Set it aside in a paper bag until cool enough to peel off its blackened skin, then remove the seeds and dice the flesh into squares. Resist the urge to rinse it under the tap. This is the first vegetable to add to your salad bowl.
Dice the courgettes and top and tail the beans. Boil the beans in salted water for 2 minutes before adding the courgettes and cooking for another 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to the salad bowl. Top up the water if necessary and cook the rice for the time stated on the packet (mine takes about 20 minutes).
Meanwhile, clean the mushrooms well, washing them if necessary, and fry them over a medium heat in a little oil with a sprinkle of salt and a sprig of the parsley. Turn them around while cooking for about 7-10 minutes, until they are reduced in size and cooked through. Add them, while still warm, to the salad bowl. Add the fish from the tins, tearing the anchovies into pieces, then add the herb leaves, capers, chopped cornichons and onion. When the rice is cooked, drain and give it a quick rinse under the tap, then artfully stir it into your vegetable-bejewelled salad bowl. It can be eaten right away, or it will keep until you are ready.
Barbecue pork salad
Here, the cucumber remains firm after salting and grilling. If it’s raining I’d make this in a pan indoors. Serves 4
fennel seeds 1 tsp
peppercorns a few
juniper berries 4
bay leaf 1, fresh
rosemary 1 sprig
cucumber 1, or several small ones
sugar 1 tbsp
rib-eye pork steaks 2 (ask your butcher for this cut)
extra virgin olive oil
radishes 1 bunch
fresh horseradish 3cm
mint 1 small bunch
Well ahead, even the day before, smash the fennel seeds, peppercorns and juniper together in a mortar and pestle. Add the bay leaf, without its thick rib, and the rosemary leaves with a generous pinch of salt and continue to grind together. Use this, with a little extra salt if needed, to season the pork on all sides. Set aside in the fridge.
Also, at least an hour ahead of cooking, peel strips from the outside of the cucumber. Cut the flesh lengthways in half and scoop out the seeds. Season on both sides with a little salt and sugar. Leave it aside in the fridge also.
When you’re ready to cook, heat the barbecue or a grill pan. Cook the pork for about 10 minutes over a medium-high heat, turning frequently. Set it aside in a bowl to rest, drenched in the juice from half the lemon. Wash the cucumber under the tap and then dry it on kitchen paper. Rub in a drizzle of oil and place on the grill. Cook for 5 minutes, turning halfway, until slightly coloured. Slice the radishes, finely grate the horseradish and pick the mint leaves. Then slice the pork into 2cm pieces and the cucumber likewise. Add 2 tbsp of olive oil to the resting juices and then return the sliced meat to this along with the cucumber, radishes and mint leaves. Toss together, adjusting the seasoning if necessary. Place half the salad on a large serving plate and sprinkle over half the horseradish, then top with the remaining salad and horseradish.
Polenta and peppers
Avoid the quick-cook polenta, which doesn’t taste as good. Serves 4
coarse polenta 120g
red onion 1
garlic 2 cloves
extra-virgin olive oil
long green peppers 450g
oregano dried, ½ tsp
tomatoes 4, plum or similar
basil leaves small bunch
fresh mozzarella 250g
Boil 750ml of salted water, turn down the heat and add the polenta in a steady stream, stirring as you go, so as to avoid any lumps. Cover and cook on the lowest heat for 45-60 minutes, stirring every so often. Once cooked, line an earthenware plate with a tiny amount of oil and pour the polenta on top, using the spoon to smooth it out. Leave to cool.
Slice the onion and chop the garlic. Sweat both together over a medium-low heat in 2 tbsp of olive oil with a pinch of salt until completely soft. While they are cooking, wash the peppers and remove the stems. Fry in 1 tbsp of oil in a large pan with another pinch of salt. Once they have begun to cook, a lid may be useful. When you’re satisfied they are soft enough, sprinkle them with the oregano and turn the heat off.
Wash the tomatoes, slice and sprinkle with salt. Heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Line an oven dish with a little olive oil. Slice the polenta into strips and lay some into the dish. Scatter with some of the peppers, onions and tomato slices, basil leaves and half of the mozzarella torn into pieces. Then add the rest of the polenta and everything else. Make sure to have some spots of cheese and basil leaves for the top. Sprinkle with pepper and a little more oil before baking for 35 minutes until golden on top. Serve while warm.
Apricot cream cake
This is a style of pudding cake. Packed with apricots, it’s best on the day it’s made but is also good cold from the fridge for breakfast. Serves 8
golden caster sugar 180g, plus extra to sprinkle over the top
sea salt ½ tsp
baking powder 1 tsp
almond flour 80g
milk 120ml, plus 1 tbsp
crème fraîche 200g
potato or corn flour 7g
Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Line a 20cm cake tin with baking paper.
Halve and stone the apricots. Place them in a bowl and sprinkle with a little sugar and a pinch of sea salt.
Mix the flour, baking powder and almond flour together. Cream the butter with 80g of the sugar. Add the flour mix and then 1 egg and 120ml of milk. Spatula into a tin and bake for 10 minutes.
While baking, whisk the other 2 eggs together with the crème fraîche and remaining sugar. Separately mix the potato or corn flour into 1 tbsp of milk before adding this paste to the egg mixture. After 10 minutes, when the cake is partly cooked and somewhat firm around the edges, remove from the oven and cover with the apricot halves, filling quickly from the edge inwards. Pour in the egg-cream mixture and return to the oven.
Bake for another 40 minutes – it should be slightly wobbly in the centre. Allow the cake to cool completely and sink a bit before removing from the tin and paper, and then serving.
Joe Trivelli is the head chef at the River Café
Styling by Henrietta Clancy