The inspiration for this week’s recipe comes from my sister-in-law Rachel.
We were spending a pleasant few days down on the Suffolk coast with family, celebrating my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday, staying at the family house in the delightful coastal village of Thorpeness.
It’s an amazing little village, built around a lake, just behind the coastal dunes, and going there is like stepping back into the 1950s. People cycle about down leafy lanes between imposing houses of stone and shiplap timbers, or drive past in open-top cars and mini-mokes.
There are pleasant pubs with leafy beer gardens, proper ice-cream cones and lots of chaps in Panama hats and blazers.
You can row gently round the lake, known as The Meare, around willow-covered islands, spotting birds and frogs, an idyllic, sun-dappled silence interrupted occasionally by the gentle thwack of a golf ball on the neighbouring course.
At this time of year, the Regatta is held, and the lake is filled with tiny children trying to row full-sized dinghies and falling out of kayaks. The Meare was designed only to be a couple of feet deep, so the endless parade of waterlogged toddlers isn’t the Health & Safety nightmare it could be. It’s safe, silly and lots of fun. Very ‘Swallows & Amazons’. And it’s a lovely place for a holiday.
Some of my happiest memories are of sitting in the front garden, overlooking the water as the sun goes down, enjoying a lovely evening meal.
And this last time, as guests of my brother-in-law and his wife, I tried this warm salad of fresh, seasonal vegetables that was just marvellous, and an absolute doddle to put together. I simply had to share it with you.
It’s the perfect accompaniment to grilled meats, poultry or fish, but it’s delicious enough to stand as a dish in its own right.
The keen gardeners among you will know just how productive even the most modest courgette plant can be, and those of us who know courgette growers will be familiar with the late-season carrier bag full of the things, offered with a facial expression that seems to say “please, help us out, we can’t take much more of this”.
There’s only so many stuffed courgettes, so much ratatouille, so many pickles and chutneys one can take in one summer, so hopefully this salad will help ease the glut in a pleasant way.
It combines thin ribbons of just-blanched courgette with the green crunch of peas, cool, creamy ricotta and a hint of garlic just to add a little warmth and pungency.
Fresh basil tops the whole thing off and, as I said, you could just tuck into that right there and then, but it’s a great partner to so many things.
You could bolster it with some crunchy sourdough croutons, you could add some barbecued prawns. Maybe a few slices of hot new potato.
It’d be lovely with a veal chop or a leg of crisp-skinned chicken. Even tinned tuna or a few anchovies would work well.
Play around, it’s a recipe that’s so very versatile.
But, the fishmonger had some good-looking sea bass when I was putting the recipe together, so that’s what I chose.
Its meaty texture and gentle flavour worked really well with the delicate tone of the salad.
Pair this with a glass or two of good chilled Italian white, and you’re on to a winner.
You might even be looking forward to that proffered bag of courgettes!
For the sea bass:
4 large fillets sustainable sea bass
A little olive oil
Maldon salt and freshly-ground pepper
For the courgette salad:
4 large courgettes (yellow or green, or both)
500g frozen peas
1 x 250g tub fresh soft Ricotta cheese
A little Extra-Virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
A small handful of fresh basil
A suitable peeler or mandolin
First, finely mince the garlic and cook gently in a little olive oil until soft and slightly golden. Set aside, oil included.
Trim the stalks from the courgettes and slice thinly using a potato peeler or mandolin.
You could even make that courgette-spaghetti that everyone seems to be getting very excited about at the moment.
Heat up a deep pan of water with plenty of salt. Set a bowl of cold water to one side, with plenty of ice cubes in it.
When the water boils, tip in the courgette ribbons and cook for a couple of minutes, then remove from the water and plunge into the iced bowl.
Swirl the strips around until they are cold, then drain and pat dry.
Add the peas to the water and simmer for a minute until just cooked, then drain and add to the courgette.
Stir in the garlic oil, and add the ricotta in small lumps, folding gently to mix and cover the vegetables uniformly.
Check and adjust the seasoning according to your taste, and refrigerate until required.
In a non-stick frying pan, heat a little more olive oil. Season the sea bass fillets on both sides with a little salt and pepper.
Cook the fillets, skin-side down for 3-4 minutes, pressing the fillets flat with a spatula or fish slice until they relax and flatten.
When the fillets are golden-edged, flip over and cook for a further couple of minutes until just cooked through.
Serve immediately with a large spoonful of the courgette salad.
Garnish with fresh basil at the last minute.