Warm salad with beetroot, goat’s cheese, walnuts and lardons

“I felt miserable about having a salad for tea,” said Dr W, “until I realised it was a salad full of bacon.” There’s nothing like a bit of crispy pig to encourage men to eat things which are green.

This is a lovely salad. Freshly roasted beetroot is gorgeously sweet and has a lovely smooth texture. It is complemented beautifully here by peppery leaves, salty charred goat’s cheese, crisp nuts and lardons and a silky walnut-oil dressing. The goat’s cheese would have been grilled slices from a log, but I had the idea for this salad on a day when Tesco was my only shopping option, and they just had the soft stuff in tubs. I’m actually thrilled with the way my improvisation with the soft cheese turned out – dolloped on non-stick baking parchment and grilled, the cheese took on a lovely texture and a fantastic colour.

To serve two as a main course, you’ll need:

3 beetroots
1 handful walnut kernels
200g peppery salad leaves (I used rocket and watercress with baby spinach)
300g soft goat’s cheese
200g lardons
4 tablespoons walnut oil
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
¼ teaspoon soft brown sugar
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Top and tail the beets, rub them all over with olive oil and roast on a baking tray for an hour.

About twenty minutes before the end of the beets’ cooking time, toast the walnuts in a dry frying pan over a medium-low heat until they are brown and fragrant. This should take between seven and ten minutes, turning regularly – keep a close eye on the nuts so they don’t burn. When the nuts are toasted, remove them to a bowl. Put the lardons in the pan you cooked the walnuts in without any oil, and leave to cook until crispy while you prepare the other ingredients.

Make the dressing by combining the vinegar, oil, sugar, garlic and mustard in a jar with a tight lid, and shaking vigorously. Taste and add a little more vinegar if you prefer it more tart (I like this dressing to be quite mellow).

Remove the beets from the oven. Peel and dice them while still hot and put in a bowl.

Dollop dessert spoons of the cheese on non-stick baking parchment and put under a medium grill for about five minutes until turning golden brown. Toss the salad leaves and beetroot with the dressing in a large bowl, then arrange on plates. Scatter over the nuts and crisp lardons, then arrange the browned goat’s cheese over the top. Season with pepper (you shouldn’t need any salt, because the cheese and lardons will be salty). Serve immediately, while the salad ingredients are still warm.

Watercress soup

A friend tells me that there’s watercress growing in one of the wet bits of fen round here. I’ve been out combing the countryside and can’t find it – and my friend (who will become an ex-friend if this continues) will not tell me exactly where it is so he can eat all of it.

In the meantime, I’ve been buying my watercress in the shops and at the market. There’s plenty on sale at the moment, so head out and buy some. When you make this soup, try to find watercress with plenty of stalk – there’s a lot of flavour in the parts you wouldn’t necessarily use in a salad.

This soup is simple and delicious; it also freezes well, so you can make it in advance and bring it out when you have guests. When reheating, try not to bring it to a rolling boil – you’ll lose some of the lovely green colour if you overcook the watercress.

For a starter for four, you’ll need:

2 large bunches of watercress (about 150g)
1 large knob of butter
2 medium onions
2 medium-sized potatoes
800 ml chicken stock
150 ml double cream
Salt and pepper

Chop the onions roughly and sweat them in the butter until soft, but not coloured. Add the potatoes, chopped into medium dice and unpeeled, and keep everything moving around in the butter for five minutes until the potatoes are glistening. Pour over the stock, put the lid on the pan and bring to a gentle boil for about twenty minutes, until the potatoes are very soft.

Chop the watercress roughly (if you have any stalks left over from salads you’ve made, you can store these in the freezer until you make this soup and add these too) and add it to the pan, stirring for about a minute until the cress has turned a vivid green. Hold a bit of watercress back to garnish the soup with when you’re finished. Remove the pan from the heat and liquidise the soup in a food processor.

Return the soup to the pan and over a low heat add the cream and seasoning. This soup can be served chilled, like a Vichyssoise, but I prefer it hot from the pan with lots of crusty bread.