“Salad’s the most important thing to have next to you at all times,” says chef José Pizarro, who agrees that when summer days suffer an identity crisis, Claire is right to warm things up. And she could do a lot worse than his current favourite: grilled ribeye and white peaches with bitter leaves and a sweet PX sherry vinegar dressing.
The golden rule is to pick your leaves wisely. “For warm salads, you need something sturdy such as chicory or radicchio,” says Jane Baxter of Wild Artichokes in Devon. “Little gems, too, but anything else is going to flop and turn unpleasant.” A Baxter favourite is chicory or radicchio with cooked beetroot tossed in an orange and caraway dressing. “Top with crispy bacon, and dress it up with bits of orange and radish. It’s good with shredded duck, too.”
For Kathy Slack, author of From the Veg Patch, little gems are destined for the griddle pan. “Cut in half, brush with olive oil and whack them in – the lettuce takes on a smoky, charred texture, but the middle stays raw.” A ton of shaved parmesan – or manchego or idiazabal for Pizarro – on top is good, too. “Blue cheese smooshed into mayonnaise and creme fraiche also works brilliantly,” Slack says. Chef and warm salad enthusiast Sally Abé, who opens The Pem in London today, pairs cos lettuce with roast chicken and croutons. She then soft-boils a couple of eggs: “Put one in a blender with grated berkswell, oil, creme fraiche and garlic to make a warm, coddled egg dressing.” Chop up the other egg, fold it through and, “if you’re feeling indulgent, grate more berkswell over the top”.
Of course, there’s a bounty of veg to play with, too. Pizarro is partial to escalivada, a smoky, grilled Spanish vegetable dish (peppers, aubergines, sometimes onion) that can be eaten warm or at room temperature. Abé tosses cauliflower and broccoli with oil and curry powder, and bakes until the edges go crisp. “Stick that in a bowl, flake through smoked mackerel and add warm rice.” Garnish with coriander, spring onion and chopped chilli and ginger, if you fancy.
Going with the grain – quinoa, bulgur wheat, toasted buckwheat – is another good option. “You can put anything through them,” Baxter says. “Dried fruit, nuts, french beans, runners, sweetcorn, sugar snaps.” She then pours over a sweet-sour dressing of miso, mirin, soy, honey and grated ginger. Slack, meanwhile, turns to quick pickles to pep up bulgur salads: “Mix equal parts caster sugar and cider vinegar, add sliced radishes, cucumber or carrots, and steep for 10 minutes.” Add some pickling liquor to the bowl, too, plus “loads of olive oil”.
As in life, a warming top layer never goes amiss, either. In the case of tomatoes, that means anchovy breadcrumbs. Slack douses sliced toms in oil, adds basil and salt, and leaves them all “to get to know each other”. Meanwhile, fry panko breadcrumbs, anchovies, lemon zest and garlic until toasty, then sprinkle over the top and serve right away. “Even if it goes soggy, you’ll get a panzanella vibe, which I like.”