I wanted a sauce, quick to make, bright, tart and refreshing, that would work with whatever I brought back from the shops. The only rule was it had to use up the tomatoes I had bought and not used. Tomatoes whose smell tempted, but never really delivered in terms of flavor. The sort that end up in the pot, under the grill or in the oven rather than being used in the first, much-anticipated tomato salad of the year.
There is a temptation to throw everything in the spice rack at a fruit or vegetable that has let you down. It is invariably unwise. I start with a bit of heat (chillies or ginger); something aromatic (thyme, oregano or basil) and either a little sugar or a shot of acidity (lemon, wine vinegar or the pickle juice from a jar) depending on what you are serving it with. So the tomatoes were chopped and softened with chilli, garlic and a glass of white wine; thyme and lemon zest were added and a little fish stock to give a light sauce in which to poach some fat pieces of fish.
The asparagus season is going full tilt and I’m making the most of it, this week with a soup, both substantial and vegan, of beans, coconut and mint. I made twice as much as I needed, as it keeps well for a day or two. Nothing better to come home to than a bowl of soup in the pot. My first idea was to blend part of the soup to a thick mash and stir it back in to thicken and enrich, but I liked the delicate, milkier version, too – it’s better for dunking my bread.
Asparagus and cannellini beans with mint
Part soup, part vegetable (vegan) stew, this recipe works with cannellini, flageolet or haricot beans. If you like a thick, velvety consistency, then put a third of the soup through a blender or food processor and return to the pan and bring back up to heat. Serves 4
spring onions 6
olive oil 2 tbsp
garlic 3 cloves
ground turmeric 1 tsp
ground coriander 1 tsp
cannellini gold bean beans 2 x 400g cans
vegetable stock 500ml
coconut milk 1 can
asparagus 2 bunches
Roughly chop the spring onions, discarding the dark green tips of the stalks. In a large, deep saucepan, warm the olive oil over a moderate heat, add the spring onions and let them cook for 5 or 6 minutes until soft.
Peel and finely slice the garlic and stir into the spring onion, leave to cook for a couple of minutes, then stir in the ground turmeric and coriander. Continue cooking for a minute or two, then add the white beans and their liquor, the vegetable stock and coconut milk, and a generous seasoning of salt and black pepper. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer.
Trim the asparagus, removing any tough ends, then cut into short lengths. Add to the soup and continue cooking for 7-8 minutes until the spears and stalks are tender. (For perfection, you could add the thick stalks a couple of minutes before the thin spears.) Halve the lemon and squeeze the juice, then strain into the soup. Check the seasoning. Remove the leaves from the parsley and mint and chop fairly finely, then stir into the soup and ladle into deep bowls.
Salmon with tomato and lemon
The sauce can be made the day before should you wish, brought up to heat and the fish added just before you need it. A good thick piece of salmon will take about 15 minutes, but you could use other varieties if you prefer. Serves 4
tomatoes 600g, ripe
red chillies 2, medium hot
garlic 3 cloves
white wine 250ml
fish stock 350ml
thyme sprigs 6
salmon 4 x 250g pieces
parsley 4 tbsp, chopped
lemon finely grated zest of half
Roughly chop the tomatoes, then put them in a stainless-steel or enamelled saucepan over a moderate heat. Halve the chillies lengthwise – removing the seeds if you wish – and stir into the tomatoes. Peel and thinly slice the garlic, then add to the pan. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes.
Pour the white wine into the pan, continuing cooking for a minute or two, then pour in the fish stock and continue simmering. Remove the thyme leaves from their stalks and chop them finely, then add to the tomatoes with a grinding of black pepper. Grate the zest of the lemon into the pan, then squeeze and reserve the juice.
Cut the salmon into four thick pieces and lower carefully into the pan, spoon some of the sauce over the fish, then continue simmering, letting the sauce reduce and thicken, for about 15 minutes until the fish is cooked.
Chop the parsley and add to the sauce together with the lemon juice.
To finish: toss together the 4 tbsp of chopped parsley and finely grated lemon zest. Carefully lift the fish into shallow bowls, then spoon the sauce over. Scatter with some of the parsley and lemon.
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