The days are getting longer and the woods are full of catkins and lime-green hellebores. The breezes are softer and the sun warms your soul. Spring is in the air. The soups and casseroles of winter are banished for another eight months. Or are they? How can you construct a decent salad with the sort of half-ripe, totally flavourless tomatoes available at this time of year? And anyway, it may be warming up, but it’s not that warm… the answer is in the oven, beat the last of the winter blues, roast those tomatoes until the flavour oozes out in a sticky unctuous sauce. You will have created one of the terribly in foods of the moment – the warm salad. In the Quercy this is no new concept, the Quercynois have been making warm salads with duck and lettuce, warm fois gras, crispy toasts and warm goat’s cheese ever since anyone can remember. But classical local salads don’t usually include tomatoes and this one does. In many ways it’s something of a moveable feast. You could give it an Italian slant with Gorgonzola, Fontina and Mozzarella, sprinkled with toasted pine nuts, or slide it down to Provence with Banon, Fontagne and a handful of green olives, liberally doused in olive oil. My recipe however is anchored firmly in the Quercy and was originally developed to use up cheesy leftovers in the fridge. It’s a firm favourite now and it’s utterly delicious, I promise.
3 Large ripe tomatoes, quartered
1 head salade feuille de chene rouge – oak leaf if you’re in the UK – well washed and torn into pieces
1 large handful rocket, washed
2 large handfuls mache – lambs lettuce – washed
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1 handful broken walnuts
1 baguette, sliced into sixteen slim rounds
3 Rocamadour or any cabecous. If you don’t have access to these local specialities 100g any fresh goat’s cheese will suffice
50g Roquefort or Bleu des Causses
Salt and pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees Gas mark 7 or Pretty Hot if it’s a woodburner like mine.
Place the tomatoes on a baking tray, baste them with a little balsamic vinegar and a good slosh of olive oil then sprinkle them with salt. Roast for fifteen minutes or until the edges of the tomatoes start to blacken just a little.
Meanwhile toast the rounds of bread, either in a toaster, under a grill, or on the top of a woodburner.
Take a large bowl and toss all the salad leaves and the spring onions together.
Take the toasted bread and liberally spread with the three different cheeses. After ten minutes, remove the tomatoes from the oven and add the cheesy rounds to the baking tray. There should be just enough room. Put it back for the final five minutes.
Pour the walnuts into an ovenproof bowl and place at the bottom of the oven to toast a little.
Lay out four large plates.
Remove the tomatoes and toast from the oven. Place three quarters of tomato around the edge of each plate.
Remove the walnuts from the oven. Pour a little walnut oil and a good squeeze of lemon juice over the salad leaves, tip in the warm walnuts and add a sprinkling of salt and a good grind of pepper. Toss thoroughly.
Pile the salad in the middle of the plates – not forgetting the walnuts which tend to sink to the bottom.
Place a round of goat’s cheese toast on top of the pile, then one of each variety between the tomatoes.
Serve immediately and bon appétit!
© Amanda Lawrence