char-grilled asparagus, courgettes and manouri salad


since getting the new ottolenghi cookery book i regularly sit back, flick through the pages and have fantasies of the beautiful deli-style meals that i will create – mounds of salads, all with exciting and contrasting flavours, beautiful cakes, giant meringues and exquisite pastries.

needless to say, i’ve been doing a bit more reading and imagining than actual cooking! however, i have recently tried another of the recipes in the book – a char-grilled asparagus, courgettes and manouri salad.

the flavours in this were delicious - lots of contrast between fresh green (courgette ribbons, basil oil), slow-roasted and sweet red (tomatoes) and creamy white (fried halloumi). the one thing i didn’t like was the char-grilled asparagus which, instead of tasting slightly smokey just seemed oily. i was glad that i’d decided not to char-grilled the courgettes as well, and next time will just use steamed asparagus.

this dish, if served in small portions, would make a lovely light summery starter and, as such, is my contribution to this month's monthly mingle which is hosted by the lovely mansi of fun and food and has the theme of vegetarian appetisers and hors d'oeuvres.

ottolenghi char-grilled asparagus, courgettes and manouri (serves four to six.)

350g cherry tomatoes, halved

140ml olive oil

coarse sea salt and black pepper

24 asparagus spears

2 courgettes*

200g manouri, sliced 2cm thick**

25g rocket

for the basil oil:

75ml olive oil

1 garlic clove, chopped

25g basil leaves

a pinch of salt

¼ tsp black pepper

preheat the oven to 170c/325f/ gas mark 3. mix the tomatoes with three tablespoons of oil and season. spread them out, skin-side down, on a baking tray lined with parchment, and roast for 50 minutes, until semi-dried. set aside to cool.

trim the woody bases off the asparagus and blanch in boiling water for four minutes. drain, refresh in cold water until all vestiges of heat have gone, drain, then transfer to a bowl and toss with two tablespoons of oil, salt and pepper.

slice the courgettes very thinly lengthwise (a mandolin would be very useful for this job, otherwise use a vegetable peeler) and mix with a tablespoon of oil, salt and pepper.

place a ridged griddle pan on a high heat and leave for a few minutes until very hot. grill the courgettes and asparagus, turning after a minute - you want nice char marks on all sides. remove and leave to cool.

heat the remaining oil in a pan and fry the manouri for three minutes a side, until golden. drain on kitchen paper. (or char-grill the cheese on the griddle for two minutes a side.)

to make the basil oil, blitz all the ingredients in a blender until smooth.

arrange the rocket, vegetables and cheese in layers on a flat serving plate - build up the salad while showing all the individual components. drizzle with as much basil oil as you like (save the rest for another dish) and serve.

* i used a vegetable peeler to make thin courgette ribbons which i added to the salad raw. this helped lighten the flavours and is, i think, better than chargrilling them.

** i used halloumi as i couldn’t find any manouri. slice it c6mm thick and dust with a little flour seasoned with black pepper, before frying as instructed.