Inspiration comes from different places. Sometimes it arrives in the middle of the night, like a bolt. Sometimes it’s what you see at the markets. Sometimes it’s something you’ve read. Other times it comes from a dish you’ve tasted, and you’re chasing after an imitation.

And occasionally, it comes from a smell.

This is a very soothing salad, that came to me from a perfume. Creating dishes based on scents isn’t something new. The Roca brothers have been famously creating desserts inspired by famous fragrances at El Celler de Can Roca for years.

This salad isn’t based on Bvlgari. Rather, it came to me from a token that was left on the pillow the first night we arrived in St Petersburg.

It’s not always easy drifting to sleep in the middle of St Petersburg white nights. The sun doesn’t slink down until 11pm. The days stretch on in a perpetual doze. It’s like running through a fog of clinging  jet lag; wanting to sleep, all the while the world cries no. When we arrived it was late on a Friday. Two vodka shots and some dumplings later and we were back at the Crowne Plaza. Yet I was still buzzing. It was then that Hungry One found this ‘deep calm spray’ and spritzed it on my pillow.

‘Lavender. Anise. Little bit of lemon. Maybe….mint….?’ was what I mused before I drifted off.

Right now as you read this, I’m stuck in the badlands of jet lag. Flying 27 hours across the world to see friends and love ones that you miss terribly will do that to you. What’s calming me down is this spray that I tucked into my carry on and remembering this salad; one of the last things I made before I left London.

This salad takes the calming, pretty notes from the spray and combines them in a fairly pleasing side dish.

It’s girlish, in the best possible way; all ribbons and tangles, florals and pastel nuts and gentle cheese. The raw vegetables- courgette for bulk and green, fennel for gentle aniseed and tang get macerated in lemon zest and olive oil until they’re slippery and light. The pistachios add a romantic bit of crunch and the herbs make it sprightly.

As for the lavender- a little is all you need. It brightens the plate and takes the scent of the dish to a place of pigtails and skipping through fields. Too much and it will taste of bath time at a nursing home. Grinding it into fat flakes of salt helps counteract some of its soapy character. So do the orbs of ricotta.

To me, this is a side that demurely asks to be served with a roast chicken, some griddled bread and a crisp glass of wine. Though some rosy pink fish, lamb or duck wouldn’t be out of the realm of suitability.

Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I make insane lists of things I’ll never do, or beat myself up over things that I should have got done by now. And sometimes when that state  strikes, I spray the pillow and inhale. It’s then that I get a deep, cheap sense of calm. Some of it comes from the scent. And some of comes from knowing there’s the possibilities of dishes like this waiting when I eventually wake.

Fennel, ricotta and pistachio salad with lavender salt

Serves 2- 4

Equipment
1 vegetable peeler/speed peeler. 1 microplane. 1 mandolin. 1 platter

Shopping/foraging

1 courgette/zucchini
1 large fennel, or 2 small ones
3 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
zest and juice of a lemon
20 mint leaves
20 tarragon leaves
30 pistachios, shelled
4 tablespoons of good quality ricotta
1 heaped teaspoon of sea salt flakes
1 teaspoon of unsprayed lavendar buds, crumbled
black pepper, to season

Here’s how we roll

1. Use a vegetable peeler to make short ribbons out of the courgette/zucchini. Place in a bowl.

2. Use a mandolin to make wafer slivers of fennel. Combine with the courgette and marinate with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the zest and juice of half the lemon. Set aside for 10 minutes to soften while you prepare the rest.

3. Shell the pistachios.

4. Make a chiffonade out of the mint leaves, by laying them on top of each other, rolling up like a cigar and cutting horizontally (see here for more detail).

5. Make the lavender salt by combining the salt flakes with the lavender and remaining lemon zest.

6. Construct the salad by laying the tangle of fennel and leaves out on a board. Add the tarragon leaves and ribbons of mint. Dot with ricotta and sprinkle the pistachios. Sprinkle over the lavender salt and season with the remaining lemon juice. Eat with grilled bread and roast chicken, pink lamb, or rosy hued fish.