Some things are acquired tastes.  Learning to appreciate them is like adolescence; it can be a spotty time, but once you’re through to the other side a new horizon opens up.

For me those tastes were anything bitter or aniseed. The bite of Campari is a prime example. I really came to appreciate it about six  years ago when I was sidelined by an ugly flu in Florence. Over four days of aperitivos on the roof of the Continentale I came to love its slightly medicinal flavour. Over time I cut down the sweetness of the accompanying citrus from a sunset orange slosh of orange juice to just a simple twirl of rind. That’s how I kicked off my birthday celebration last week, at Pilu at Freshwater. Life doesn’t get much better, really.

Radicchio is another;  those ruffled fuchsia leaves may be as pretty as peonies, but it took a while before its assertive and acrid character became a friend to me. ( These days I love it drizzled in good balsamic and as a side to rich meats like chicken liver, roast pork or duck.)

And then there’s tarragon. With its soft fronds it’s an easy herb to admire, at least from a textural point of view. It’s one of the four classic fines herbes of a French kitchen. But it does have a fairly grown up, black licorice accent to it. When muddled with a glut of butter it becomes the backbone to a Bearnaise. That downy yellow sauce has been the feather in the cap on every blow out steak supper in my memory. Over time I’ve also come to love it in salads with wafts of fennel and smoked trout, or salmon and ribbons of  cucumber or folded through a warm tumble of chicken thighs, Dijon mustard and green beans.

But if I’m honest, they’re  just ways I use up the leftovers from the bunch. The real reason that tarragon makes it into the shopping basket is for this salad.  It’s become our staple side to ‘steakhouse at home’. It’s dinner for those days when you’ve been busy tooling around on the beach and you put off making a decision about what you’ll eat when you put the small folk to bed. In those instances, simplicity is best.

What follows is elegant and relatively effortless. It leans heavily on quality produce. A decent steak and some interesting tomatoes will do a lot of the heavy lifting for you, but in a pinch plain ripe cherry tomatoes or romas will suffice.

The real magic is the jangle of sweetness and anise which happens when you meld slivers of quickly pickled red onion and threads of tarragon. All that’s required for alchemy is fifteen minutes of grace.

While the grill heats up and you wash the sand off your feet take half an onion, cut into half moons as fine as you can manage and steep it with apple cider vinegar and a good pinch of salt. Over the next quarter of an hour the arcs will turn blushing pink and unfurl in the bowl. The brashness of the onion will be muzzled, the garlic will taste earthier and what is left are languid threads which accentuate the grassy freshness of tarragon. Tumble the whole lot; onion, garlic and vinegar over the roughly chopped tomatoes and then gloss it with olive oil.

You could make use of some crusty bread to sop the remaining juices at the bottom of the bowl once you’ve made your way through all of the tomatoes, though I find the pinkish swirls and spears of green work just as well as a dressing for the last bits of steak. It’s lighter than Bearnaise, but just as delicious. It’s sauce and side, all in one.

An appreciation for aniseed may be one hallmark of adulthood, but the ability to multi-task effectively- well, that’s a whole other ball game.

 Tomato, Tarragon and Sweet Onion Salad

Serves 4 as a side to barbecued meat, along side creamed spinach and sweet potato or daikon wedges. You could also turn this into a more substantial vegetarian meal with a tin of rinsed and drained chickpeas and a few splodges of ricotta.

Shopping/foraging

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar/red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt flakes
1/2 red onion, peeled, and cut into the slimmest possible half moons
1 garlic clove, finely diced
500 g mixed ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
30 tarragon leaves
2 tbsp good quality olive oil
Additional salt and pepper to taste

Here’s how we roll

1) At least 15 minutes before serving combine the slivers of red onion with the garlic, salt and vinegar in a small bowl.


2) Use the tips of your fingers to rumple them all together. You want the salt and the vinegar to help soften the onion. Set aside for 15 minutes.

3) Roughly chop your tomatoes and pull the tarragon off its stems. Combine them both on a salad platter or bowl with the quick pickled onions and vinegar.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with additional salt and pepper to taste.