We all have kryptonite foods. It’s the stuff we secretly make when we think nobody is watching, or caring. It’s the fodder we use to refuel when we’re flagging. And it’s very rarely that great for us. The Hungry One’s is chicken schnitzel. Anytime he’s away on business, or left alone for a spell you can be sure he’ll slink his way to an ersatz Eastern European themed beer barn and order a schnitzel the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s head. And mine are toasted sandwiches. Sometimes a simple croque monsieur, with good ham and properly melted cheese (a spike of Dijon in the bechamel is a bonus). And others it’s a more simplistic margherita style affair; mozzarella, pesto and tomatoes.
This salad is my way of indulging my cravings for those warm cosseting flavours, but going easy on the bread (which is often not my friend). This warm salad is the best kind of bowl food, in that it’s a breeze to throw together, requiring nothing more than 20 minutes of lead time to allow the cherry tomatoes to pucker and blister in a searing hot oven. I use pesto that I often make in bulk and store in small jars in the freezer- combining basil, parmesan, pine nuts, olive oil and cashews for additional silkiness- though a good quality store bought one would be fine. Then there’s some quickly sauteed broccolini stems for virtue’s sake, a rinsed tin of brown lentils (though a cup of cooked du puy lentils would also be lovely, if you have the motivation) and some roughly torn bocconcini.
Of course this is a flexible template- if you don’t feel like shining a light on the tin of lentils that’s been hiding in your cupboard this would also work just as well with white beans, borlotti beans, cauliflower cous cous, quinoa, or chickpeas. If you don’t have pesto but you have basil and parmesan, then just fold a handful of leaves and parmesan shavings through for the right sort of Mediterranean flavour balance. And if you can’t eat tomatoes, then this would also be nice with roasted segments of beets – though you’ll have to cook for probably twice as long.
The only further caveats I have are this- use decent quality mozzarella- something with a nice balance of milkiness and tang – you want to be able to tear them into into undulating nuggets, not have them bounce about like abandoned pencil erasers. And do not let any of the juices from the blistered tomatoes and the olive oil they roasted in go to waste- these make the perfect dressing when drizzled over the top. Serve this warm either on its own, as part of a medley of vegetarian sides (some roasted cauliflower with currants, quick pickled red onion, almonds and parsley and some roasted pumpkin with yoghurt, shredded kale hazelnuts and nut brown butter), or if your carnivorous side needs to be placated, as an accompaniment to roast chicken or beef.
(Nb, I can also happily report that any left overs make a sterling filling for a three egg omelette come Sunday morning).
Roast Tomato, Pesto, Bocconcini Lentil Salad
250 g cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
1x 400 g tin of brown lentils, rinsed and drained
3 stems of broccolini/tenderstem, roughly chopped into bite size pieces
2 tbsp basil pesto
Salt and pepper to taste
Here’s how we roll
1 Preheat the oven to 220C/430F. Place the tomatoes (and vine if they came on one) in an oven safe dizh and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until blistered and puckered.