No sand sandwich
Food for the beach should be simple, easy to transport, and pack a flavour punch, like this stuffed bloomer and these tasty meatballs that are best eaten cold, writes DOMINI KEMP
I’VE BEEN KEEN to make this bloomer style loaf for ages. I remember seeing it long ago in some fancy cookbook – and dreaming of a day at the beach when I could eat this happily with sand in my toes.
Sandwich-like creations that get better with time, that can be wrapped up tight and sliced without precision, are winners. Most sandwiches turn miserable in the sun, but this bloomer is better eaten after it comes out of the fridge and sits around for a while to let the flavours really develop.
Other contenders for perfect beach fare are Scotch eggs, but I think of them as being a bit too posh for the beach. Better sticking to bread, and preferably things that can be eaten with one hand.
Ideally, you would roast your own red peppers for the filling here, but there are some decent jarred ones around, and there are so many other flavours going on here, you’ll probably be quite grateful for the briny taste. Please feel free to change the filling to suit your guests. I left this one vegetarian as the other dish is made with minced beef, but you could also roast Portobello mushrooms in the oven and douse with some balsamic vinegar, thyme and olive oil. They could easily replace the aubergine as the “meaty” vegetable and I think they would be lovely with Wicklow brie or some other soft cheese and lots of rocket or basil leaves. Slices of cured meats would also be great, as well as artichokes.
The important thing is that there is balance to the flavours, so I’ve used mozzarella here, but have ensured there’s lots of flavour with the peppers and chargrilled aubergines.
The meatballs are based on a Donna Hay recipe from her most recent book, Seasons. She roasts the aubergine in the oven, but I wasn’t entirely convinced it was going to be tasty enough. So I sautéed it instead and sharpened up the flavour with a splash of sherry vinegar, garlic and a pinch of chilli flakes. Make sure you let the aubergine cool down fully before mixing it with the mince and other herbs because if you don’t, you’ll find that it ruins the texture as it starts to cook the mince slightly, which is not only risky – unless you cook them straight away – but also not very pleasant, texture-wise as it becomes pappy.
Hay serves hers straight from the oven, with tzatziki, but I found them much tastier when they had cooled down, and even after a night in the fridge, with just a really good squeeze of lemon juice on top. They are pretty more-ish, so can be served as is, but using them to fill up some wholewheat pita breads meant that this became another perfect dish to eat at the beach. Wrap them up in parchment and foil and again, these flavours taste fantastic when eaten in the sun. A strong tzatziki and lemon juice are all that’s needed. Obviously some chopped tomatoes are a good addition, but they tend to make everything too wet, so keep your packed lunches relatively dry by draining things well or using bread (like the bloomer – that can absorb oils, flavour and juices without turning to mush.
Makes at least six thick slices
3 red peppers
100ml olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 aubergine, sliced 1cm thick
Juice of 1 lemon
1 large bloomer loaf (approx 1 kg)
2 buffalo mozzarella balls
I clove garlic peeled and sliced
Turn on your grill. Cut the peppers in half, remove the seeds and place them under the grill skin side facing up. Rub with a little oil and grill them until charred and blistered. Put them in a bowl, cover it and let them steam until cool enough to handle, when you can peel them and discard the skin.
Meanwhile, heat up your chargrill pan and fry the aubergine slices, using a little olive oil, and season really well. When they have nice griddle marks on both sides, set them aside on a plate. Slice the courgette into thin strips lengthways. Marinate with a little olive oil and lemon juice, plus salt and pepper. This will really soften the strips of courgette. Drain the buffalo mozzarella, and marinate in some olive oil with salt, pepper a sprig of thyme and a few slices of garlic, plus a few torn basil leaves.
To assemble, slice the bloomer in half, horizontally. Gently remove all the bread from inside so you are left with two shells. They resemble two row boats. On bottom half, cover with the peeled red peppers, then the aubergine layer, then the mozzarella layer – retain the olive oil – then a courgette layer and finally loads of basil leaves. Drizzle the top half with some of the flavoured oil that the mozzarella was in and then put the top lid onto the bloomer to seal it up. Wrap really tightly in cling film and leave overnight. Unwrap and slice as required.
Aubergine and feta meatballs
Makes about 30 balls
50ml olive oil
Salt and pepper
Pinch chilli flakes
Splash sherry or red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic
Pinch caster sugar
Big bunch flat leaf parsley
Approx 750-800g minced beef
Approx 200g pack feta
To serve, lemon wedges, pita bread, tzatziki, mixed leaves
Dice the aubergines and fry them in the olive oil over a high heat. This is easier in a large non-stick pan. Season well and add the chilli flakes. When you have good colour on the aubergine, add the sherry vinegar, garlic and sugar. Keep cooking until you have good colour, good flavour and the mixture seems quite dry. Taste, adjust the seasoning and then leave them to cool fully. And I do mean fully.
Finely chop the parsley and mix it with the mince and aubergine until well combined. Season the mince well and then crumble in the feta and mix until well blended. Roll into golf-sized balls and leave on a tray. They can be left overnight like this.
When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 190 degrees/gas 5. Fry them in batches in olive oil in a non-stick frying pan until browned on a good portion of the surface area. Turn them over gently, as there is no egg to bind them. When they are well browned, transfer the meatballs to a clean baking sheet and cook for about 12-15 minutes until piping hot and cooked through. Serve hot or serve cold, but either way, a good squeeze of lemon juice brings them to life.
Domini recommends: I can’t stop using the Happy Pear’s sprouts in salads, and their sunflower shoots are fantastic. Another lovely addition to all your salads and extra good for you, too
Food cooked and styled by Domini Kemp