Give Me Five: Pistachio-crusted feta with roasted grapes

Cheaper than an average meat-based dinner and so much more exciting

If you’ve never roasted grapes before, now is the perfect time to try

If you’ve never roasted grapes before, now is the perfect time to try

 

This week’s recipe sounds more complicated than it is. It actually couldn’t be simpler. This is one of my favourite salads. It has all of the elements you could want: it is salty, sweet, acidic, and has a toasty nuttiness from the pistachios. It’s one of my recipes that I’m most proud of, as I first made it on a Saturday night when the fridge seemed empty and unpromising.

Like all simple dishes, this will stand or fall on the quality of the ingredients. It seems like a cliche, but getting the most beautiful deep-plum-coloured grapes and a fresh quality array of peppery leaves can make this an incredibly delicious treat. It’ll be cheaper than an average meat-based dinner and is so much more exciting.

If you’ve never roasted grapes before, now is the perfect time to try. Drizzling them in a little syrupy balsamic vinegar intensifies their natural sweetness and transforms them into piquant bursts of flavour that are hard to leave alone. As a result, I usually roast much more than I will need. Keep any leftover grapes, as they make a lovely addition to a cheeseboard or to that late-night crackers-and-cheese snacking session. Seasoning them with plenty of salt and black pepper as well as a fresh spritz of lemon juice is enough, but you can also add a few thyme leaves or rosemary, depending on what you want to serve them with.

Try to get hold of seedless grapes, as those little pips can make this salad more work than it should be. One of the most mind-numbing kitchen jobs I’ve ever had to do was peeling and de-pipping a mountain of grapes. But after hours perched on a high stool with only a paperclip to aid me, I had to admit it was worth it for the texture and overall effect it gave the finished dish. (Of course, you would only ever do this if someone was paying you; in the comfort of my own home, I just halve the grapes and pop the pips out.)

Rolling cheese in nuts is a fantastically retro thing to do. It reminds me of 1970s cookbooks in which a huge ball of cheese is transformed with flaked almonds to look like a hedgehog, providing both nibbles and a talking point at cocktail parties. The great thing about this is that it tastes really good. You can use hazelnuts, walnuts or almonds, but I’ve used pistachios for a nice twist. They really complement the salty feta cheese. A piece of soft goat’s cheese is also nice instead of the firm feta.

If you’re growing your own kale or spinach, it would make a great base for this instead of regular salad leaves.

Massage the kale with the grape cooking juices and lemon in order to soften it a little and make it more digestible, then leave it to tenderise for 10-20 minutes before serving.

This salad makes a great side dish for summer barbecues and would be good with charred, smoky chicken or as a lovely vegetarian option. It can be bulked up with Puy lentils or chickpeas and served with crusty bread or salted crackers.

 

PISTACHIO-CRUSTED FETA WITH ROASTED GRAPES: SERVES 4

 

The five ingredients

  • 300g black grapes, seedless if possible
  • 2tsp lemon juice
  • 3oz mixed leaves
  • 1 block of feta cheese
  • 100g shelled pistachio nuts

 

From the pantry

  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Sea salt

Black pepper

 

Method

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees. Line a tray with tin foil. Coat the grapes in two teaspoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Roast for 10 minutes until plumped up and slightly coloured. Season with a little salt, pepper and two teaspoons of lemon juice. Set aside in the cooking juices, as this will be the salad dressing.

Meanwhile, toast the pistachios. I usually place them on a tray in the oven for three to five minutes while the grapes are roasting. Leave to cool a little, then roughly chop.

To assemble the salad, divide the block of feta into four. Coat each individual block with the chopped pistachio nuts, pressing down firmly if necessary to make them stick.

Divide the salad leaves between four bowls, scatter over the grapes and drizzle on the dressing. Place a block of nut-coated feta in the centre of each bowl.

Serve immediately. 

  • Every Thursday we’ll tweet the five ingredients from @lillyhiggins and @irishtimeslife so you can have them ready for Friday. Email givemefive@irishtimes.com with your suggestions for recipes
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