Three of a kind: tasty pepperonata; beautiful polenta; and quirky quinoa

‘I’m mostly on an Italian vegetable vibe this week. This is the way I love to cook in summer’

 

The full return of hospitality is weeks away. Reopening this time has proven particularly challenging. Innovation has been important. A successful business cannot stand still. The things we want now are not what we wanted 20 years ago. Who would have guessed that I would be moonlighting as maitre d’ of a hot dog cart?

Talking to some of my contemporaries, many feel the same way. We’re all getting older, the bones aren’t so forgiving. The hangovers are less frequent but more assertive. There has been a lot of reflection.

We carry on because we still take pride in our business, but also because we have to. Being self-employed has many benefits but also many downsides, the buck always stops with you.  

So we’ve resolved to mind ourselves and our staff. The decision to only open the restaurant five days a week in what will be a massively busy summer has been a huge one. The rooms remain open for seven. It just means that it’s one team, with days off together so they, and we, can wind down and get to the other side intact.

I’m mostly on an Italian vegetable vibe this week. This is the way I love to cook in summer. It’s lighter, the colours pop and dazzle and the flavours transport you.   

This pepperonata dish is vibrant and tasty. I’ve added puff pastry (any excuse) and some tangy creaminess with the feta. Let the peppers cook slowly, it makes all the difference.

I’ve got a bit of a crush on polenta at the moment. It’s the ease of it and the fact that it takes on other flavours so well. It’s a beautiful blank canvas. There’s a bit of knife work in the caponata. Take your time to get it right. I’m using the lovely Knockalara sheep’s cheese from just out the road. A creamy goat’s cheese will do too, to compliment the rocket.

Yotam Ottolenghi turned me on to quinoa. I’ve added n’duja into the mix but you can leave it out, of course for a vegetarian option. For those of you that are curious, it brings a delicious porky heat to the affair without bullying the quinoa.

Recipe: Pepperonata puff pie with feta and olives

Recipe: Soft smoked polenta with easy caponata and Knockalara cheese

Recipe: Stuffed aubergine with fennel quinoa and n’duja 

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