I love this time of year. There’s a tangible feeling of abundance in the air; everyone wants to be outside enjoying the summer sun, refreshing themselves with tantilising bevvies and indulging in mouth-watering morsels! We want an array of food: picnics, platters, choice nibbles as well as full-on meat mounds to feast on like the ravenous carnivores that we are (unless, of course, you’re not).
Maybe I’m just using the season as an excuse – after all, when do I ever not want to eat? – but nature’s bounty definitely abounds at this time of year. Farmers markets, green grocers and supermarkets alike are all teeming with British delights and we can, for once, feel good that our baskets are laden with local (or, relatively local) produce. No food miles guilt for us! (except for those lychees that I just could not refuse last week – yum! – and the bananas, of course, essential for making the ‘faux gelato’ that I can’t get enough of right now!)
The road side berry purveyors can also feel good that they have proper Kentish Cherries on offer for a change. My-oh-my, they are good! As far as I’m concerned they’re right up there with figs in the ‘king of fruit’ stakes. They’re so versatile and – I believe – sing equally well whether cocooned in a pie, nestled in a clafoutis, warmed with spices or gobbled as they come. They’re a real natural beauty that require no adornment, but look pretty good anyway when they’re dolled up a bit.
Needless to say, we’ve been enjoying our fair share of them over the last couple of weeks. Sadly our ‘Sunburst’ tree was raped of its meager harvest by a couple of pesky birds last week, so it’s all down to the ‘Morello’ now…fingers crossed…no pressure.
Our vegetable plot is tucked away at the bottom of our garden and it’s at its prime right now. Everything is so lush (Matt’s words…repeated often, so he really means it), green and healthy. It’s fun to wander round after work, or first thing in the morning on weekends, to note the little changes: new shoots here, flowers forming there, and ‘ooh look there’s a tiny tomato!’. Things are a bit slower in their growth this year (maybe the floods?) – has anyone else found this? But it doesn’t matter – nature does what it does and we’re happy to wait…within reason.
The definite race winners are, as ever, the Courgette Plants! This is their time! ‘Come oooon, ‘av it!’ they say. So I believe.
So we are – having them, I mean.
I was inspired to dig out my beloved Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume book by Silvena Rowe this week because the flavour combinations of the East Mediterranean are so fabulous and just what I fancy on these warm days. Sweet berries, sour sumac, mellow spices and earthy seeds unite in a celebration of summer and I used these elements to marry my courgettes and seasonal cherries in this particular dish. Roast duck is already a happy partner of cherries and so this was an obvious choice. I decided to use both the dried sour cherries as well as the juicy fresh ones as they have such different tastes and naturally provide an element of ‘sweet and sour’ which is emphasised by the addition of pomegranate molasses (a typical East European ingredient). I’ve used plenty in this salad so there’s a nice bit of juice for drizzling. Delish!
Ottoman Roast Duck Legs
- 2 plump duck legs (I used Gressingham)
- Salt & Pepper
- Plenty of Herby Spice Rub, or whatever Spice Rub you prefer
Herby Spice Rub (to make the Ottoman Duck Legs)
- Dried oregano – 2 tsp
- Sumac – 3 tsp
- Sesame seeds (white) – 1 tsp
- Fennel seeds – 1 ½ tsp
- Coriander seeds – 1 tsp
- Cumin seeds – ½ tsp
Sweet and Sour Cherries
- Dried cherries, 4 tablespoons
- Fresh juicy local cherries, 1 small punnet, washed and stoned
- Marsala wine, 3 tablespoons
- Pomegranate molasses, 5 tablespoons
- Caster sugar, 1 tsp
- Chick peas, 1 can, rinsed and drained
- Greek yoghurt, 3-4 tablespoons
- 1 Lemon; zest and juice (enough to taste)
- Fresh mint, a handful finely chopped
- Salt & Pepper to taste
Remaining Salad Ingredients
- Courgettes, 2 small finely sliced with a mandolin
- Rocket leaves, watercress, or other preferred lettuce
- Pumkin seeds & walnuts, lightly toasted, to finish
- Additional fresh mint and parsley to scatter
To make the spice rub, place all the ‘seeds’ in a dry frying pan on medium heat and leave for a couple of minutes, or until the seeds turn golden and start to release their aroma. Be careful not to over-do it; a bitter burnt taste will ruin the WHOLE thing and you’ll be damned forever.
Transfer the toasted seeds to a pestle and mortar and grind with a sprinkle of sea salt, until it’s a nice fine texture. Mix with the oregano and sumac, et voila; Herby Spice Rub: Done.
Slash the duck legs a couple of times across the thickest, fleshiest part and make sure the skin is as dry as possible.
Rub the Herby Spice Rub all over the legs, making sure you get it into all the crevices and through the slashed skin. Then cover with greaseproof paper and refrigerate over-night, or longer if you like.
Bring the duck legs to room temperature, then sprinkle the skin with a little sea salt before roasting in a hot oven (200 deg/180 deg FAN) for approximately 50 minutes, or until the skin is golden and crispy. When the duck has cooled, remove the duck meat from the bone in tasty juicy chunks – keep the skin too!
While the duck legs are cooking, marinate the cherries.
Place the dried cherries in a small saucepan with the Marsala wine and sugar and heat until it bubbles. Remove from the heat then add the pomegranate molasses and leave to steep for ten minutes, by which time the dried cherries should have plumped up a bit. Next, add the remaining fresh cherries, give it a good stir and leave until you assemble the salad.
Combine the chick peas, yoghurt, lemon zest, salt and pepper in a small bowl and mix well. Stir in the mint and add a squeeze of lemon juice and stir again. Taste it, then add more lemon, salt and pepper if necessary.
Now simply bring all these delicious elements together:
Salad leaves, followed by courgette slices, then the chick peas, duck flesh, cherries, herbs and toasted pumpkin seeds and walnuts. Drizzle with plenty of the chick pea yoghurt-ey ‘juice’ as well as all the sweet and sour cherry liquor. Scrum!
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