Sunday 26 January 2020

Fruits of the forage - seasonal dishes inspired by River Cottage chef


Fried pears with roast red onions
Fried pears with roast red onions
Gill Meller
Gather by Gill Meller

Use the best of your local landscape to craft simple yet super tasty seasonal dishes inspired by River Cottage chef Gill Meller.


Gill Meller
Gill Meller

I wanted to include a raw tomato recipe that was totally unpretentious and really easy. This is one of those salads I want to eat every time the sun is hot and the wine is cold. I need it when the bread is fresh with a splintered and cracked floury crust, the basil scent is strong, and the olive oil is peppery and deep green. Everything that was good, or ever will be good about thinly sliced red onion is showcased here. It is a song to the sun and to a fruit that, when allowed to ripen outside, in the sun, is one of the most delicious things you can eat.

Serves 4


1kg (2lb 4oz) ripe tomatoes, of different sizes and colours

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ red onion, halved and very thinly sliced

1 large handful of basil, large leaves picked, smaller leaves on tender stems

For the salad dressing: 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

4 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp golden caster sugar


First, prepare your tomatoes. Using a very sharp knife (serrated can be good), cut the tomatoes from top to bottom into 1cm (0.4in) slices.

Season all the tomato slices lightly with salt and black pepper, then arrange them onto a large serving platter, starting with the larger tomato slices at the bottom and layering up so that the smaller ones are on the top.

Scatter the onion slices over the tomatoes, followed by all the basil leaves.

Make a dressing by combining the extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar and caster sugar in a small jug and whisking until the sugar dissolves. Season the dressing with salt and pepper, and stir again.

Drizzle the dressing all over the tomatoes and onions, then allow the salad to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.


This colourful, early autumn salad is so easy. Sometimes all you need to make a lovely supper are three well-matched ingredients. Choose ripe pears, but not over-ripe, as you want them to fry in the hot pan without their breaking up too much. My obsession with crispy lentils began at River Cottage, and I'm loving them lots right now. We must love them together, because they are just outrageously good, and here lend real crunch.

Serves 4-6


100g (3½ oz) puy lentils, rinsed

2 red onions, each cut into 8 wedges

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 ripe pears

1 knob of butter

Juice of ½ lemon


Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Put the rinsed lentils in a medium pan, cover with water and set over a high heat. Bring to a simmer, then cook for 18-25 minutes, until the lentils have softened but retain some bite. Drain them, then leave them in the colander and allow the steam to evaporate.

Meanwhile, place the onion wedges in a roasting tray with 2 tbsp of the olive oil, toss to coat, and season with plenty of salt and pepper. Roast the onion in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the wedges are soft and starting to colour. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Slice each pear into quarters, remove the cores, then cut each quarter in half again, giving 16 wedges of pear altogether.

Heat the butter and 1 tbsp of the remaining oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. When the butter and oil mixture is bubbling, add the pear slices to the pan. Fry them gently for 3-5 minutes on each side, or until they have taken on a little colour. Remove the pear wedges from the pan and keep them warm.

Leaving the frying pan on the hob, increase the heat to medium-high. Add the remaining oil, followed by the cooked lentils. Season with a little salt and pepper, and fry, tossing regularly, for 15-20 minutes, or until the lentils are crisped.

Arrange the warm roast onions and pears on a large serving platter. Scatter over the lentils, drizzle over the lemon juice and bring to the table straight away.


A good butterhead is a really unique lettuce - it's tender, bright, light and incredibly quenching to eat. I like it most sodden in mustardy French dressing (as here), and I even like it when it goes soft, like it's been dressed for supper, uneaten and left out all night. However, it's not just the dressed leaves of the butterhead that make this warm salad so good. Proper, sweet black pudding, fried crisp on the outside and fatty-soft in the middle, and crunchy croutons untempered in the folds of the leaves make the whole thing magical.

Serves 2


1 small or ½ large butterhead lettuce

200g (7oz) good-quality black pudding

1 tbsp light oil or olive oil, for frying

4 slices rustic white bread, or sourdough

1 knob of butter, for frying

1 small bunch of thyme sprigs, leaves picked

2 large or 4 small spring onions, trimmed and sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salad dressing: 2 tsp Dijon mustard

3 tsp cider vinegar

2 tsp golden caster sugar

3 tsp sunflower oil

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 small garlic clove, bruised

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


First, make the dressing. Put all the ingredients, including the seasoning, in a clean jam jar or a small bowl, and shake or stir until thoroughly combined.

Cut the base from the butterhead lettuce and separate the leaves. Give them a good wash in cold water, taking care not to bruise them. Drain the leaves and then dry them in a salad spinner.

Slice the black pudding into thick 3cm (1in) rounds, then peel away the skin and discard.

Heat the oil in a medium frying pan over a medium heat. Add the black pudding and fry, turning occasionally, for 7-8 minutes, until it starts to crisp around the edges. Remove the pan from the heat, then remove the black pudding from the pan and keep warm.

Remove the crusts from the bread and tear each slice into rough, crouton-sized pieces.

Place the pan back on the heat and add the butter. When it's bubbling away, throw in the bread pieces and fry, turning frequently, until crispy and golden on all sides. Season with a pinch of salt, sprinkle over the thyme leaves, then take the pan off the heat and set aside.

Place enough lettuce leaves for two people in a large bowl together with the sliced spring onions. Spoon over half the dressing and carefully turn the leaves to coat them.

Divide the lettuce and spring onion mixture equally between two large plates. Place the warm black pudding next to the leaves and scatter over the croutons.

Finish with an extra drizzle of dressing for each plate and serve.

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