There are many noises that occur in the realm of the kitchen, several of which bring small glimmers of satisfaction to keen cooks like myself. The gentle fracture of an egg against the side of a bowl and the voluptuous gulp as it divulges its gelatinous contents down into the centre. The crisp snap of a knife halving a bulbous pepper. The rasping graze of a zester against the knobbly flesh of an orange or lemon. The mercilessly efficient scrape of a mandolin through the crunchy flesh of a root vegetable as it shaves it into wafer-thin slices beading with moisture. The whirr of an electric beater as it pummels a solid mass of butter and sugar into soft, billowing pastel clouds.
But surely - surely - nothing beats the searing fizz as moist flesh hits the arid heat of a griddle pan.
I love griddling things. I think this desire stems from that primal urge to make meat meet fire, the same urge that drives so many men to inflict salmonella upon their nearest and dearest while prodding possessively and haphazardly at a flaming barbecue and its contents. It's not just about that ultra-satisfying sizzling noise, either. It's also about those beautiful char marks you end up with on your chosen piece of meat, fish or veg; that telltale culinary barcode that guarantees a toasty exterior and smoky succulence within.
Obviously few things are as satisfying to slap on a griddle as a large piece of meat. Steak works - for me I pretty much whack it down on one side, allow it a few seconds of sizzle, then flip it over for a few more seconds, and tuck into what is basically still cow rather than beef. I also love to griddle tuna or swordfish steak; again, eating it blue (or in the case of swordfish, pink I suppose). However, the griddle is not just for giant manly chunks of protein. It's also a great way of cooking sliced courgettes, so often condemned as tasteless watery mush by those whose only courgette experience has been badly-made ratatouille. Sliced into thin ribbons and chargrilled, they make a wonderful salad with some herbs, broad beans and goat's cheese. Aubergines are also good treated in the same way.
The other day, though, I decided to go a bit wild with the griddle pan and throw on some peaches. After the success of my guineafowl and nectarine tagine, I started thinking of other ways to use peaches or nectarines in savoury cooking. I would grill them first, mainly to give them those sexy black marks but also to bring out their flavour. After tossing them in a little olive oil (to stop them sticking) and honey (to exaggerate the sweetness), they go sizzling onto the griddle pan where they caramelise deliciously, ready to partner with other things.
Peaches (or nectarines) are a fabulous addition to all sorts of savoury dishes, possessing an unobtrusive sweetness and texture that is a perfect complement to lots of different rich ingredients. Salty ingredients are always a good match for sweet fruit, so I decided to combine the peaches with prosciutto - and also some feta cheese for good measure - in what is a super-simple but colourful, healthy and fabulously delicious summer salad. The colours alone scream 'summer' (note that is simply 'summer'; the word 'British' does not come into the equation, because a 'British summer' dish is something like stew or pie).
I found smoked spiced prosciutto in M&S, which is fabulous and works extra well with these peaches, because its rich smoky flavour is nicely complemented by their sweetness. Add to this the salty tang of feta, the peppery crunch of rocket and watercress (dressed with balsamic vinegar) and the slight anise notes of fresh basil, and you have a really fantastic combination. Basil goes particularly well with peaches - I think its fresh, almost metallic flavour helps to temper their sweetness, and this goes for desserts as well as savoury dishes.
I've tried this since with Parma ham and goat's cheese instead of smoked prosciutto and feta, and it was equally delicious. Basically, the combination of sweet grilled peaches, crunchy salad, soft salty ham and tangy cheese is utterly fabulous. I can't quite stress how fabulous it is, so hopefully the photos will suggest to you a lovely colourful summer dish that you are slightly intrigued by and really want to try.
Try it. It's wonderful.
Grilled peach, feta and prosciutto salad (serves 2):
- 2 large peaches, ripe but firm
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp honey
- Salt and pepper
- 1 bag mixed rocket, watercress and spinach salad (or just rocket/spinach)
- A drizzle of balsamic vinegar (I use Gourmet Spice blackberry & rosemary balsamic)
- 80g prosciutto, normal or smoked if you can find it
- A large handful of basil leaves, roughly torn
- 80-100g feta or soft goat's cheese
Halve the peaches and remove the stone, then slice thinly and toss with the olive oil, honey, and some salt and pepper. Get a griddle pan really hot, then griddle the fruit on each side until each slice is lightly charred. Try not to overdo it or they will disintegrate. (Incidentally, you can skip this step if you can't be bothered/don't own a griddle pan - raw peach slices are still great in this salad).
Meanwhile, toss the salad with the balsamic and divide between two plates. Drape over the prosciutto slices, sprinkle over the torn basil, then add the peach slices. Finally, crumble over the feta or goat's cheese.