There’s nothing like a summer holiday for making me feel like my body is a temple (and no, not to Bacchus). Who knows, perhaps you feel like that constantly if you live in a tropical paradise. Perhaps the urge to hunker down and survive off stews and stodgy puddings never comes. And conversely perhaps if you hail from colder climes lighter fare such as today’s fruity salad are an anathema to you. But the point is, I don’t. And I rather like the way the seasons change where I’m from (sometimes as much as all in one day in the UK but that’s beside the point) bringing with them endless opportunities to mess around with meals.
So I’m afraid I’m not done with those Sicilian flavours yet. If I’m being honest with I’m not sure I ever will be I just love the way that the flavours of everything you see growing there pervade everything you eat. If you’ve never sampled the food think almonds, raisins, oranges, lemons, garlic, olives and capers and you’ll get the idea. There isn’t much that wouldn’t be improved upon given this treatment with the possible exception of chocolate.
I’ve had a tough time recently it has to be said. Scarcely back from five days in Sicily and I was off off again for the weekend. I’m so tired I need another holiday or at least a mini break to recover from all this gallivanting and as that’s not on the horizon for at least another week I’ll just have to suffer on in silence. But on the plus side (although maybe not- we are in the middle of the dreaded bikini season) all this gallivanting has left me with quite an appetite. Especially for some more of those spectacular Sicilian flavours.
The other week I went on a ‘relaxing’ walking weekend with my sister and mum. Short walks were planned. Well, maybe planned is a bit of an exaggeration. Arguably, had it been a bit more planned we may have finished the short walks we set out on, instead of the marathon length ones we ended up completing. We saw a lot of the countryside; let’s leave it at that. After one such epic journey I sat down to a meal that will stay with me for a long time; a tamarind fish curry. At the time, tired and exceptionally hungry it tasted unbelievably good. I couldn’t wait to get home and try to replicate it. (Obviously after a long soak in a hot bath first.) Mostly to ascertain whether it was the hunger talking or whether it really was as delicious as I remembered. After a bit of research, I played around a bit then served up my version, braced for crushing disappointment. It never came. The resulting curry was just as deliciously fresh tasting as the first. Which was just as well. I really don’t have the time to be roaming the hills for hours working up my already rather healthy appetite.
Samphire (also known as sea asparagus and sea beans), or to call it by its proper name Salicornia, grows along the coastlines of Europe and Northern America and is riding high right now on its cool and trendy status. It takes its name from the French, herb de Saint-Pierre or St. Peter’s herb, presumably because of its love for all things rocky and comes into season properly round me a little bit later in the year. But thanks to this cool and trendy status, you can get it a bit earlier (in time for the arrival of its closest tasting companion; asparagus) if you know where to look. Sadly, the days when the fishmonger would shove a handful in with the fish he was selling you seem to be gone but locating some still shouldn’t be a herculean task. I love the pair of them; not only for how they taste but for what they represent. When they appear, summer must be nearly here. And of course, armed with the two of them, feeling full of pre-summer optimism (despite these endless April showers. Not too much to ask is it? It is May after all) you can knock up a really quick and fancy meal loaded with fresh spring flavour without leaving the house.
Both asparagus and samphire are really good for you; a fact you could probably guess at looking at their bright green colour. They are both rich in fibre, vitamin A and C, good sources of folate and they’re packed with minerals. Not forgetting that asparagus has a glutathione (anti- inflammatory, anti-aging, detoxifying wonder anti-oxidant) level to rival that of brussel sprouts and that samphire has a linoleic acid (omega 6) level similar to safflower oil. And, arguably more importantly, they are gorgeous to look at and to eat. I like them with a bit of bite so this quick way of cooking them is a great trick to have up your sleeve. Coupled with the classic and amazingly healthy combination of garlic, chilli and ginger the veg is the star of this show and choice of adding prawns/ shrimp is yours. I do love asparagus and samphire with seafood but this recipe is nothing if not flexible. I wouldn’t have a problem with anyone if they served this to me as a meat free option but then again, not many meat eaters would complain about the addition of some thinly sliced rare beef either. One thing’s for sure though; once you’ve made it, and however you have made it, you will want to eat it again and again.
On a final note, do not panic if you can’t get your hands on samphire. Just double up your asparagus and it’ll be almost as good. You may need to check your seasonings though. One of the beauties of cooking with samphire is that, due to its exposure to all that lovely sea air, it takes away your need for any extra salt; it has its own already.
Ginger and Garlic Chilli Prawns with Asparagus and Samphire Noodles Recipe
A good splash of chilli oil (or add extra cayenne if you’re using plain olive oil)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 cms fresh ginger grated
3-4 cloves garlic crushed
200g king prawns (shrimp)
100g petit pois
100g fine green asparagus stems, woody ends removed and sliced in half (horizontally not vertically)
A good tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
Juice and zest of a lime
3 tbsps semi dry sherry
1 tsp fish sauce
A pinch of sugar
One ‘nest’ of fine egg noodles per person
Heat the oil in a large frying pan, or better still a wok and add the ginger, cayenne pepper, garlic and the prawns.
Fry the prawns for 2-3 minutes until they turn pink and are just cooked through. Keep everything moving around the pan as you don’t want the garlic to catch.
Take the prawns out of the pan and keep to one side, leaving as many of the spices as possible in the pan.
Add the asparagus and samphire to the pan and stir fry, moving them around the pan every so often, for another 3 minutes. Do not add any salt; you will find that the samphire will be salty enough.
Boil the kettle and get your noodles ready. Cook the noodles with the petit pois according to the packet instructions; 3 minutes is usual.
Add the sherry to the hot pan with the asparagus and samphire. Let it sizzle for a good minute then turn the heat right down and add the fresh lime zest and juice, the fish sauce and sugar. If you feel you may need extra sauce add a tablespoon or so of the noodle cooking water. Return the prawns to the pan.
When the noodles are cooked, drain them and pour the veg and sauce over the and toss to combine.
Serve sprinkled with the chopped coriander and with extra lime wedges. Delicious.