I am always a little overjoyed to receive an invitation to dine at the home of my dear friend, Dani. We go way back, Dan and I, way back to being two big-haired 12-year-olds from Melbourne’s Bayside suburbs, who aptly dubbed ourselves ‘the boofheads from the south’. It is Dani’s birthday today, so it is only fitting that I embarrass her just a little more. Our long trek into school meant that we were always there early, so it made perfect sense to us that we perform routine spectacles for our sorry, fellow early-morning peers. Dani was the ballet dancer, performing graceful pirouettes across homeroom with her blonde curls bouncing through the air behind her, while I sang ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and ‘I can see a rainbow’ in any version requested – rap, opera, jazz, traditional, etc. I’ll stop there, although it’s tempting to include one of several anecdote about our shared infatuation with ‘Flip’ (we named him this because his hair kind of flipped upwards in the most extraordinary way… he shaved it off not long after he found out about this nickname!).
An invitation to Dani’s means not only spending time with one of my oldest friends, but also her husband, Rob, a gorgeous man whom she met while living in London. Rob is not only a sweetheart, but also a chef, and a really, really good one, whose pedigree includes time at Le Gavroche and the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park.
For this particular barbecue, I offered to bring along a salad. Now that you all know how I know feel about making the pear, rocket and parmesan salad over and again, I decided to try something new. It had to be good, because this wouldn’t be just any steak and sausages bulk-buy barbecue. It would be a Chef Rob extravaganza! And it truly was, complete with a post-lunch cheeseboard that had me weak at the knees (the sight of the huge wedge of Roquefort was too much!).
I decided on a roasted vegetable salad, but not a chaotic vegetable circus with overly-marinated, oily elements. It would be elegant, just like Dani’s pirouettes, and it would make sense.
1 packet (approx. 120 g) rocket salad mix
1 red capsicum
1 bunch asparagus
200 – 250 g block haloumi cheese
¼ cup slivered almonds
2-3 tablespoons fresh parsley
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 heaped teaspoon brown sugar
sea salt and ground black pepper
Preheat your oven to 180°C. Wash and thoroughly dry the rocket, then place in a large salad bowl. Place the capsicum in a baking tray and drizzle with oil, then bake for about 30 to 40 minutes or until blackened. Remove and allow to cool.
In the meantime, make the dressing by combining all ingredients and whisking these together or shaking well in a jar. Depending on the amount of salad you wish to make, go with the general ‘3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar’ rule.
Wash the asparagus and trim the ends, then cut each spear in half. Pan-fry these for a few minutes only, in a hot, well-oiled griddle pan, until they are bright green and slightly char-grilled. Set aside once cooked.
Cut the haloumi block into rectangular pieces, about 1 x 2 inches in size. Pat the pieces dry to absorb any excess brine and salt. Using the griddle pan, pan fry the haloumi for about 2 minutes on each side, or until just golden. Ensure they are cooked in a generous amount of olive oil and squeeze a little lemon over the haloumi pieces while they are cooking. Be sure not to overcook these delicate beauties, as they will become tough and rubbery once cooled.
Remove the skin from the cooled capsicum (this should fall off quite easily) and roughly cut it into strips. Arrange these over the rocket, then add the asparagus and haloumi and top with the slivered almonds and parsley. Add the dressing just before serving. I’ll let you in on a little something here… I had intended to toast the almonds, however I never have much success with ‘toasting’ and end up with something black and inedible. Because we were running late to the barbecue, I bought a second pack of almonds on the way and added these in raw, and I think I prefer it. If you have the toasting touch, by all means toast them!
Happy, happy birthday beautiful, dancing Dani! xx