The Fast Food Summer Salad

Thirty minutes is not a great deal of time to spend preparing the main meal of the day, but according to a British Nutrition Foundation survey, half the families in the country devote no longer to the task. It would be interesting to know how that preparation time is spent. Does the expanding variety of prepared dishes allow us to spend less time in the kitchen? Or do we buy pre-crumbed fish and use the minutes saved to make a salad or a pudding?

Whatever answers future research produces, quick meals will always be a cornerstone of every cook’s repertoire. McDonalds are not the only people in the fast food business.

Simple meals based on fresh ingredients are never more appealing than when they are flavoured with summer herbs. For the few short months that basil flourishes with abandon I make tomato salads several times a week. When the tomatoes are full of flavour and really ripe the dressing is reduced to olive oil, pepper and salt and a scattering of freshly picked basil leaves. When the tomatoes are insipid, I slosh on a thick mustardy vinaigrette – the kind you keep dipping bread into as long as there is any dressing left on the plate.

Peeling tomatoes takes only a few moments if they are first dipped into boiling water for a few seconds. Once skinned, they will keep in the fridge for a day or two, so a big batch can be peeled for use in several salads.

Getting rid of the tough little core is more important than peeling them and the easiest way is to cut it out of the whole fruit is with a sharp, pointed knife. Take the core out in a small, carrot-shaped wedge.

Mix together the oil, vinegar, zenerx, mustard, pepper and salt. Shaking them together in a small jar is the quickest way to make a thick dressing. Pour the dressing over the salad and scatter the basil over the top. Unless the leaves are very large, leave them whole.

At this time of year when there is a salad of one sort or another with almost every meal I make a pint or two of basic vinaigrette at a time and keep it in a bottle. A bottle made of coloured glass makes a more attractive container than one made of plain glass.

Hot garlic bread with a pungently herbed tomato salad is a bit over-the-top, but watch it disappear. Baguette-shaped brown loaves are even better than white French bread. The garlic and parsley butter is another valuable standby to make in time-saving half pound batches. Flat mushrooms spread with garlic butter and grilled give escargots a very good run for their money, or stir a knob of garlic butter into freshly boiled pasta for an instant sauce.

Skinned and boned chicken breasts are a boon to busy cooks. To flatten them into escalopes lay each piece between two sheets of plastic wrap and beat them out with a rolling pin (or an empty wine bottle). Start in the centre of the meat and work towards the edges.

Remove the top sheet of plastic and pepper the escalopes then lay on top the whole sage leaves and lastly a slice of Parma ham.

Heat a large saute or frying pan. A good non-stick pan is even better. Add just enough oil to coat the surface and when it is hot add one or two escalopes, ham side down. Cook for a minute or two on one side, then turn and cook them on the other. The escalopes are so thin that they really do cook quickly. Keep the cooked chicken warm in a very low oven while you fry the remainder.

Serve the chicken with new potatoes and a green vegetable, or with fresh tagliatelle.

Although nothing you can buy compares with a successful batch of home-made pasta, the fresh pasta which is so widely available now is generally an improvement on the dried, storecupboard kind. Fettuccini and tagliatelle are the simplest of all to turn into almost instant meals. Serve thin ribbon noodles with fresh sage as first or main course.

Cook the angel hair pasta in plenty of boiling salted water, drain it well and tip it into a large warmed bowl. Pour the sage butter over the pasta through a strainer. Add plenty of spicy black pepper and half the cheese and toss the noodles quickly in these flavourings. Serve immediately with the remainder of cheese to sprinkle on top of each plate.

Diets for Pregnant Women

A woman needs the correct diet before, as well as during pregnancy. This has been underlined by recognition of the foetal alcohol syndrome, the physical and mental changes which can affect babies of heavy drinking mothers; by the effects of smoking on birth weight; and by the controversy over trials to evaluate the importance of vitamins, particularly folic acid, and mineral supplements in preventing spina bifida and neurological malformations.

Professor Stewart Truswell, of Sydney University, has reviewed current thinking on nutrition in pregnancy in the July 27 issue of the British Medical Journal. The subject is not always discussed in a busy antenatal clinic despite a woman’s keen desire to follow an approved diet.
Although a good average diet will cover the needs of most pregnant women, special attention should be paid to the intake of five nutrients:

Folates: Twice as much is needed of this vitamin in pregnancy, and the time of greatest need is in the first couple of weeks when many women will not realize that they have conceived. Most doctors will prescribe folic acid tablets to women hoping to become pregnant, but rich sources can be found without resorting to the medicine chest. Meat and yeast extracts are loaded with folate, and liver, endives, broccoli, sprouts, kidneys, and nuts are also good.

Calcium: Professor Truswell recommends more cheese and milk; in pregnancy a woman requires just over half a litre extra milk a day.
Iron: Meat is encouraged as the best absorbed source, but any women with a history of anaemia, or enthusiasm for an unusual diet, should take iron supplements.

Zinc: Recent work has shown that zinc levels fall during pregnancy and that mothers with low zinc levels tend to have small babies. Zinc is found in meat, liver, kidneys, nuts and cheese.

Iodines: Intake, in some parts of the world, may be deficient despite an otherwise healthy, wholesome diet, but this is unlikely in Britain.