Savage Salads is the Jackson Pollock of cookery books, with every recipe styled as a little piece of abstract art – giving the impression of a slapdash, there you go approach, when it’s actually pretty hard to master the effortlessly thrown together look, and make it look beautiful.
It’s the debut book from Naples-born Davide del Gatto and Swedish Kristina Gustafsson; friends who met while working in a London restaurant, and went on to launch their own foodie venture on Berwick Street. A little stall serving freshly-prepared takeaway lunches to swarms of hungry Soho workers, which now pitches up at various spots around the city throughout the week. Their goal: to provide salad, with a ‘savage twist’; hearty food ‘for people who like to fill up and feel nourished, and eat something a little more exciting than a jacket potato or soggy sandwich’. The result is over 180 pages of recipes that are the complete opposite of humdrum.
A flick through the pages reveals 50 salads, each recipe supported by a beautiful photograph and easy to follow instructions. Championing the best of what’s available in the here and now, the book is split into the four seasons, with a balanced offering of fish, meat and vegetarian-friendly dishes, and not an iceberg lettuce in sight. Spring makes the best of the first fresh produce of the year, including asparagus, radishes and peas, and our want for light, bright dishes: a spicy seafood feast featuring sea bass, clams and prawns; chickpea gnocchi, fennel sausage, purple sprouting broccoli, sun-dried tomato and garlic cress; mentions of rabbit, and rump steak, all feature in Savage Salads. Summer is a punchy selection including grilled apricots and peaches, couscous, mint, Serrano ham and pint nuts; beetroot and gin-cured salmon; barbequed lamb, and oven-roasted river trout.
Autumn is all warm colours and richness, with the obligatory roast pumpkin making an appearance in the salad on page 106 (above); along with scallops, Jerusalem artichoke and crispy parma ham – a dream combination – and recipes championing duck, squid and pork chops. Ah, Winter, that time of the year when our penchant for salads goes into hibernation and stodgy foods become our friends. Not so in Savage Salad land. Here, grey days are lifted by grilled halloumi, golden beetroot, orange, red chard and walnuts (below); venison carpacchio; grilled sirloin with Guinness-caramelised red onion, and warm goat’s cheese with lentils, pear and chicory. Suffice to say, cheese makes quite a few appearances in this section.
Each of Savage Salads‘ seasonal chapters kicks off with a Five Minute Salad and ends with a Blitzed Salad; the latter giving you the option to eat as is, or whizz up into soup – not technically a salad, but I’m willing to pack away my inner pedant for that one. At the back, there’s a section on Dressings and Dips, with over 20 pages dedicated to the likes of smoked paprika and lime hummus, hazelnut and thyme dressing, coconut yoghurt, black olive tapenade, and classic French vinaigrette.
The book’s only downfall is the use of some ingredients you won’t always find in your local supermarket, which meant my plan to whip up the incredible-looking burrata recipe on page 75, with nduja, ‘burnt’ aubergines, and slow-dried cherry tomatoes, culminated in just having an, albeit very nice, hunk of burrata with pan-fried chorizo instead… (I’m still on the look out for nduja, ‘a spicy, spreadable pork sausage’…).
The grilled poussin, sumac, rocket, chickpeas and pomegranate on page 82, in my kitchen translated into being all of the above, but with chicken legs instead (Waitrose was out of poussin), and the omission of that other tricky to find ingredient, pomegranate molasses. But, it didn’t matter, it was delicious and looked great – nothing like the picture, mind, but worthy of an Instaboast all the same (that’s my pic above) – and if I hadn’t have seen it in the book, I wouldn’t have thought to put those ingredients together. It’s a small criticism in an otherwise lovely book, and forgiven due to the handy hints they provide for ingredient swaps in other recipes: e.g. in place of the taleggio, a goat cheese, blue cheese or camembert.
A cookery book should inspire, and Savage Salads does just that. I know I’ll spend more time pawing over the pages and salivating at the pictures, more than I’ll actually be cooking from it, but that’s no different to many of the cookery books on my shelf. It’ll be my go to when I’m looking for interesting flavour-combinations to try, something to drag me out of a recipe rut, and, when I finally get hold of some of that nduja, my inspiration for making that lovely burrata salad…
Published by Frances Lincoln, Savage Salads: Fierce Flavours, Filling Power-Ups by Davide Del Gatto and Kristina Gustafsson (with photography by Kim Lightbody) is available to buy online here.