Camargue Red Rice Salad with Goats’ Cheese and a Wholegrain Mustard Dressing

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I lived with a very rich man whose life was a heady mix of high-powered business and the procurement of the trappings of wealth. All of this was lost on me of course because I would happily live in a shack on a beach so long as it was hot and I didn’t have to spend endless hours with idiots in suits whose wives were as plastic as their yachts. My total lack of interest in his money amused him. What I really appreciated however was the freedom to travel anywhere in the world often with little more than a day’s notice. To me this was wild. One day, as I sat in his office, he bought a very special car direct from Mercedes. The trouble was, it resided in a showroom in Germany and his summer house was in Marbella in Spain (classy, I know); for some time, he struggled with this dilemma until I suggested that we collect the car ourselves and drive it all the way through Germany, Switzerland, Italy and along the length of the Côte d’Azur before turning left into Spain. Surprisingly he agreed – time is money and all that – and there began an adventure of epic proportions; it would take me days to tell you about the laughs, the fall-outs, the glamour of the Riviera, the joy of buttery croissants quickly consumed in transport cafes, the time I left him in Cannes (I left him quite often for he was impossible) and the freedom of driving fast with roof down and the warm wind in our hair. For me, one of the highlights was taking a detour through the flat wetlands of the Camargue Natural Regional Park in which an ancient breed of wild horses roam, where pink flamingos rise majestically from shimmering pools and, across the vast mineral-rich plains, a rather special venue of red rice is cultivated. We’ve been slow on the uptake of red rice in this country, though it is widely appreciated across Asia where an inferior variety is grown. In France, shortly after World War II vast swaths of the Camargue’s salt marshes were desalinated and transformed from salt production to a wild rice revered for its nutty taste and a naturally chewy texture (so long as you don’t boil it to a pulp). This is my version of a salad we ate for lunch in the beautiful ancient city of Arles just around the corner from Van Gogh’s yellow house. As you do when you have all the time in the world.

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Ingredients

250g Camargue red rice
2 banana shallots, peeled and finely chopped
3 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
50g peppery wild rocket leaves, finely chopped
200g soft, mild goats’ cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste

Dressing:
1 clove garlic, crushed and finely sliced
1 tsp French wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste

How I make it

Make the dressing first by placing all the ingredients in a bowl and whisking together. Set aside for the flavours to infuse.

Meanwhile, add the rice to a large lidded frying pan, cover with water and bring to the boil, partially cover and allow it to simmer until it’s just cooked. This will take around 30-40 minutes; keep checking it after 25 mins, you’re looking for an al dente texture with the grains still intact (they burst if cooked for too long). As with all rice-based dishes, a little love and attention is appreciated here. Once cooked, empty the rice into a sieve and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Place in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

When the rice is cool, all you have to do is add the shallots, spring onions, most of the rocket and crumble over half of the cheese. Add the dressing and gently combine.

Turn the rice mixture out into a large serving bowl and crumble the remaining cheese over the top and garnish with the rest of the rocket. Serve at room temperature with an icy class of Provençal rosé wine.

Please check out my Pantry and Source pages to discover more about the ingredients I use, the brands I love and the places I source them from.

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