Dressed to thrill: Mark Hix celebrates late summer with his inspired salad recipes

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Salads can so often be deadly dull without any thought being put into them. But having a few simple, well thought out salads on the table for people to share is always welcome and means that you can help yourself to as much or as little as you like. So this week I am giving you recipes for delicious, simple, late-summer salads that you can get ready in advance and then assemble with the dressing just before serving. The key is to make sure you have really good-quality ingredients. A long, relaxed, drawn-out summery lunch is hard to beat, especially when the weather behaves and you can sit outside in the sunshine.

Summer herb salad

Serves 4

I've been growing my own salads and herbs at home now for years and it's so satisfying to harvest those unusual leaves that you can't buy in the shops. I even harvest weeds like bittercress and chickweed that would normally go in the compost. Some ornamental plants like sedum and nasturtiums are great tossed into a salad, so at any one time I can have at least eight or so different herb and salad leaves in my salad bowl. To buy a really interesting selection of salads, check out Steve's Leaves (stevesleaves.co.uk).

My larder always has a selection of vinegars and oils from around the world so I can create dressings for every occasion. Some vinegars are too sharp, especially in a delicate salad like this, so I often use a moscatel or chardonnay vinegar and a blend of rapeseed or olive and peanut oil. Another of my favourites is sherry vinegar mixed with walnut or hazelnut oil and caster sugar.

2-3 handfuls of interesting salad leaves and herbs, washed and dried

For the dressing

1tbsp chardonnay or moscatel vinegar
tbsp Dijon or Tewksbury mustard
2tbsp olive oil
2tbsp peanut oil
A sprig of tarragon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

The day before, make the dressing by whisking all of the ingredients together or shaking them together in a jar, then leave overnight to infuse.

To serve, toss the leaves in half of the dressing and serve the rest of the dressing separately.

Tomato, marrow and coriander salad

Serves 4

Marrow isn't usually considered as a salad ingredient, but why ever not? I have decided to mix this often neglected vegetable here with a selection of ripe tomatoes which are now at the height of their season. I think your lunch guests will be dead impressed by the unusual combination of raw and cooked ingredients, as well as the addition of fragrant coriander.

300-400g marrow
A couple of tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
300-350g mixed ripe tomatoes
A handful of coriander leaves

For the dressing

1tbsp good quality red wine vinegar
4tbsp olive oil

Quarter the marrow lengthways and cut or scoop out the seeds.

Cut the marrow into cm slices and then lay them out on a tray and scatter with a little salt and leave for 30 minutes. Pat the marrow dry with some kitchen paper and then season with some freshly ground pepper.

Heat a frying pan with some olive oil and fry the marrow pieces for 3-4 minutes until tender, turning them in the pan as they are cooking, then transfer to a tray and leave to cool.

Cut the tomatoes into a mixture of chunks and wedges.

Whisk the vinegar and oil together and season to taste.

Toss the tomatoes and marrow with the dressing and coriander and season to taste; serve immediately.

Beetroot, red onion and horseradish salad

Serves 4-6

Beetroot has become de rigueur on the nation's trendiest dinner tables – served either as a salad, hot side dish or a starter. If you visit farmers' markets you will often find different varieties and colours which look beautiful in a salad like this.

Try to buy fresh horseradish if you can for this dish, as it gives the salad a lovely natural kick.

600-800g beetroots, red or mixed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium red onion, peeled, halved and very thinly sliced
2tbsp freshly grated horseradish

For the dressing

1tbsp cider vinegar
tbsp Dijon or Tewkesbury mustard
3-4tbsp olive or rapeseed oil

Put the beetroots in a pan of cold salted water, bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour, topping up with water if necessary, until tender.

If you have different coloured beets then cook them in different pans to avoid discolouring; large beetroots will need longer.

Drain and refresh under the cold tap or leave to cool on their own. Once the beetroots have cooled down, you can easily remove the skins by rubbing them off with your hands – you can use rubber gloves if you want to avoid staining your hands.

Cut the beetroots into even-sized wedges or slices and arrange on a serving dish or individual ones.

To make the dressing, whisk all of the ingredients together and season to taste. To serve, scatter the onions over the beetroots, spoon over the dressing and then scatter over the horseradish.

Spinach, blue cheese and bacon salad

Serves 4

200g baby spinach leaves, washed, dried
60-70g blue cheese, broken into chunks
150-200g piece of smoked streaky bacon
Vegetable oil for frying

For the dressing

1tbsp cider vinegar
1tsp Tewkesbury mustard
20g blue cheese
2tbsp cold-pressed rapeseed oil
2tbsp vegetable or corn oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the bacon in a saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes, remove from the pan; leave to cool. Remove the rind and cut into -1cm cubes. Heat some vegetable oil in a frying pan and cook the bacon for 3-4 minutes on a medium heat, turning until crisp. Remove from the pan; transfer to kitchen paper. To make the dressing, put the vinegar, mustard, blue cheese and oils in a blender and season to taste. Toss the spinach leaves in some of the dressing; arrange in a bowl, reserving the rest of the dressing to pour on as extra. Scatter the chunks of blue cheese and bacon over the salad and serve.

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