Favorite salad of all time

photo-3

 

Today’s food moment was something of an experiment. Some of my friends out there will know that I’m a little bit smitten by the Verdure menu at Chicago’s Eataly. Verdure is the vegetarian restaurant inside Eataly and I can’t get enough of it. The first time I ate there we had chosen it because all of the other restaurants had a line for a table. Verdure was wide open and almost always is. I can’t understand it. Actually, I can. The other restaurants are the pasta place, the pizza place, the fish place, and the meat place. I wish more people could understand that vegetables can rock your socks off when prepared in a healthy and delicious way. I always order at least two different dishes to share with whoever I’m with. However, I can’t keep myself from ordering their Scarola alla Griglia every single time. And why shouldn’t I? It’s delicious! Grilled lettuces and balsamic vinegar. Winning combination.

Time to plan dinner at my house. I realize I have pine nuts and a container of dried currants I used to make a granola. What else is served with pine nuts and currants? Scarola alla Griglia! Only my favorite salad of all time! I decided to make this happen. How hard could it be? Since I’ve eaten this dish at Eataly so many times I didn’t even need to look at the restaurant’s menu for a reminder of the ingredients; romaine lettuce, radicchio, Belgian endive ( I think…why not?), pine nuts, dried currants, balsamic vinegar, and parmesan cheese. Preparation? Drizzle some olive oil on the greens, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, grill. Done. Sprinkle over the pine nuts and currants and drizzle over some balsamic vinegar. I purposefully omitted the cheese only because after our 14 day detox diet I’m really trying to stick with the guidelines as much as possible in our everyday eating. The salad was still great without it.

What does the Scarola alla Griglia taste like? Grilling the lettuce gives it a smoky, charred crust that contrasts beautifully with the usual crispness of the lettuce. Be sure not to grill them too long. You don’t want a wilty mess of lettuce. The romaine keeps its delicate flavor while the bitterness of the radicchio and endive is bathed in the tangy sweetness of the balsamic vinegar. The creamy, nutty bite of the pine nuts and the chewy, fruity currants put this salad over the edge. It’s that good. Also, I chopped up my lettuce after grilling them. At Verdure they are served more intact and while it looks beautiful it can be a pain to cut into. It seems my experiment was successful. A salad is a good start at attempting to remake restaurant dishes at home. I’m going to need to think about my next recreation attempt…

Food improvisation

photo 1

I attended a charity event recently and received a gift bag full of health-conscious swag upon leaving. In among the certificates good for yoga classes and massages was a package of par-baked flatbread. Interesting choice. While I would rather have made my own or at least use some fresh bread from a bakery I decided to give this flatbread a try. Why not? It was free and it was here. So on my walk home from work I stopped by the store and grabbed a few ingredients to throw together. On a side note, I’m a maker of lists. When I plan a trip to the store I always make a list. It definitely helps me to remember what it is I actually need when I am so easily distracted by all of the glorious rows and displays of food. But on this day I had a moment of food improvisation. It reminded me of trips to the farmer’s market. Oh how I do miss going to the farmer’s market. It’s so darn cold here that the markets don’t open until May. On market days I bring my empty bags and fill them with whatever catches my eye. No agenda, no plan. Just beautiful, fresh fruits and veggies beckoning me to take them home and prepare them.

In honor of the temporary warm, very spring-like weather I was inspired to make something fresh and tasty. What I came away with was a container of ricotta cheese, prosciutto, arugula and perfectly ripe pears. This would have been delicious with some plump and velvety figs but it’s too early for figs and there weren’t any at the store. There really isn’t a recipe to this dish. I threw the flatbread in the oven to crisp it up a bit and then topped it with a delicate pillow of creamy ricotta, followed by thin slices of perfectly salty prosciutto. Then back into the oven to slightly soften the cheese and let the prosciutto get a tad bit crispy. While that was happening I made a quick balsamic vinegar reduction on the stove. After the bread came out of the oven I finished it off by throwing on some peppery arugula to add a great texture and then the fragrant slices of pear. A drizzle of the balsamic reduction and a few grinds of fresh black pepper and the flatbread was ready to eat. It took less than 8 minutes. Not too bad for a quick and satisfying spring dinner. I’m not mentioning the flatbread brand because, to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t that great. It made do for what I wanted but I wouldn’t recommend it or buy it again.

Ricotta and Pear Topped Flatbread

2 pieces flatbread of your choice

8 oz whole milk ricotta

4 oz thinly sliced prosciutto

2 c arugula

1 pear, thinly sliced

1/2 c balsamic vinegar

fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place flatbread on a baking sheet and heat in the oven 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat until it’s reduced by half. Remove from oven and spread 4 oz of ricotta onto each flatbread. Top with the slices of prosciutto and return to the oven for another 3-4 minutes. Then top with the arugula and pears, drizzle the balsamic vinegar over, and sprinkle with black pepper. That’s it!

Spring makeover extravaganza

photo-6

 

It has been a weekend of truly wonderful food moments. Friday’s took the cake, though. A few weeks ago I was at Nordstrom to buy some face cream I had run out of and the sales woman suggested I sign up for their spring makeover extravaganza. It was to take place on a Friday night, a friend and I could come get a facial and makeover, and Sarah Jessica Parker was going to be there promoting her new shoe line. I told her I was most likely not going to buy any of the products they attempt to sell you on but she said, “Come and join the party anyway!” So I enlisted my best friend Jenny to be my plus one and we made it into a date. A bit of backstory here…I lived with Jenny just after she gave birth to her beautiful daughter to help take care of Cynthia and get Jenny back on her feet. She had some complications during and after the birth so I wanted to make sure my BFF was in good hands. It was one of the best times in my life! We had so much fun getting to know this new, tiny human and spending some quality friend time with each other after living apart for years. We developed an almost nightly ritual of eating a great dinner prepared by moi, grabbing our glasses of wine and some cheese, getting into bed and watching episode after episode of Sex and the City. Those were some good days and wonderful memories.

Fast forward almost 10 years later and Jenny and I are sitting down to a fantastic dinner with a glass of wine, getting ready to pamper ourselves and catch a glimpse of the beautiful and stylish SJP. It was like everything had come full circle in a way. If I may take a moment to mention the food. Chicago was blessed with the opening of Eataly a few months ago. This place is ridiculously awesome! Every Italian culinary product you could possibly imagine with several restaurants to sit at and enjoy some quality dishes. We chose to dine at La Verdure, which is the vegetable restaurant. After several wine tastings we settled on a beautiful Tuscan red and bathed the slices of fresh baked bread in golden olive oil. Jenny and I are both huge veggie fans but what came to us was something of our dreams. We started with the Scarola alla Grilglia which was grilled bitter greens with pine nuts, currants, Parmigiano Reggiano, and aged balsamic. Simple, right? Yes, but the flavors made it into a much more complex dish. The smokiness of the grilled greens combined with the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar was out of this world. I have never drooled so much over a salad in my life. We then split the Farrotto con Zucca which was farro cooked in the style of risotto, with butternut squash, Parmigiano Reggiano and butter. Lots and lots of butter. This might have been one of my favorite things I have ever eaten…EVER. There was no pasta, no cream, and not that much cheese but this dish tasted better than the best macaroni and cheese. I don’t understand how they did it but you can bet I’m going to be attempting to create this at home. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Unfortunately, by the time we got to Nordstrom Sarah Jessica Parker had come and gone. Not that we minded much. We both agreed that the meal beat any spotting of a celebrity. The women who gave us facials and did our makeup were asking where the two of us were going afterward since we looked so gorgeous and made up. To a hot dance club? To a trendy bar to sip trendy cocktails? Nope. We promptly went back to Jenny’s house to get into our cozy pants, snuggle up on the couch with her daughter Cynthia and watched a Harry Potter movie. Life is grand!