September 28, 2015

Here is what we cooked last week:

Monday: Insalata del Pastore – Shepherd’s Salad, Toasted Bread
Tuesday: Escarole with Sausage Soup
Wednesday: Pirates Game – hot dogs with mustard, onions and relish
Thursday: Steelers game, preceded by drinks at Max’s Allegheny Tavern
Friday: Monk Fish with Cumin and Coriander and Eggplant Puree, Salt Roasted Potatoes
Saturday: Pizzas with Salad
Sunday: Crostini with sautéed onions and peppers, ricotta and roasted mushrooms
Pollo al Vin Cotto

Salad prepared, expertly, by Beez

This week was all about the Pirates.  Billy bought us tickets to Wednesday’s game which, you may recall, was not a successful outing for the Bucs. But Beez (aka SWMBO) not only allowed hot dogs to be eaten, but joined us in this All-American indulgence.  So the night was pretty good after all, and Sunday’s win made up for everything.

The keeper for this week is a salad that will make you feel righteous about your healthy eating habits and still pack enough protein and taste to make you feel well fed.

What we call “Shepherd’s Salad” is actually a recipe from Lynne Rosetto Kasper’s The Italian Country Table modified to our own tastes.  The key to this dish is taking the time to prepare the savory dressing, and that means paying attention as liquids boil down to concentrate the flavors – you don’t want the thing to burn.  But if you don’t boil down the liquids, you won’t get the flavor kick that turns this salad into a keeper.

First off, let’s confront the salami issue.  I know that cured meats are a problem for some people.  Let me address those who are not institutionalized, yet.   I would estimate there is 2% salami to 98% vegetables in this dish, so don’t let your inner vegan work itself into a frenzy.  And think for a minute about salads – the problem with so many of them is that a plate of tasteless leaves tempts people to pile chicken or beef or salmon and tons of fattening dressing on them.  Here’s how to avoid that, eat healthily and enjoy your meal as well.

The dressing (the key to this dish)

1 hour or so before cooking, slice ½ a large red onion into thin half-moons, immerse in ice water and refrigerate for 45 minutes.

Before your start cooking, cut a slice of soppressata* into thin strips, cut ½ of a red onion into ½ inch dice, put these in the same bowl with a branch of rosemary on top, along with 6 or so sage leaves, and pour out ½ C of red wine vinegar and 2 Cups of Chicken broth.  Finally, mince 2 – 4 cloves of garlic, keep them separate with a pinch of red pepper flakes.

*You can use hard salami as well

Now heat 3 TBS of olive oil**over just below medium-high heat.  When the oil begins to shimmer, toss in the salami, onion, rosemary, and sage and cook until the onion gets some color.   Add the garlic and red pepper and stir for a few seconds, then pour in the vinegar and boil for 4 minutes.  Stir in 1 Cup of the broth and boil down to nothing (this is key – this may take a while – you may not walk away  – if you don’t do this, you will not have a good salad!).  Now pour in the rest of the broth and boil for a few more minutes.   Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.   You should have a very flavorful dressing – if not, try boiling it for a bit longer.

**When I say olive oil, I mean extra-virgin – I sometimes use a mid-grade, like Bertolli for sweating vegetables that are just part of a dish, but usually I use the good stuff – always a great brand for salad dressings – my current favorite is Frantoia (Labriola’s keeps this in stock).

Assembling the salad.

For the base of the salad, I recommend a blend of baby lettuces or spinach and arugula or ‘power greens’ or whatever your local grocer has pre-washed and bagged or in plastic tubs.  (Kasper suggests Bibb and Romaine leaves, but they are not bite-sized and make the salad unwieldy to eat – trust me on this one).  Put a nice bed of these on the platter from which you will be serving the salad.

Here is what you need to chop or slice before assembling the rest of the salad (it goes without saying that you can use any appropriate substitute and even get by without some of the ingredients – I would not omit the onions):

A fennel bulb – you want julienned rods of fennel

The onion that had been sitting in ice water, drained!

Ricotta salata*** – julienne this into strips

Three slices of soppresata (we like hot, but you can use mild if you are boring, have no desire to visit Rome, or spend all of your time with you collection of cocktail napkins) – julienne these into strips

Two cans of pre-cooked cannellini beans – Kasper, like all professional chefs calls for these to be rinsed and drained.  I would simply put them into a colander and let some of the can liquid drain off.  The rinsed beans don’t taste as savory.

Now put 3 or 4 bundles of the fennel, the cheese, the onion and the salami around the outside of the salad and spoon as many of the beans into the center as make sense.  (You can add the rest as needed).  Spoon some of the dressing (re-heat if it’s been off the flame for a while) over the salad and let people help themselves with a salad spoon and fork.

Some toasted bread brushed with a little olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt is a nice accompaniment.

***Our local grocery carries Ricotta Salata (a hard, crumbly cheese – basically, ricotta that has been salted and left to dry out), but you can substitute a good feta (not as good in this salad – but not bad).


That onion you immersed in ice water will keep for up to a week in your refrigerator.  This will work with any kind of onion and given the Goliath’s we get at the Giant Eagle this is a great way to preserve those half-onion pieces that tend to dry out before you get around to using them.

The Sausage and Escarole Soup is an all-time favorite at our house – perfect for a winter’s night.  If you can’t wait for winter, let me know and I’ll send the recipe along.

The Pollo al Vin Cotto is a knockout dish you would be proud to serve to guests any time.  It is Italy’s answer to General Tso’s chicken but more refined in taste and with recognizable chicken parts.  We’ll get to this one in the near future.

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