14 June 2010

Toss This Salad

A week in Italy is a beautiful thing. Especially when you can largely eschew the restaurants and cook simply for yourself. The trouble is that in a land largely known for its meats and cheeses and gelatos, you pretty much mostly eat meats and cheeses and gelatos. (Don't talk to me about the unsalted bread.) And let's not forget about the pasta.

When you eat nothing but proteins and starches for a week, things in your body slow down. You get lethargic. You move less nimbly. You prefer to do everything laying down. So when we got home, I laid on the couch with a meat and gelato hangover. Alannah found the will to hit the market and go up to the kitchen.

After some banging around, I wondered what in tarnation was going on. Was she actually cooking a full meal up there? Would I have to call a surgeon in Neuilly (Paris' Beverly Hills) to make a liposuction appointment? Is my wife mad to bother feeding us after a trip like we had?

There. This oughtta make you regular enough
to star on German video sites.
The result was a ginormous salad, replete with half a head of red-leaf lettuce, lightly blanched broccoli (raw broccoli is for hippie), red peppers grilled under the broiler, fresh cucumber, and plenty of coeur de pigeon (pigeon heart, what kind of name is that!?) tomatoes. Drizzled with a touch of vinegar, a hit of salt, and plenty of our favorite olive oil, it was the antidote to a week of overindulgence.

Upon consuming what seemed like 2 kilos of nothing but vegetables, a wave of healthiness swept over us. Perhaps too much, so we high-tailed it to our neighborhood gelato joint for an appropriate Italian dessert.

Realizing that this much vegetable at once can constitute a shock to the system, our next meal incorporated one of the most fabulous ingredients we happened upon in Italy: Cuore di Proscuittuo. If you think Parma ham is something amazing, imagine this, the filet mignon of the ham. This is seriously drool-inducing stuff.

Handle this meat with care.
Normally you'd use one of those circular deli-style meat slicers to cut this stuff to the fineness it deserves, but we're amateurs here, remember? But even with our insanely sharp knives (the ones we didn't have with us in Italy...) it's tough to cut ham deli-thin. The solution? Cut "normal" slices, lay it down on the cutting board, then horizontally make slices from the slices sushi style. This way you get delicate, manageable strips without having chef's salad-type matchsticks whose rough shape interferes with the enjoyment of such refined hammy flavors.

We again went with a bed of red-leaf lettuce, coeur de pigeon tomatoes and a tiny bit of cucumber, topping it with a nice helping of cuore di proscutto and freshly shaved Parmesan. A bit clichéd, sure, but I opted for a balsamic vinaigrette this time for a hint of sweetness to go with the salt from the cheese and ham.

Moist & glistening.
The one touch that really made this magical, in my most humble opinion, was using several whole leaves of basil to garnish the salad. The occasional but powerful punch of basil rounds out the salad with a perfect balance of flavor, and distinguishes it from typical meat-based meal salads you get at your typical workaday lunch spot.


  1. That cuore di prosciutto... that looks sooo good. I miss all the great cured meats in Italy, especially the finocchiona. Unfortunately US customs are not so happy about suitcases stuffed with pork products...

  2. I swear, it's why I moved to the continent. Although, on the other side of the token, French customs are kinda pricks about me bringing in a suitcase full of Mexican flora & fauna.