Insalata Caprese

Tomatoes

In 2013 the German culinary press characterised Dutch tomatoes as ‘wasserbomben’, let’s say ‘water balloons’. And they were right. Even more so, many tomatoes were, and still are, tasteless and watery. And since the Netherlands are in the top 3 of tomato exporting countries, you run the risk of buying a red balloon. Which is of course not what you want to do. So if you plan to make one of the simplest and tastiest starters ever, you have to find the best tomatoes ever. Or grow your own of course.

Mozzarella

Meaning Buffalo mozzarella, made from the milk of the Italian buffalo. Since 1993 it’s a DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) and protected under EU law. It’s a young, moist, tasty cheese with a lovely soft, elastic but not chewy texture and it comes with a skin as a result of the shaping and pickling. The taste is more robust than mozzarella made from cow milk and it’s ideal for a salad. The cow version is best used for cooking. The smoked version should be ignored.

Basil

Someone should write ‘The Case of the Dying Basil’. A whodunit in which a clever detective will reveal why the basil plant you buy from the green grocer or supermarket will very likely die within 3 days, regardless what you do. And since they always die on us, we buy ‘fresh’ leaves.
The most used variety of basil is sweet or Genovese basil. Others are Thai basil (slightly spicy with a hint of anise) and red (or purple) basil (similar to sweet basil but more powerful). Alain Passard’s book Collages et Recettes includes a recipe for purple carrots with purple basil and cinnamon. Wonderful colours and a delicate taste.

Insalata Caprese

This salad stands or falls on the quality of the ingredients. And it requires the talent to keep things simple, so you have to stick to the 5 (five!) ingredients, meaning tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, olive oil and pepper. The salad does not come with balsamic vinegar, lettuce, pineapple nuts, salt, honey, croutons, oregano, mustard or a vinaigrette. Five ingredients. That’s it.
You wonder why? Because this way the Insalata Caprese is at its best. Tasty, sweet, rich, moist, fresh and a reflection of Italy and of summer. Adding an ingredient will worsen the concept of the salad and reduce its taste.

Wine Pairing

We suggest an excellent rosé, one with flavour and depth. For instance Monte del Frà Bardolino Chiaretto 2018. You’re looking for a wine with delicate scents of berries accompanied by light and refreshing hints of green apples and subtle spicy tones. On the palate the wine should reveal juicy sensations of red berries along with an appealing and refreshing acidity.

What You Need

  • Two Excellent Ripe Tomatoes
  • One Ball (125 gram) of Excellent Buffalo Mozzarella
  • Fresh Basil
  • Excellent Olive Oil
  • Fresh ground Black Pepper

What You Do

Slice the tomatoes, slice the mozzarella and create the ‘tricolore’. Add fresh black pepper and drizzle generously with olive oil.

Insalata Caprese © cadwu
Insalata Caprese © cadwu

Saumur Champigny with a Salad of Oyster Mushrooms and Smoked Breast of Duck

The Loire

One of France’s most beautiful and interesting rivers. It flows from the Massif Central to the Atlantic Ocean and its valley is linked to towns like Nantes, Blois, Tours and Saumur and castles like Chambors and d’Azay-le-Rideau. Its banks are rich, just think of the many vineyards, farms and orchards. So much history, so much gastronomy. The river inspired many, including Hilaire Walden who wrote Loire Gastronomique in 1993. She followed the river and describes its gastronomy in this travelogue. The book features the typical food of the region and the recipes are authentic, easy to follow and delicious. Highly recommended!

Saumur is also a wine region and well-known for its sparkling wine. Another wine made in the region is Saumur Champigny, made from Cabernet Franc. Smell your Saumur Champigny and think of sharpening a pencil. Graphite, cedar wood. Exactly. That’s the specific aroma of Cabernet Franc. The Saumur Champigny wines are typically light or medium-bodied, have a crisp acidity, are easy to drink and they come with flavours and aromas of berries.

Food pairing

Saumur Champigny Les Hauts Buis, 2017, has a red colour with a touch of violet. Soft aromas that made us think of raspberries and cherries. Easy to drink, fresh acidity and soft tannins. Earthiness, lots of red fruit and cherries; with a nice finale with more red fruit. This is a well-balanced wine. Ideal to combine with charcuterie as apéro, a salad and perhaps with couscous. We decided to combine the wine with a salad. A salad that would bring juiciness, nuttiness and sweetness. Gently fried Oyster Mushrooms, smoked Breast of Duck and perhaps Quail Eggs. A few days later we combined the wine with roasted chicken. Again, very nice, light and inspiring.

What You Need

  • Oyster Mushrooms
  • Mesclun
  • Shallot
  • Smoked Breast of Duck
  • (Optional) Quail Eggs
  • Olive Oil
  • Vinegar
  • Black Pepper

What You Do

Tear the oyster mushrooms into smaller bits, following the lamellae. Don’t use a knife to do so. Make sure the mesclun is ready to be eaten. Slice the breast of duck into smaller bits if so required. Gently fry the oyster mushrooms in olive oil, just to give them warmth and colour. Cook the quail eggs until just set. Make the vinaigrette with olive oil, white wine (or cider) vinegar, black pepper and the thinly chopped shallot.
Create the salad by tossing the mesclun and the vinaigrette. Serve with the mushrooms and the breast of duck on top of the salad. Serve with crusted bread and of course a generous glass of Saumur Champigny.

 

Salad of White Asparagus with Chervil

A salad can be a very rewarding starter of your lunch or dinner on a nice summer’s day, provided it’s one with lots of flavour and gentle acidity. Salade Ni­çoi­se, Salade Caprese or a salad of White Asparagus with Chervil.

Combining salad and wine is not straightforward. Especially the acidity of the dressing creates a challenge. One solution is to use verjuice and not vinegar. Verjuice is made by pressing unripe grapes. The idea is that verjuice links to wine, whereas classic vinegar or lemon juice would compete with wine. In this case we choose a wine that reflects the flavours of the salad: a hint of anise, a touch of sweetness and florality. Typical notes you will find in a wine from the Alsace region, for instance a Pinot Blanc or a Pinot Gris.

Chervil is a very delicate herb. Its taste is like anise, but much more refined. The salad needs to be prepared well in advance, allowing the chervil to be overall present. Chervil looses it’s taste almost immediately when heated, so one to be used in cold dishes.

Honey can easily ruin a salad. (And sugar will always ruin a salad.) In this case we use only a touch of honey to create an environment for the sweetness of the white asparagus. The honey should act as a trigger.

The salad is a great example of the complexity of white asparagus: you will taste the sweetness and the freshness of white asparagus. The mouth feel of the salad is very nice, because the asparagus will be both juicy and crispy, with the chervil, honey and vinegar in a supporting role.

After having mixed the salad you will notice that the asparagus and chervil absorb the dressing. During the time in the refrigerator the asparagus will loose some juices, which is actually the beginning of a great dressing.

Here is what you need:

  • 2 White Asparagus per person
  • Excellent Olive Oil
  • White Wine Vinegar or Verjuice
  • Lots of Chervil
  • Touch of Honey
  • White Pepper

Steam the asparagus for 10 minutes. Let cool. Dry with kitchen paper if needed. Prepare a dressing with the olive oil and vinegar. Chop the chervil and add to the dressing. Add a touch of honey and stir well. Add some white pepper. Taste the dressing: it should be a balance, meaning that none of the ingredients is overly present. Now slice the asparagus in nice chunks, let’s say 3 centimetres long. Mix, cover and transfer to the refrigerator for 6 hours. Mix the salad every two hours. Check the taste after 4 hours, you may want to adjust. Mix the dressing just before serving.

 

 

Salad of Oyster Mushrooms, Pancetta and Chives

The Challenges of Oyster Mushrooms

Finally! After weeks of patience you’ve just harvested your home grown Oyster Mushrooms. Or for those among us with less patience: you’ve just bought some A+ Oyster Mushrooms.
Let’s discuss some misunderstandings about oyster mushrooms.
First of all, yes, they can be eaten raw (especially the pink and yellow variety), but as always with mushrooms, some people simply don’t agree with them. Cooking is a way of removing the toxic element.
Second aspect, oyster mushrooms do have a taste of their own. It’s delicate and it combines really well with eggs, chives and pancetta, but mind the balance.
And finally, they are (indeed) a bit soggy. So don’t try to fry them and don’t use them in a sauce where you want a certain consistency. Use this aspect of the oyster mushroom, don’t fight it.

This recipe is clearly inspired by the wonderful salade paysanne, which is a combination of ingredients such as mesclun, egg, bacon, potatoes, oil and vinegar. (and never pine nuts, balsamic vinegar, tomatoes and mayonnaise).

Wine Pairing

You can serve the salad as a lunch with a glass of Pinot Grigio or a nice rosé from the Provence region, but why not be a bit bold and serve it with a red wine? Our suggestion would be a Pinot Noir or a Beaujolais Cru (so not nouveau or village).

What You Need

  • Oyster Mushrooms
  • Mesclun
  • Pancetta
  • Quail Eggs
  • Olive Oil
  • Butter
  • Chives
  • Black Pepper

What You Do

Tear the oyster mushrooms into smaller bits, following the lamellae. Don’t use a knife. Make sure the mesclun is ready to eat. Cut the pancetta into smaller bits. Don’t use bacon because the saltiness of the bacon will overpower the mushrooms.
In parallel gently fry the oyster mushrooms in olive oil and butter, just to give them warmth and allow for the taste to develop. Remove from the pan and set aside, preferable on a warm plate. In a second skillet fry the pancetta in olive oil. Add olive oil and white wine vinegar to the remaining juices of the oyster mushroom and create a warm vinaigrette. This way you capture the juices and taste of the mushrooms. In a third pan cook the quail eggs until just set. When using fresh chicken eggs cook them until runny or even better, poach the eggs. We prefer using quail eggs given the size of the salad and the more present taste of the quail eggs.
Create the salad by tossing the mesclun, pancetta, chives, black pepper and half of the mushrooms with the vinaigrette. Serve with the other half of the mushrooms on top of the salad, sprinkle some chives on top. Serve with crusted bread.

 

Last Week’s Special – 21

Caesar’s Mushroom with Pappardelle, Parmesan Cheese and a glass of Pinot Noir

Caesar’s mushroom (or Amanita Caesarea) is a true delicacy, especially when eaten very young. And raw. Since the young ones have the shape of an egg, they are called ovoli in Italian. However, it’s not recommended to pick these young ones yourself, unless you’re an expert. The young Caesar’s mushroom looks very similar to young Fly Agaric, Death Cap and Destroying Angels. Ones we would not like to see on (y)our plate. The mature Caesar’s mushroom looks very distinct from these very dangerous mushrooms, so fewer risks involved.
The classic recipe for ovoli is to include them in a salad, with shaved white truffle. So raw, which makes it just a touch more dangerous.

When you’re in North America, you will probably be able to buy Amanita Jacksonii or Amanita Arkansana, which seem to be very similar, but not completely. As far as we know eating cooked Amanita Caesarea and Arkansana is not a problem; eating them raw could be.

In this recipe we combine the delicate flavour of the Caesar’s mushroom with thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, a touch of garlic, Parmesan cheese and olive oil. Ideally served with pappardelle because the paste will be nicely coated with the cooking juices, but feel free to use good spaghetti as an alternative (like we did).

We enjoyed our Caesar’s mushrooms with a glass of pinot noir. This wine will have earthly tones and these connect very nicely to the earthy taste of the mushroom. Not too much acidity, because that doesn’t go well with the touch of bitterness of the fresh bay leaf. The pinot noir should also be relatively light, allowing for herbal and floral tones.

Here is what you need:

  • 200 grams of Caesar’s mushroom
  • Olive Oil
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Garlic
  • Fresh Bay Leaf
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Pappardelle

Clean the Caesar’s mushrooms by removing the dirt and the white veil (or volva). Start by making flavoured olive oil by warming the olive oil in a large skillet and adding the herbs and the garlic. Not too hot, you only want the flavours and essential oils to be added to the olive oil. Remove the herbs and garlic after 10 minutes or so. Squeeze the herbs gently, making sure you capture the flavours as much as possible. Now gently fry the sliced Caesar’s mushroom. Just cooked is perfect. In parallel cook your pasta. When al dente, drain the pasta but keep some of the cooking liquid. If there is too much starch on the pasta, then forget about Italy, think Japan and wash your pasta with water. This will remove the starch and allow for a better result. Remove the Caesar’s mushrooms from the pan and keep warm. Add the pasta to the pan, stir and make sure the pasta is fully coated. Add a spoonful or two of the cooking liquid to the pan. Add some grated Parmesan cheese and black pepper. Stir. Transfer the pasta to a warm plate and put the Caesar’s mushroom on top of the pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and black pepper.

Salad of Small Artichokes

Love Your Artichoke

Artichokes are not very popular, with the exception of marinated artichokes hearts in a jar. Pity! These hearts are simply not as tasty as freshly made ones. They are all about marinade, vinegar, sugar and some unidentified spices. Whereas our artichokes are about taste and texture. Remember it’s a thistle you’re eating and not something white and fluffy from a jar.
Bigger artichokes are a wonderful, relaxing starter and the smaller ones are great when turned into a salad. One thing is important: take your time to cook the artichokes. The small ones should be cooked 30 minutes or so, which means they lose most if not all of their flavour. So it should read: take your time to steam the artichokes. Then the artichokes are ready to eat and keep their original taste.
Key to the salad is the combination of artichokes and thyme. Lots of thyme!

Wine Pairing

You can serve this salad to accompany an aperitif, or with some bread as a starter. Make sure you have plenty of dressing.

What You Need

  • 6 small Artichokes
  • Olive Oil
  • Vinegar
  • Mayonnaise
  • Mustard
  • Garlic
  • Thyme
  • Black Pepper

What You Do

Remove the stem of the artichokes and steam the artichokes for 45 minutes, depending on the size. Remove and let cool. Peel of the first layers of the outer leaves. Make the dressing by turning the mustard and the garlic into a smooth paste. Then gently add the other ingredients and whisk well to make it really smooth, thick dressing. Cut the artichokes in 6 or 8 parts. Add to the dressing, mix well, coating all artichokes. Sprinkle lots of thyme and mix again. Put in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Mix again, taste, add some more thyme and serve!