Saturday, 1 February 2014

Saving the Best for Last

Insalata di Puntarelle & Mandarini
Puntarelle & Mandarin Orange Salad

This is not much of a recipe- it is so simple an affair I would probably say it is more of a simple recommendation of a different way to end a meal. Different for most of you maybe, but what may be considered strange by a lot of people is totally normal when it comes to an Italian or Sicilian meal, the way it is usually eaten at home- and that is that the salad is usually served at the end of the meal.

It was always that way for me growing up and still is today when I am in Sicily with my parents... it was that way when I was in Tuscany and Florence and was the same when I visited Rome last September. We eat a salad after having enjoyed our antipasto, primo piatto and secondo, to cleanse our palates... which to me makes perfect sense after eating say, a rich meat dish accompanied by a red wine for example.

Normally it would be a light green salad, with just a light drizzle of oil and vinegar or lemon, or maybe we will nibble on some fresh, sliced fennel or endives with no dressing at all- just something clean and fresh tasting to mark the end of the savory foods and leave the palate fresh and ready for something sweet perhaps to go with a coffee.

Another favorite thing to have, for exactly this same reason, at the end of a meal, is some fresh fruit. Oranges or grapes are the classic favorites- always pleasant and always refreshing. But today, as they were both in season, I decided to use fresh puntarelle and mandarin oranges, just to demonstrate this little idea to you...

You probably won't be fortunate enough to be able to find puntarelle where you are, unless you live near Rome or are in a part of central Europe... which is a sad thing, but let me just say that the flavor is like that of endives or radicchio, being crisp and fresh and slightly bitter... and that you could do the same thing using them and have a similar result with the sweet mandarins.

I separated the little bulbs of the puntarelle and washed and shook them dry, then arranged them on a platter with the mandarin segments. I could have and normally would have sliced them up and tossed everything together as a salad... but it just looked so pretty this way, that I thought it would not be the end of the world to have to do some cutting and slicing on my plate after serving them up- sometimes people need to work to earn their supper!

To make the "dressing", I squeezed the juice of one of the mandarins using an orange juicer and added it, including the pulp to a nice "glug" of olive oil- I would say one part juice to 2 parts oil. I added a good pinch of salt, pepper and sugar and whisked everything together nicely with a fork- no fussing around here- it just needs to be nicely mixed.

There is no other magic involved... except of course for the magic that happens when you eat these 2 ingredients at the same time that is! That sweet juiciness of the mandarin orang combined with the light bitterness and crunch of the puntarelle is just wonderful- refreshing and perfect with the silky-sweet olive oil dressing... I think you are going to like it!

Don't be shy with the pepper and salt either- salads are called "insalate" for a reason after all- and that is because the raw ingredients are salted and seasoned and thus transformed from what would just be a plateful of... well... raw ingredients, into a salad! Sale (pronounced "sah-ley") being the Italian word for salt. Insalate therefore meaning salted. And having been salted, dressed with oil and seasoned with pepper... my beautiful little salad was ready to be served and to be enjoyed!

Sometimes it is as simple as that!

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