Archive for the ‘salad’Category

Bobal brings friends to the barbecue

Lomalta from Finca San Blas in Utiel RequenaOur previous posts on D.O. Utiel Requena (see here) have concentrated on wines of the indigenous Bobal grape. Finca San Blas (fincasanblas.com) in Requena makes a well-regarded 100 percent Bobal. But the bodega also has extensive vineyards planted in Merlot, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. Its 2014 Lomalta blends 40 percent Bobal with 30 percent each of Merlot and Tempranillo. The resulting wine is a world apart from the black cherry and resinous spice profile of traditional Bobal.

The Bobal characteristics are largely overshadowed by the other two grapes. We had to double-check the label to make sure it wasn’t an experimental bottling from Rioja, which has had a love affair with French grapes for 150 years. The nose has the pronounced hot-climate menthol of Merlot, and the fruitiness in the mouth confirms the Merlot parentage. But the back of the mouth flavors and finish are pure Tempranillo. The three grapes are all vinified separately, aged separately in new French oak for nine months, and blended just three months before bottling. That approach keeps the grape characteristics quite individual, but it poses a challenge for pairing with food.

watermelon salad and pincho skewers

Finding the right food


We wondered if Lomalta might be a tapas bar wine—served by the well-aerated glass with small bites of spicy food. Having recently acquired Barbecue Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades—Bastes, Butters, and Glazes, Too! by grilling guru Steven Raichlen (Workman Publishing, $17.95), we decided to try his “pincho powder” seasoning as a rub for skewers of pork. And since the rub is fairly hot (use it sparingly if you have a sensitive mouth), we figured the best cooling companion would be a salad of watermelon cubes tossed with crumbled feta, chopped mint, and a lime-olive oil dressing.

Our intuition about the wine proved correct. The smoky paprika-saffron-coriander-cumin combo knit the grapes of the wine together into a single, more subtle quaff. The roundness of the Bobal and Merlot softened the heat of the rub, and the spices married well with the Tempranillo’s aromatics and the bite of oak. It was as if the food switched on a light, and the wine woke up to its potential. With the publisher’s permission, here’s the recipe for Raichlen’s Spanish-style rub.

PINCHO POWDER

Ingredients

Raichlen book cover
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/4 cup smoked paprika
1/4 cup dried parsley
1/4 cup freeze-dried chives
2 tablespoons coarse salt (sea or kosher)
2 teaspoons dried onion flakes
2 teaspoons dried garlic flakes
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Crumble the saffron between your fingers into a bowl. Stir or whisk in the remaining ingredients. Transfer to a jar, cover, and store away from heat and light. The powder will keep for several weeks.

From Barbecue Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades—Bastes, Butters, and Glazes, Too! by Steven Raichlen (Workman Publishing, $17.95). You can buy it on Amazon here.

30

07 2017

On a hot day, good Vouvray lifts a salade Niçoise

Marie de Beauregard Vouvray at backyard picnic
The mercury was pushing 95°F (35°C) and the dew point was well into the sticky zone. When we brought a chilled bottle of Vouvray to checkout at the wine shop the clerk sighed. “Hooray for Vouvray!” she said. To which we could only add, “Amen.”

Chenin Blanc doesn’t get a lot of respect in the wine world. It makes naturally sweet, loosey-goosey wines that go well in picnic baskets. But a good Vouvray, like the 2015 Marie de Beauregard from Saget La Perrière, shows how polished Chenin Blanc can become. The chalk and flint of the soils from the vineyards in La Roche Corbon outside Vouvray city come through quickly on the nose. Pears and acacia honey dominate the first tastes, followed by a hint of candied fruits and a spicy lemon zing. The intense acidity of the wine carries all those sweet fruits nicely. The finish is soft and almost yeasty, like a good champagne. We suspect that comes from fermenting with the natural yeasts after chilling the must to precipitate out the pectins and solids. The wine retails at $13-$17, depending on your local merchant. Suggested retail is $20, and it’s worth it.

SALADE NIÇOISE


Serves 4

It was too hot to cook indoors, so we settled on a salade Niçoise. Our favorite local fishmonger, New Deal Fish Market (www.newdealfishmarket.com), had just cut up a nice bigeye. We bought about 12 ounces of trim for half the price per pound of steaks and cut them into 1.5-inch cubes. Lightly painted with a little olive oil, they grill up nicely over hardwood charcoal at 20-30 seconds per side. (There should be four sides if you cut them correctly.) We have evolved our version of this classic summer salad from a 1972 kitchen bible called Charles Virion’s French Country Cookbook. It’s worth seeking out in used bookstores. Or you can go with an Amazon merchant.

salade Nicoise to accompany Vouvray

Ingredients


3 cups diced cold boiled potatoes
3 cups haricots verts, blanched 3-4 minutes and chilled in ice water
16 pitted Niçoise or Kalamata olives
1/2 cup simple French dressing (see recipe below)
Boston lettuce leaves
4 fresh tomatoes, peeled and quartered
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
12 ounces fresh tuna, cut into cubes
olive oil to brush kebabs

Directions


tuna kebabs for VouvrayLight charcoal grill.

Mix potatoes, green beans, olives, and French dressing together.

Line serving platter with lettuce. Pile potato-bean-olive mixture on top. Ring with tomato and egg wedges.

Place tuna cubes on bamboo skewers that have been soaked 1 hour in water. Brush with oil.

Grill tuna skewers 20-30 seconds per side, turning gingerly with tongs. Place skewers atop salad and serve with glasses of cold Vouvray.

BASIC FRENCH DRESSING


Makes 1/2 cup

Ingredients


1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and grated
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon leaf
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions


Line a small saucepan with a dish towel. Place small nonreactive bowl in pan. (This stabilizes the bowl so you can whisk and pour at the same time.) Place all ingredients through vinegar into bowl and whisk thoroughly to mix. Drizzle in olive oil while continuing to whisk. Mixture should emulsify and become thick. Recipe can be scaled up proportionately but becomes tedious to whisk as volume increases.

13

07 2017

Venusto infuses Bobal charm with modern discipline

pouring Venusto Bobal to accompany steak salad
As we work our way through some exciting wines from D.O. Utiel Requena in Valencia, Spain, we were pleased to try the flagship red from Bodegas Vibe called Venusto. Early in 2015, this new winery took over the land and facilities from a previous winery heavily invested in international grapes. Winemaker Juan Carlos Garcia changed that focus immediately. His attention is riveted on Tardana, a local white grape, and Bobal, the red signature of the D.O. Judging by the 2015 Venusto, Garcia found the sweet spot with his first release. He is making an intense, spicy, well-structured Bobal that is extremely food-friendly.

Bobal growing in red clay vineyardFermented on the skins for four days to pick up saturated color, it pours as deep black cherry liquid with a nice viscosity that displays long legs in the glass. The red clay soils (right) in which these vines were planted in 1960 provide a haunting spiciness to a wine rich in fruit. The nose is a mix of strawberry and black cherry with herbal mint notes. In the mouth, dark anise flavors fill out the palate. Despite four months in American oak, Venusto is blessedly free of the strong vanillin aroma and green astringency that so many soft reds pick up as a bad habit from their American cousins. Tannins are soft and round, and the finish lingers with fresh notes of mint, anise and cherry. Garcia has achieved a lovely balance of Bobal fruit with freshness and structure.

Last we heard, Bodegas Vibe (www.bodegasvibe.com; tel +34 653 964 158) was looking for American distribution. Venusto would make a spectacular red for many restaurants. We found it especially nice with a salad of garden lettuce, roasted and sliced red peppers, and about a quarter pound of medium-rare boneless ribeye per person cut matchstick size. Dress with this very garlicky dressing that is somewhere between a Caesar and Catalan-style aioli.

STEAK SALAD DRESSING

Ingredients

3 cloves garlic, grated
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 lemon, juice and grated rind
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup olive oil

Directions

Combine ingredients through salt in small food processor. Mix well. Add mayonnaise and mix again. With motor running, drizzle in the oil until incorporated into a thick dressing. Use sparingly.

16

06 2017

Beets provide tasty twist on Hawaiian poke

Kaimuki in Honolulu, where Ed Kenney serves beet poke One of the great things about the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival is that the schedule allows plenty of free time to check out the rest of the local food scene. I was particularly curious about Kaimuki, a residential neighborhood north of Diamond Head and about two miles east of Waikiki Beach. Waialae Avenue and its side streets are full of a tantalizing mix of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Thai restaurants that provide the Asian zing to Hawaii, as well as a great ice cream shop Via Gelato (1142 12th Avenue, 808-732-2800, www.viagelatohawaii.com) that makes such fabulous flavors as green tea chocolate chip, black sesame, lilikoi, and guava.

Two chefs have made the greatest impact in turning the neighborhood into a dining destination. Ed Kenney has three eateries within hailing distance of each other. He first opened Town (3425 Waialae Avenue, 808-735-5900; www.townkaimuki.com) about ten years ago with a focus on San Francisco-style Italian dishes made with highly local ingredients. As Town evolved, it became ever more Hawaiian, but its Italian roots have always shown. Last summer, he branched out with Mud Hen Water (3452 Waialae Avenue, 808-737-6000, www.mudhenwater.com). It took food inspirations from around the world and executed them with a Hawaiian sensibility, demonstrating conclusively that the New Hawaiian culinary revolution has a new generation up-ending the status quo.

In between, Kenney launched the wonderfully old-fashioned Kaimuki Superette (3458 Waialae Avenue, 808-734-7800, www.kaimukisuperette.com) which serves very 21st century sandwiches such as poached octopus with celery seed and tarragon aioli or slow-roasted pork with fennel aioli and arugula. The Superette’s grilled lemon lemonade can’t be beat on a hot day—and the Superette’s inventive salads, such as watermelon with chile-lime salt, cilantro, and jalapeño, are equally refreshing.

Beet poke at Kaimuki I was most taken with Kenney’s Beet Poke, a colorful dish that he first created for Mud Hen Water and is so popular that it’s also in the deli line-up at the Superette. As Kenney explained, it’s a variation on the iconic Hawaiian dish usually made with seafood. It also seems to sum up his approach to bringing a modern touch to traditional dishes and local ingredients. Thanks to the seaweed, sesame, and wasabi, the flavor profiles are surprisingly like traditional poke—but with sweet, gingery beets in place of fish.

Kenney’s Beet Poke has several steps and calls for a few ingredients not always readily available to mainlanders. But Kenney has suggested some simplifications and substitutions that still result in a delicious dish. For example, at the restaurants he roasts his beets “lawalu style” in the dying embers of a fire, but notes that most cooks will simply want to roast them in the oven. He also smokes the macadamia nuts, but again points out that even raw chopped nuts work fine.

Beet poke

ED KENNEY’S BEET POKE

This dish (shown above) is essentially a roast beet salad where the beets are tossed with pickled seaweed, thinly sliced sweet onion, and some toasted sesame oil. A mash of avocado with wasabi and lemon juice is served on the side as a counterpoint. The recipe is given here in steps. Be sure to read through for all the ingredients. It’s a good idea to roast the beets and pickle the seaweed the night before. Then it all goes together in a flash. I’ve given Kenney’s directions for smoking the nuts, but I made the dish without smoking and found it was fine.

Roasted Beets

4 tennis-ball-sized red beets (whole, tops cut off, unpeeled)
1-inch finger of ginger (smashed or coarsely shredded)
1 orange
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

beets roasting for beet poke Preheat oven to 350° F.

Place beets and ginger in an oven proof dish. Cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice over the beets. Add the halves to the dish. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil. Roast in the oven for one hour or until a knife can be inserted into the beets without much effort. Don’t overcook or they’ll be like the awful beets served in grade school cafeterias.

Allow beets to cool. Peel the beets and cut into random 1/2 to 1 inch chunks.


Pickled Seaweed:

3/4 cup limu (fresh seaweed) or rehydrated hijiki or wakame (available at Asian grocery stores or most branches of Whole Foods)
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar

Rinse the seaweed well, then toss the seaweed with salt, place in a colander, and allow to sit and drain for one hour. Meanwhile, bring the remaining ingredients to a boil to make the brine. Allow the brine to cool for 5 minutes, then pour over the seaweed and place in the refrigerator. Seaweed will be ready to use in 2-3 hours and will keep for up to a week.


Mashed Wasabi Avocado:

1 teaspoon wasabi powder
1 teaspoon warm water
1 ripe avocado
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
salt and pepper

Combine the wasabi powder with warm water and mix well until a thin paste is formed. Allow the wasabi to sit and bloom, covered, for ten minutes.

Mash the avocado in a bowl with a fork, add the wasabi paste, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Refrigerate.

Smoked Macadamia Nuts

1 cup macadamia nuts
wood chips

Place the nuts to one side of a deep pan. Place the wood chips in a small cast iron (or fire proof) bowl that will fit in the other side of the deep pan. Ignite the wood chips with a torch until they begin to smoke. Place the smoking wood chips in the deep pan with the nuts and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow the nuts to smoke for 30 minutes.

Repeat the process one more time with fresh chips for a total of one hour of smoking time. Chop the nuts roughly and reserve.

To Assemble:

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup sweet onion (shaved thin)
1/4 cup green onion tops (sliced thin)
1 striped or golden beet (raw, shaved thin) placed in iced water to crisp.

Place the beets in a bowl with the seaweed, 2 tablespoons of chopped macadamia nuts, sweet onion, and sesame oil. Toss with salt and pepper to taste.

Place a dollop of the avocado mixture on a plate and spoon the beet poke next to it. Garnish the poke with three wheels of shaved raw beet and sliced green onion tops.

04

02 2016

Stretching black truffles with alioli

chicken salad with black truffle alioil
The good and bad side of fresh truffles is that you have to eat them up right away because they only keep for a week or two in the refrigerator, even if you let them breathe every day when you change the absorbent paper in the container. In the process of eating them up, it’s easy to have a lot of truffle “crumbs” or extra shavings. The solution to that problem is truffle alioli, the Catalan answer to mayonnaise. We made a pretty big batch (nearly 2 cups) and used it to make potato salad (with sliced boiled potatoes, minced onion, chopped boiled egg, and minced celery) and to make a delicious chicken salad. The secret to great alioli is to store the eggs in a sealed container with a truffle for a few days.

BLACK TRUFFLE ALIOLI


4 large cloves garlic, peeled and grated
20 grams grated black truffle
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients except the oil in a food processor fitted with steel blade and process to mix. Add olive oil in a slow drizzle with processor running. The alioli will have the texture of thick mayonnaise. Add extra lemon juice or salt to taste. Store overnight, as garlic will mellow and truffle will permeate the alioli.

TRUFFLE ALIOLI CHICKEN SALAD


This is the dish pictured at the top of this post.

1 large chicken breast, roasted in wood oven (or on charcoal grill via indirect heat)
3 stalks celery
6-8 fresh figs
1 shallot, minced
3/4 cup alioli (see above)
black truffle shavings

Remove skin and cut chicken off bone. Dice into 1/2-inch pieces. Cut celery stalks into 1/2-inch wide strips, then cut very thin slices on the diagonal. Destem figs and dice. Combine chicken, celery, and figs with minced shallot and mix together. Add alioli. Serve on lettuce with fresh tomato, topped with a few shavings of black truffle.

20

07 2015

Recognizing real balsamic vinegar of Modena

La Vecchia Dispensa tasting bottles

La Vecchia Dispensa tasting bottles

Few culinary terms have been so abused in recent years as “balsamic vinegar.” A generation ago, the only people who knew true balsamic vinegar were either wealthy gastronomes or members of old-fashioned families in the Modena and Reggio Emilia districts of Italy’s region of Emilia Romagna — best known even then for Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and prosciutto di Parma.

Simone Tintori of La Vecchia Dispensa in Castelvetro, Modena “It was a traditional family product,” explains Simone Tintori (left) of La Vecchia Dispensa in Castelvetro di Modena (Piazza Roma 3, +39 059-790-401, www.lavecchiadispensa.it), a fourth-generation commercial producer of the two controlled types of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (aceto balsamico di Modena). “And everything you have been told about it is probably wrong.”

The two categories of protected Modena vinegar are IGP and DOP, and it’s helpful to understand the differences so you get what you pay for. The Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP must be made from wine vinegar and grape must (from any of seven grapes, but usually Trebbiano) and must be aged in wood in the province of Modena and bottled there. Furthermore, it has to pass taste tests by the consortium of traditional producers and must be sold in a traditionally styled 100ml bottle that cannot have any reference to age on the label.

The other protected type is Aceto Balsamico de Modena IGP (without the “Tradizionale”). The IGP is a geographic designation under European Union law. The permitted ingredients are wine vinegar and grape must, but the producer is also allowed to use grape must concentrate and to add caramel coloring. The vinegar also must be aged and bottled in the province of Modena and pass a set of laboratory tests before it can be bottled with the IGP label.

modena 1 The mechanics of making balsamic vinegar are not particularly complicated. Grape must and wine vinegar are combined. The most expensive products may have as much as 70 percent grape must with just 30 percent vinegar, while the cheapest could have as little as 20 percent grape must. The mixture is aged in wooden barrels—usually a sequence of increasingly smaller barrels for the DOP product and usually in large wooden casks for the IGP. Over time, some vinegar evaporates, concentrating the vinegar that remains behind. The barrels are used repeatedly over decades, so little flavor of the wood is imparted to the vinegar. The best of the products become almost syrupy in their viscosity, as the sugars from the original grapes become more and more concentrated.

While Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP tends to be fairly consistent from producer to producer (and generally costs $75-$200 for a 100 ml bottle), Aceto Balsamico de Modena IGP bottlings vary a lot in both quality and price. The least expensive use grape must concentrate, which is a little like making a marinara sauce using tomato paste but no fresh tomatoes. It’s tomato-y, but not the real sugo. That said, it can be a tasty and useful vinegar—just not the gustatory powerhouse of a DOP or a better IGP vinegar.

With a deeply concentrated mix of fruitiness and complex spice, the DOP vinegar is principally for use as a drop or two on a steak, roast, or hunk of incredible cheese. For salads and cooking, most of us are happy with the modestly sweet and tangy IGP product—if we can get a good one.

Modena 4 After visiting La Vecchia Dispensa in Castelvetro (old castle), I went a few kilometers down the road to visit Antichi Colli in Castelnuovo, or “new castle” (Via Rio dei Gamberi, 2, +39 059 533 1332, www.antichicolli.it). A complex of vast stainless steel tanks with an attic of aging barrels, this large firm mostly produces IGP vinegars. Interestingly, they only use concentrated grape must in the lowest grade, which retails at about $10 per 250ml bottle. Their IGP vinegars go up in price to around $120 per 250ml bottle.

So what should you look for? First, look for the IGP insignia or the DOP seal. Second, reject any product stamped with the number of years it has been aged (if it has the seal and a claim of years of aging, it’s a fraud). Third, if you’re looking for flavor complexity, skip any vinegar that lists “concentrated must” or caramel coloring as an ingredient. They are legitimate, but usually lower-quality. Finally, taste it if you can. For salad dressing and the like, we use a Whole Foods-branded IGP Balsamic Vinegar of Modena that’s both reasonably priced and versatile in the kitchen (and is made with concentrated must). We keep the DOP for drizzling on really old Parmigiano Reggiano cheese….

Aging barrels at Antichi Colli, Castelnuovo, Modena

Aging barrels at Antichi Colli

25

03 2015

Celebrating great dining in Dublin

New Year in Dublin We just returned from Dublin’s New Year’s Festival, celebrated over three days from December 30 through January 1. This was the fourth year of the festival, and the biggest yet. Along with the raucous parade (above), it featured live rock concerts, a Spoken Word Festival of poetry and rap, other music that drew on traditional and classical genres, special museum and gallery shows, and a whole lot of fun.

The Irish know how to celebrate, and it turns out that they have a lot to celebrate year-round with the new Irish cuisine. Ireland has always had the makings of great food — from the sweet vegetables to the succulent meat from animals grazed on its rich green grass to the fish and shellfish from its coastal waters. Now classically trained chefs are embracing their Irish roots and that great Irish provender.

Dining room at Cleaver East in Dublin A case in point is chef Oliver Dunne, who followed up on his Michelin-starred Bon Appétit in Malahide (north of Dublin city center) with Cleaver East (6-8 East Essex Street, Dublin, +353 1 531 3500, cleavereast.ie). It’s inside the Clarence Hotel, just off Wellington Quay on the south bank of the River Liffey in the Temple Bar entertainment district. The hotel is partly owned by Bono and The Edge from the band U2, but to our way of thinking, Dunne is the greater star. He was schooled the old-fashioned way–by cooking in the kitchens of great chefs, including Gordon Ramsay.

Salmon with apple fennel salad at Cleaver East in Dublin When he came home to Ireland to open his own restaurants, Dunne chose to serve simple dishes based on local ingredients in an informal environment. Cleaver East is an Irish interpretation of a bistro. The bar dominates the middle of the room and it’s surrounded on three sides by dining tables, with a few more tables on an upstairs balcony. As big as the bar is, the plates are a far cry from bar food. Dunne is something of a magician. He drew on Irish salmon, crisp apples, and crunchy fennel for a starter that used a touch of lemon and grapefruit to cut the unctuousness of the salmon and give a little bite to the apple-fennel salad.

Great steak at Cleaver East in Dublin He also presented one of the best cuts of beef we’ve enjoyed in a long time — a 7-ounce filet mignon of local beef that had been hung to dry-age for 21 days. It was cooked to a perfect medium rare (as ordered), topped with broiled cherry tomatoes, and accompanied by a cluster of maché. You couldn’t ask for a simpler dish, but it was fit for an Irish king. In keeping with the bistro tradition, he also served a bowl of perfect deep-fried potatoes (“chips” in Ireland, as they are in England).

This being Ireland, after all, you’ll be hearing more about potatoes in future posts.

07

01 2015

French chefs, Spanish ham & summer fruits

ile de re
During a recent visit to Île de Ré and Île d’Aix, the unspoiled islands off the west coast of France not far from Cognac, I also enjoyed a taste of Spain. In early September, swimmers and bicyclists were making the most of the warm, summer weather and chefs were looking for ways to highlight the last of the ripe tomatoes and melons. Several turned to Spain’s jamón serrano, an air-dried mountain ham, to add salt and umami to balance the sweetness of the luscious, ripe fruit.

jamon dishAt Le Grenier à Sel (www.grenierasel.fr/) in the town Ars en Ré on Île de Ré, a perfect starter consisted of a tartare of tomato mixed with the chopped ham. The next day, I encountered a slightly different version at Chez Joséphine (www.hotel-ile-aix.com/restaurant-josephine/) on the lovely, but much smaller Île d’ Aix, where Napoleon spent his last days in France. For a starter, the chefs paired a tartare of melon with crisp lettuce and even crisper jamón serrano for a lovely contrast of taste and texture. The dishes are simple and relaxed, yet they capture the elegance of the French table that even vacationers expect.

They also offer some good ideas about what we can do at home with the last bounty of summer.

19

09 2014

What to bring home from a British grocery store

British groceries Whenever I visit a British grocery store I scour the shelves for the most unusual items. But it’s really the comfort foods that define a cuisine — or at least taste like home. That’s the lesson I learned from a lovely woman in Leeds who had lived and worked in Taiwan for 15 years. When I asked her what I might want to buy in the city’s big Sainsbury grocery store, she immediately rattled off the items that she had most craved during her years abroad.

At the end of every visit home, she would pack herself a big care package for her return trip to Taiwan. Here are the foods she couldn’t do without:

Heinz Tomato Soup. It’s ultimate comfort food.

Heinz Baked Beanz. Brits consider this version superior to the American version.

Heinz Salad Cream. This tangy dressing has a consistency like mayonnaise. Dubbed “pourable sunshine,” it’s as popular on sandwiches or baked potatoes as it is on salads.

Marmite. This yeast extract with a strong, salty flavor is equally loved and hated, even in Great Britain. The dark brown paste is usually spread on toast, with or without a little butter.

Walkers Salt & Vinegar Crisps (potato chips, to Americans). Walkers is the favorite brand in the UK and the salt and vinegar variation has a tangy, salty flavor that is quite addictive.

Cadbury Dairy Milk Whole Nut Bars. Introduced in 1933, this bar pairs Cadbury’s creamy, high milk content chocolate with whole hazelnuts.

And here are a few more items that I like to throw into my grocery cart:

HP Sauce. This secret-recipe brown sauce has been manufactured since 1899 and is a favored accompaniment for beef. The original version is available in many U.S. grocery stores, but it’s worth seeking out some of the other flavor options, including the blend of HP and Guinness.

Branston Rich & Fruity Sauce. This mix of tomatoes, apples, and dates is blended with herbs, spices, sugar, vinegar, and molasses to make a sweet but tangy brown sauce. It’s good on scrambled eggs.

Cadbury Flake. The crumbly bar of thin sheets of milk chocolate is the classic adornment to a scoop of ice cream.

Remembering Italy #2 with pear and prosciutto salad

The Legends from Europe folks passed along a packet of prosciutto di Parma, the most familiar of the Italian raw hams seen in the U.S. and the one most imitated by American and South American producers. To qualify for the PDO label as prosciutto di Parma, the ham must come from pigs fed a special diet and raised in a defined north-central region of Italy. Additionally, the ham must be cured in the countryside near Parma in Emilia-Romagna. Much of the intense flavor comes from applying just enough salt to keep the ham “sweet” and then aging it at least 400 days. (The photo above shows whole hams hanging in a chilled aging room in Italy.)

Parma prosciutto is the most intense of the Italian raw hams and stands up well to other strong flavors. It is often paired with melon and even combined with Gorgonzola cheese on pizzas. But melon is out of season, so I decided to try the prosciutto di Parma with some gorgeous but firm Anjou pears. I peeled the pears, cut them in eighths, wrapped prosciutto around each wedge, and roasted them for four minutes under a broiler.

Once they cooled, I arranged them on some local red-leaf lettuce tossed with a light vinaigrette and sprinkled on some toasted walnuts and a few crumbles of mountain Gorgonzola. The saltiness of the ham was a perfect foil to the Gorgonzola, and the slight crunch of the lettuce highlighted the crisp edges of the warm prosciutto. In fact, lightly roasting the prosciutto retains the flavor of the raw ham but adds a bacon overtone.

It made a great lunch.

06

12 2012