bitter

Balsamic Pear & Fennel Salad

For the new year I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to shop more locally for my groceries, especially since I am less than 5 minutes from one of the best markets in Florence. During my holiday break, I was lucky enough to travel throughout Northern Italy with my parents, and eat many seasonal and locally sourced dishes that I wouldn’t normally be able to afford on my college student, study-abroad budget. Through this I was able to taste a lot of salads composed of ingredients that the Westerner in me wouldn’t recognize as components of your typical salad. There was a lot of cured meats, or salumi, wafer thing slices, not chunks, of pecorino and gruyere, and fresh, vibrant seasonal fruits. Oddly enough there were very minimal greens or other “salad staples” in these salads. Nonetheless, they were all so delicious and bursting with flavor that I was inspired to create an artisanal salad of my own!

I perused the San Lorenzo food market for a couple of days, and researched the winter produce of Northern Italy. Finally, I settled on a salad of balsamic glazed pears, sautéed fennel, and soft pecorino. Although you may read this and think “What a wimpy salad!” These 3 ingredients are so packed with flavor and pair oh so well together. In fact, this dish is the perfect example of decadent simplicity. IMG_4735 Ingredients

  • 1 medium sized pear
  • 1 fennel, sliced
  • 100-200 grams soft pecorino
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to season

If you’re making this salad as the main course, these ingredients yield about 2 servings. However, if you’re making it as a starter, you should be able to get about 3-5 servings.

Before you begin crafting this beautifully tasty dish, I suggest prepping all of your ingredients. This means thinly slicing the pears, and breaking down the fennel. Now, I have never cooked with fennel before, so preparing this foreign root vegetable took a bit of research and evaluation. I’m going to save you my butchered description of how to prep fennel, and provide you with this handy, dandy link that helped me! Feel free to shave off some pecorino now, or while the other ingredients are cooking. It’s really never a bad thing to be prepared, and be able to focus on whats in the pan!

Start by warming a small sauté pan over medium-low heat, and add about 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Add your fennel, salt and pepper to taste, and lightly sauté for no more than 3 minutes, tops. Then, in a medium-sized sauté pan add the pears, spreading them out so there is little over lapping, and cover with 2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Let this cook on medium-low heat, until the pears start to become translucent, and all the balsamic has reduced. You may need to add more balsamic during the cooking process if it cooks off too quickly, or hasn’t glazed the pears to your liking.

The cooking is done. Now it’s time to plate! There are so few ingredients in this dish, so I really wanted to put forth the extra effort in presentation. I placed the sautéed fennel on a bed on spinach, evenly dispersed the shavings of pecorino, and topped it off with the warm, balsamic pears and a dash of salt. I also added a little aesthetic touch with some fennels sprigs. Then, let it sit for a moment to allow the cheese to melt in between the warm layers of fennel and pear. IMG_4738 Pause for a second, step back, and appreciate this gorgeous dish you just created. This salad deserves to be eaten slowly, to truly appreciate the sweetness of the balsamic marrying with the bitterness of the fennel , and the juxtaposition of crunchy vegetables and soft, gooey cheese. Savor and enjoy!

Beer Ice Cream Floats

You read it right, beer ice cream floats! I have been SO inspired by all the artisnal ice cream flavors and craft beers that have been bursting onto the food scene. Something you all need to know about me is that I have a gigantic sweet tooth and have recently taken to a love affair with microbreweries and craft beer, so when I heard there was a way to combine my two great loves I new I had to try in for myself! Since I am home in New Hampshire for the summer and don’t really have access to the most up-and-comings in food (like I did in New York City) instead of just sitting and dreaming (aka trolling the internet for photos) of sweet beer treats, I set out to make my own. Believe it or not, this required a little bit of research. Since I am not the first person with the genius idea of combining beer and ice cream (in fact, there is a whole beer-centric creamery, Frozen Pints devoted to just that) I found a fair amount of information is available on the all-knowing internet; specifically, the 2 beers that blend best with ice cream are Pale Ales and Stouts and that the notes and flavors of the ice cream must balance out those of the beer.

Now onto the good stuff! I decided to go with some local brews; Shipyard’s Black IPA and Red Hook’s Long Hammer IPA, and keeping with my theme of supporting the small businessman I chose Steve’s Ice Cream (made in Brooklyn) Sunday Morning and Small Batch Bourbon Vanilla flavors. Sunday Morning consists of a buttermilk ice cream with maple syrup swirls and crunchy waffle pieces and don’t let the subtle Bourbon Vanilla fool you, its definitely more bourbon that it is vanilla. I decided to pair Sunday Morning with the deep and savory Black IPA, and thought the strong base flavors of the Bourbon Vanilla would play well with the bitter and citrusy flavors in the Long Hammer. I also picked up some old-time soda fountain glasses and straws from Homegoods.

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Steve’s Sunday Morning Ice Cream & Shipyard’s Black IPA

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Steve’s Bourbon Vanilla Ice Cream & Red Hook Long Hammer IPA

To keep things cool I popped the glasses into the freezer for a couple of minutes before I loaded them up with love. In the 8oz class I poured about half a bottle of Black IPA in (like a pro so no foam here!) dropped in 2 scoops of Sunday Morning, and topped it off with (almost) the rest of the beer. I poured the Long Hammer IPA into the 6oz glass, just about half way, added 2 scoops of Bourbon Vanilla, and topped it off until there was about half left in the bottle. The frothy foam that rises to the top  was my first taste and it only had me wanting more, but I recommend mixing the ice cream in there to get the fully blended flavors!

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There you have it! A modern take on a nostalgic sweet treat. The dark float turned out just as I had hoped; the perfect combination of sweet, savory, and creamy, but not too sweet and it still retained a decent bitterness. The lighter float came out something like a creamcicle, but with an unexpected bite from the citrus and bourbon. Suffice to say my tastebuds and tummy were elated with how these creamy babies turned out! But don’t worry, my search for craft beer-infused recipes will not stop here. If you have a beer-themed recipe share the wealth in a comment below!