salad

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!

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Two Bean Salad

Are you ever craving a filling dinner with flavor that packs a punch but without the lethargic, button popping feeling that usually follows? Yea, me too. And its especially difficult being in Italy with every type of bread, pasta, and pastry at your disposal. So, the past few days I have been having a real hankering for something green but with more flavor profile than a traditional salad. Enter my brain child (with the help of Yummly), my two-bean warm salad. It was not only super filling and healthy but I got to highlight some of the Italian flavors I have been experiencing in the local restaurants!

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Ingredients

1 handful of green beans, rinsed and dried

1/2 can of cannelloni beans

1 large handful of spinach (consider wilting)

6-10 pitted kalamata olives (alter depending on love of olives)

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

1/4 of a medium-sized white onion, chopped

1 handful of parsley

2 lemon wedges

Olive oil, salt, and pepper

Instructions

1. Heat oil in a medium/large skillet over medium heat.

2. Add chopped onion and green beans and cook for 8-10 minutes. Check back every couple of minutes to move stuff around so nothing burns or gets stuck to the pan.

3. Once onions become translucent and beans begin to shrivel add the garlic and olives. Let sit for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

4. Add 1/2 the chopped parsley and squeeze one lemon wedge. Stir ingredients as needed.

5. Add the cannelloni beans. Let ingredients cook until beans begin to mush, giving them a good toss once or twice.

6. Remove from heat and fold in the spinach.

Once all ingredients are combined top with remaining parsley and squeeze the second lemon wedge

**Salt and pepper throughout as needed**


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This recipe makes enough to serve as a single meal for one person or a side dish for 2-3 people.The lemon, parsley, and garlic balance each other perfectly, and there is a refreshing contrast between the crunch of the al dente green beans and the smooth, creaminess of the cannelloni.

I am anxious to make this again with a possible addition of some local pancetta, or topped with a fresh fillet of white fish! I’m still quite a novice cook so suggestions are always welcome!!

 

Central Provisions

Central Provisions is a 2-floor, craft beer & cocktail gastropub. The first floor boasts a small and minimalist dining area with a kitchen bar where diners can sit and observe the chefs at work. Downstairs is the restaurants initial claim to fame, the bar, which offers a wide variety of  local craft beers and cocktails. I grabbed lunch with some family there last week so we sat upstairs in the dining room, but if you’re looking to grab some drinks or a little snackity-snack I would definitely suggest sitting downstairs in the bar! There were plenty of open stools (although it was 2:30pm on a Tuesday).

Central Provisions is also very unique in the manner of which they serve their food. Almost every dish comes out on minimalistic wood, slate, or ceramic platters, as to not distract diners from anything but the delicious and complex flavors that have been coaxed out of the seasonal ingredients. Each item that is order also comes out as soon as it is ready, to assure that the diner enjoys their meal at its absolute freshness! Just keep that in mind when ordering because the longer something takes to cook and be prepared, the more you can bank on getting your dish last (but that just gives you more time to try their delicious beers and cocktails right? I see what you’re doing there CP!)

Let’s start off with the libations. I like to consider myself as somewhat of a novice beer enthusiast so I went for 2 Portland-brewed beers from Foundation and Allagash Brewing Companies

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Wanderlust Pilsner from Foundation Brewing Company

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Victoria Ale from Allagash Brewing Company

The Wanderlust was light and refreshing with slight floral notes, but a little sweeter than what I was hoping for. However, it was my first beer from Foundation and made me want to try more from them! This was definitely a beer I could slowly sip sitting out on a dock somewhere in the sunshine. The Victoria on the other hand, had a lot more kick to it thanks to the prevalent bitterness of the hops. Since I do enjoy a more pronounced beer I favored this one, and as a fan of Allagash I was excited to try one of their newer brews! Central Provisions also offers some unique, made in-house sodas such as Pomegranate and Raspberry Herb which were equally as satisfying and delicious with their unique flavor combos.

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Raspberry Herb Soda


By the time we had knocked back our first round the food had begun to arrive!

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Lobster Toast

This is probably the most decadent and flavor-packed take on a lobster sandwich I have ever laid my eyes, or taste buds on. The lobster (fresh Maine of course) is chopped up and whipped into a mousse with green coconut curry, cilantro and ginger, and grilled between 2 delicious pieces of thinly sliced bread. The sandwich was surprisingly light and the lobster flavor was still prevalent enough to balance with the green curry. My best friend was actually the one who ordered this yummy dish, and she said she was pleasantly satisfied and not overstuffed, which is not the norm when it comes to other buttery, grilled sandwiches so bravo!

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Yellowfin Tuna Crudo

Next came the yellowfin tuna crudo. Six slices of fresh, raw yellowfin came plated on a wooden board, dressed with mustard fried onions and a seaweed garnish. The acidity of the onions paired very well with the clean flavors of the fish. I’m also a sucker for a good piece of raw tuna, and on a hot day this dish really hit the spot!

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Beet Salad

I was surprised that out of all the dishes we ordered the beet salad was 3rd to arrive because, well, I assume since it was a salad it required minimal prep compared to the cooked dishes, but a lot more went into this than the average salad! This colorful and refreshing summer salad consisted of both red and chioggia beets (marinated or pickled, I wasn’t quite sure) and an avocado aioli delicately, constructed atop fresh summer greens, all dressed with a lemon olive oil dressing. It was light but packed with SO much flavor. This little salad could have almost sufficed as my whole meal, but of course I proceeded to try everyone else’s food because, well, just look at it!

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Baja Fish Sandwich

The last 2 dishes to come out simultaneously were the sandwiches. Both the Baja fish sandwich and the confit duck panini were served on grilled, thick-cut bread, which was definitely necessary to hold in all the deliciousness. The fish sandwich was pretty straightforward, which I think is the best way to serve fish so you can truly appreciate the flavor. Nestled between some sliced avocado, tomatoes, red onions, lettuce, and an avocado aioli, the thick cuts of meaty fish took center stage. There was a great seasoning on the fish as well. I didn’t get a chance to ask exactly what it was but I picked up on some Cajun for sure!

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Confit Duck Panini

And last but the farthest thing from least that could possibly exist in sandwich form, the confit duck panini. It was such a simple sandwich with minimal ingredients but boy was it kick ass! This pan-grilled sandwich was stuff with deliciously decadent confit duck, kim chee, and hoisin aioli. It would have been a little too much if it wasn’t for the acidity of the kim chee that duck the fattiness of the duck just right. This dish was definitely on the saltier side, compared to the others I tried. But that’s nothing another cold beer couldn’t fix 😉


All in all, my family and I had a very satisfying and delightful experience at Central Provisions, and I most definitely wouldn’t mind going back, if only to try more of their extensive craft beer selection downstairs at the bar!

**Food pictured in order which it arrived. Just something to keep in mind when you are thinking about your ordering strategy!**

Bistro Cassis Restaurant

Bistro Cassis is a lovely French bistro on the Upper West Side. The atmosphere is delicate and absolutely delightful with tulip chandeliers and an intimate, but not cluttered, dining room (which is quite the accomplishment in NYC). I went for Sunday brunch, which I believe is the only brunch they serve (You can also visit them for lunch & dinner every other day of the week). I’d highly suggest a reservation because it fills up rather quickly around noon. The service was impeccable and the knowledge of the staff was impressive and comforting in a city full of different fare.

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I ordered the Brie toast with fig jam and a poached pear salad. Decadent and sweet you’d think, right? Well, not quite! The crostini was perfectly toasted and had a nice crunch under the oozing, melted Brie. I sliced up the poached pear and put it on top, which gave the dish a nice, clean finish.
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For my main course I had the tuna tarare wrapped in a thinly sliced cucumber, with honey mustard, ginger, and citrus flavors. I was hooked on the texture alone. So smooth and almost buttery. There were capers and chopped green onions in there as well to balance out the sweetness.
Other delightful dishes:
– Croque Monsieur
– Crab & Avocado salad
– French onion soup