Insalata Formula 1

We had a lovely dinner a few nights ago at Ascari Enoteca 26, an Italian wine bar in our neighbourhood. The restaurant takes its name from 1950s Italian Formula 1 racing great Alberto Ascari, whose appetite for food and wine was legendary. The highlight of the meal was a simple salad of shaved celery, bocconcini di bufala, and white anchovies. It was a brilliant blend of contrasting flavours and textures: crunchy celery, barely dressed with a bit of lemon juice, cheese with a delicately rubbery rind yielding to a creamy interior, and brightly acidic, salty anchovies on top. Unexpected, and delicious.

This recipe depends on very specific ingredients; buying regular supermarket bocconcini and oil- or salt-packed anchovies will not get you even halfway there. The cheese must be fresh mozzarella made from buffalo milk: this has a delicacy, textural interest, and rich flavour that is miles away from standard bocconcini. In Toronto, products from fattorie garofalo are relatively easy to find, and very, very good.

The anchovies are a bit tricky to find. They are sometimes called “white anchovies”, or boquerones in Spanish. We found them yesterday hiding behind the prosaic title “fish salad” at Scheffler’s in St. Lawrence Market. Basically, these are filleted anchovies that have been marinated in vinegar and spices.

We decided to riff on the Ascari salad, adding super-thin shavings of fresh artichoke along with the celery. We dressed these with a generous lashing of lemon juice, some fleur de sel, and a scant drizzle of lemon olive oil.

With some of MC Warm Spice’s fresh pain a l’ancienne alongside…

… this was a great way to start dinner on a spring weekend evening.

A date with a salad

Here’s an impressive little winter/spring salad that we can’t get enough of, courtesy of Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques.

Toast a generous handful of blanched, skinned, unseasoned almonds in a medium-hot pan or a 350 degree oven, until they are fragrant and very lightly golden-browned and mottled.

Quarter a dozen dried dates, removing the seed (duh).

Using a sharp knife, carefully cut away the peel, pith and outer membrane of 2 blood oranges, and cut each into 1/4 inch thick rounds. Be careful to reserve any juice.

On four individual plates, layer the salad thusly:

A third of a serving of baby arugula leaves
A drizzle of roasted almond or walnut oil
A couple of pieces of date
A couple of wheels of blood orange
A drizzle of reserved blood orange juice (If your oranges are reluctant to yield any extra juice, you can supplement with a tiny bit of freshly squeezed orange juice.)
Repeat x3, and top with a few shavings of parmigiano reggiano

This salad is especially welcome before or after roast chicken or mild, white-fleshed fish. Because it is not dressed with a strong vinaigrette, it also holds well; this makes it a nice choice for a bring-to-work salad.