Chilling on the Italian terrace has been the recent activity of choice here in the House of Cream Puff. These past four days have surely been the most glorious days of this Toronto summer. The heat and humidity of July are but a distant memory as we’ve enjoyed leisurely meals on our little patio. A soft breeze, a gentle sun … everything is green and ripe.
To me, the quintessential food of summer is the food that best exemplifies the carefree, casual spirit of summer. Think of how easy it is to kick off your sandals and walk in the grass, or push open the door and walk out into the backyard. These are not things that you can easily do in winter, where a trip outside means the layering on of clothing and the pulling on of boots and so on. Three-hour stews are fine and dandy in the winter, when the bitter cold keeps you inside. But in summer, I want food that’s fast, delicious and bursting with flavour.
For this reason, I am so deeply attracted to Valentina Harris’ Recipes From an Italian Terrace (my Flavour of the Month for August). There is a directness to her recipes that I like. They are simple and have all the hallmarks of classic summer food: fresh ingredients, minimal cooking time and emphasis on flavour.
I’m almost embarrassed to be posting this salad because, to be quite honest, it requires almost zero effort. Wash your favourite salad greens and dress them as you like. Arrange them in a plate. Take some fresh bocconcini and wrap them with cured meat. Place your little bundles on the salad. Serve.
I think it took me all of 5 minutes to make this dish. The idea is inspired by a recipe in Harris’ cookbook, although hers is on a larger scale as it’s intended to serve more people. I scaled my version down as it was just my mother, brother and I. But seriously, even if you wanted to make this for 15 people, I don’t think it would take you longer than 15 minutes to prepare. And yet it’s such an elegant looking dish. It’s the perfect appetizer for that summer party you’ve been planning.
Just don’t forget to invite me …
Insalata di Bocconcini con Speck (Salad with Bocconcini and Speck)
Adapted from Recipes From an Italian Terrace by Valentina Harris.
- 6 larger-sized bocconcini or 12 baby ones (I used a type of bocconcino called a treccia. It’s soft cheese that’s pulled into a twist or braid.)
- enough speck to wrap around each piece of cheese that you’re using
- 3 to 4 cups of arugula, washed and torn into pieces
- a handful of cherry tomatoes (to garnish)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 or 5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- sea salt
- freshly cracked black pepper
- In a bowl, mix together the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Toss the arugula with the dressing and arrange on a serving plate.
- Take a slice of speck and wrap around each bocconcino. Arrange the wrapped bocconcini on your salad.
- Garnish with the cherry tomatoes and serve immediately.
Note: For those of you that are unfamiliar with bocconcini, they are a type of soft, fresh mozzarella that are shaped into round shapes and kept in water or whey. They have a delicate, almost sweet flavour and are very versatile. You can use them in antipasti, in salads, in pasta and even on pizza. Most cheese shops or Italian stores should carry bocconcini. If they don’t, ask for them.
Use cured meats to wrap your cheese with. It’s an interesting variation on the platter of cured meats that Italians will often serve for a snack or as an appetizer. You can use any cured meat you like, but I would recommend prosciutto or speck. Harris uses speck, which is a type of smoked prosciutto common in Northern Italy and also other countries in Europe like Switzerland. It has a stronger taste than prosciutto, but is delicious. If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend it. For more information on cured meats, or Italian foods in general, check out Micol Negrin’s wonderful site at http://www.rusticocooking.com/. To read specifically about cured meats, click this link: http://www.rusticocooking.com/curedmeats.htm.
I followed Harris’ directions and used arugula, but feel free to use the salad greens of your choice. If you can use fresh, locally grown salad greens, that’s always best.