Monday, September 6, 2010

Salad Days

I love summer produce a bit too much. Usually, I come home from the farmer's market with an unsettling amount of bags, filled with jewel-toned fruits and summer tomatoes and chard, peppers, squash and other miscellaneous treasures. Each little, edible gem stares at me expectantly from the countertop, begging to be used at its prime, and I try to comply and give the summer harvest the respect it deserves. On occasion, I fail,but I try not to let it happen; I try to use every last vegetable and stone fruit in the most creative, delicious way possible, but when the scent of threateningly soft fruit leaves me in a pickle, my default is salad. Boring, safe, virtuous salad.

It's not what you think, though. I can't leave salads well-enough alone at lettuce, vinaigrette and simple accoutrements - at least most of the time. My salads need a little decadence, a dash of piquancy, a bit of richness and a clean, sharp, uniting note to cut through it all. This salad fits the bill, especially when there's locally caught, small-catch skate at the market, begging to be pan-fried to crispy perfection and served alongside.

Lately, I've been obsessed with bucheron. It's a dry, crumbly goat cheese with a creamy rind, not unlike brie. The flavor is more intense and saltier than most goat's cheeses, which I prefer. Of course, any crumbly cheese will do.

Pickled slices of fennel-laced red onion keep in the refrigerator for over a week, and they only get better as they age. Add them to a tuna salad sandwich for something extraordinary.

Crispy Skate & Arugula Salad with Peaches, Pickled Onions and Bucheron

For the Onions & Vinaigrette
Red Onion
Red wine vinegar
About 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1 garlic clove, min
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 Tbsp salt
Freshly ground pepper

Peel the red onion and thinly slice it into rings.
Add enough red wine vinegar to each jar so that it fills a little more than 2/3 of the way. Add the fennel, sugar, salt, pepper and garlic to the vinegar. Place in the microwave for about 20 seconds, so that it warms just enough to dissolve the sugar. Stir the contents to combine.

Honey-Lemon Vinaigrette

2 Large, juicy lemons
2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp lemon zest from the lemons
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Zest the lemons and add it to the jar. Slice and juice the lemons into a bowl and then pour it into the jar, followed by the honey. Season the mixture generously with salt and pepper (vinaigrettes should always be very well seasoned), and add extra virgin olive oil. Fasten the lid and shake vigorously to combine.

For the Salad

Peaches, however many you desire
Basil leaves

Skate wings
Equal parts flour & cornmeal
Olive oil and buter
Salt and pepper

Mix the cornmeal and flour until combined. Season the skate wings on both sides and dredge in flour mixture, shaking off the excess. Heat oil and butter in a medium-sized skilled until shimmering, and add the skate wings. Sear, 3 minutes per side, until golden brown and crispy-delicious.

Stack the basil leaves on top of one another, roll them up like a cigar and slice them into ribbons (chiffonade, if you'd prefer to talk fancy). Thinly slice the peaches. Gently toss the arugula with the basil leaves, peach slices and a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Scatter the pickled onions and bucheron over the top. Plate with a crispy skate wing and enjoy, preferably with a cool glass of dry white wine.

Oh, and bask in the accomplishment of summer produce well-used.

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