An alternate—and excessive—title for this post could be ” Taming Unruly Arugula” combined with “Some Truly Delicious Foods Just Aren’t That Pretty.” But, for brevity….
Summer heat descended on us this past weekend, humidity bisque-thick, temperatures hovering around 90. We had spent a good part of the day gardening in that heat, weeding around sunflower starts (including mammoths!), planting squashes (happily located seeds for Cocozelle, those tasty striped Italians), feeding tomatoes (nine different heirlooms, their nametags lost. Can’t wait to see how they’ll turn out).
After all the garden work, we were hungry—but in the mood for an easy summertime meal—the kind where you idle around the shaded backyard table, sip water spritzed with lime, graze on small bites and watch the sky shift into dusk.
I had in mind two simple things: crudites with some sort of arugula pesto—my little garden has gone rangey with arugula–and baked radicchio with gorgonzola and hazelnuts, a Sienese dish recalled in my last post.
In this hot weather, my arugula has begun to bolt, taking on more pungency. I wanted to make a pesto that would temper those bitter, often harsh notes, and provide a savory green dip for my sugar snap peas. I’ve discovered some tips, when working with super-hot rocket for pesto.
1. Roast the garlic cloves to mellow them
2.”Sweat” some scallions for sweetness
3. Snap off thick arugula stem–extra bitterness tends to reside there
4. Process with a fat glob of Mascarpone cheese–wow.
The resulting Arugula-Mascarpone Pesto was terrific–creamy rich with green peppery bite. The unruly arugula had been tamed!
We loved spooning it over baby new potatoes, and scooping it up with sweet carrot sticks. Chilled, this pesto sets up to a firm spread, which you’ll enjoy slapping onto a slice of crusty bread.
The Baked Radicchio with Gorgonzola and Hazelnuts has, visually, a beautiful beginning; its terse list of ingredients and rapid assembly time seem to portend something wonderful.
I had forgotten that, like many gorgeous purple vegetables–think eggplant, certain varieties of bell pepper, string beans–the brilliant color goes Dull Brown in baking. It’s inescapable. Do not be dismayed when you pull this out of the oven! As my friend Wendy says, “Can’t even drink it pretty.”
No matter! Your efforts will be rewarded with great flavors: quickly, the radicchio leaves become supple in baking, the gorgonzola melts into a lavish salty puddle flecked with crunchy bits of hazelnuts. If you like, drizzle each leaf with a little balsamic syrup for sweet acid zing. You’ll find the stuffed leaves to be quite delicious warm or room temperature. So, no worries. Settle in with your late spring graze, and keep a lookout for Venus, the evening star.
Arugula Mascarpone Pesto
1 bundle Arugula, destemmed
3 cloves Roasted Garlic
2 Spring Onions, chopped, warmed in olive oil until softened
2 T. Olive Oil
4 oz. Mascarpone Cheese
Sea Salt to taste
Yield: 1 cup
In a food processor fitted with a swivel blade, pulse greens, garlic, onion, olive oil and salt together until coarsely mixed. Add mascarpone, and process until well-blended, with flecks of arugula. Taste for salt. Serve at room temperature with crudite. If chilled, it will set up, like a spread, very nice on toast with sliced chicken.
Baked Radicchio with Gorgonzola and Hazelnuts
(radicchio al forno con gorgonzola e noci)
1 head Radicchio, cleaned, leaves separated
4 oz. Gorgonzola, shaved or crumbled
4 oz. Hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Lightly brush the back of each leaf with olive oil and place onto a baking sheet pan. Sprinkle with black pepper.
Place cheese into each leaf, and top with chopped hazelnuts.
Bake for 10-12 minutes–until gorgonzola is bubbly, and leaves are browned.
Drizzle with Balsamic Syrup and serve. Makes 12-15 leaves.
1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar
Pour vinegar into a small, shallow skillet and cook it on medium heat until it is reduced by half. Remove and let cool–it will syrup-like, and sweet.
Any unused portion will keep well in the refrigerator.