June 2nd, 2010

Late Spring Grazing

hero snack tray

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.

small plate

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.

ingredients 1

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.

radicchio oven ready

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.”

baked and not 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.

trays outdoors

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
Olive Oil
Black Pepper
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.

Balsamic Syrup
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.

Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Recipes, Vegetables

11 Responses to “Late Spring Grazing”
  1. Katie@Cozydelicious Says:

    Your pesto looks fantastic – and thank you for the tips! I do sometimes find that my arugula is just too much… I’ll have to start getting rid of the stems. But this looks so yummy as a dip for those pretty radishes. Yum!

  2. rachel Says:

    I really like the sound of the rocket pesto, I imagine it could be good stirred into pasta too – recipe and hints noted especailly roasting and snapping. As for the radicchio, you have managed to make it look quite handsome on that plate despite the all too familiar dull brown. I know it was delcious. My cake is uglier. Off to do some grazing myself.

  3. FOODESSA Says:

    Nancy…Thank goodness I already had lunch. It wouldn’t take me long to invite myself over ;o)
    Other than the arugula which I would probably omit…everything looks fabulously appetizing.
    Fantastic platter.
    Flavourful wishes, Claudia

  4. Tracy Says:

    Your late spring grazing supper is just gorgeous. And that pesto would be wonderful over pasta, but I’m loving how you have it pooled onto the plate ready for just about anything that cares to take a dip. Photos incredible. I can’t wait to have some patio furniture. Would love to make all of this and graze some hot summer night.

  5. Denise | Chez Danisse Says:

    What a dreamy evening. To me, the roasted radicchio is still quite beautiful. I roasted some recently, but just with olive oil, salt & pepper. Your version with Gorgonzola cheese and hazelnuts is something I must try. I have the feeling you’ll be doing this again soon.

  6. Nancy Says:

    Hi Nancy,
    Sounds like you garden is overflowing with early summer goodies – I am jealous! This supper looks delicious and perfect for enjoying outdoors. Great idea to blend the arugula pesto with mascarpone. And I’m excited to see the baked radicchio recipe — I was drooling over that when you mentioned it in your previous post!

  7. foodonfifth.com, Teresa Blackburn Says:

    I love the way this food “looks”, not ugly drunk or sober, but just plain yummy and interesting. I am known to love food that looks and tastes like “dirt” as I say. Foods that are extremely earthy and crunchy and soil-y.
    So, the Baked Radicchio appeals to me most of all…
    And what could be better than a bunch of tomatoes plants with no names..so each ripening is a surprise & delight.

  8. eleni Says:

    This is very interesting… well done

  9. Christine @ Fresh Local and Best Says:

    I was actually quite curious about the arugula after reading your last post. I love them, but they don’t last too long, they just shoot up as soon as it gets hot.

    I love radicchio roasted, it takes away some of the bitter edge. I bet this combination would be great drizzled with honey.

  10. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Christine–great suggestion about the Honey—I have recently come across some recipe suggestions that blend local honey with a little lemon and olive oil to drizzle over cheeses. I want to try this soon.

    Tracy and Rach—yes, I agree— the Arugula-Mascarpone pesto would be luscious stirred into pasta

    Teresa, Denise, and Nancy–glad you see the beauty in the drab brown!

  11. heather Says:

    Wonderful post, I love your alternative titles!

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