Sunday, August 30, 2015

Food Processor Mayonnaise

I am always surprised in my classes at the number of people who have never tried to make homemade mayonnaise.  This is unfortunate, because it is so very delicious...far superior to its commercial counterpart.  For this reason, I was pleased to see a recent edition of NPR's "The Salt" touting the ease with which one can make mayonnaise at home



For the story they had interviewed British chef Simon Hopkinson (British cookbook author and founding chef of Bibendum...for those familiar with the London food scene). The interview is educational and entertaining...definitely worth the few moments of your day that it will take to listen.  I was however disappointed to hear Hopkinson discouraging the use of a food processor.  He claims that the food processor produces mayonnaise that is thick and sticky...somewhat like peanut butter.  Since I couldn't disagree more...and since most Americans have a food processor...I thought today that I would devote an entire post to food processor mayonnaise. 



Classically mayonnaise is nothing more than a mixture of egg yolk, Dijon mustard, lemon juice/white wine vinegar, a neutral oil (like canola), and salt & pepper.  It is what is known as an emulsified sauce because the liquids (lemon/vinegar and water—present in the yolk itself and also often added at the very end to give a thinner consistency) are held in a homogenous and permanent suspension (called an emulsion) with the oil.  The thing that keeps the liquid and oil from separating (which they are naturally inclined to do) is the presence of an emulsifier—a naturally occurring permanent suspension of water and fat...in this case, the egg yolk.   Mayonnaise is made by gradually incorporating oil into the egg yolk.  When this is done slowly and steadily the homogenous suspension is maintained and the result is a thick, smooth, creamy sauce.  If the oil is incorporated too quickly, the suspension "breaks" and you end up with a bowl of thin, separated liquids and oil.

As you can imagine, preparing this emulsified sauce by hand (with a whisk) can be tedious and tiring.  It is not uncommon for people to produce a "broken" sauce on the first try or two.  And even though the procedure is most often successful, people generally don't want to expend the physical effort required.  This is of course where a machine comes in.  Hopkinson suggests the use of an electric whisk.  Some people use a traditional blender...or an immersion blender.  My preference is the food processor.  What all of these have in common is a blade...or whip....of some kind that moves quickly and at a uniform speed.  You simply place the egg yolks, lemon, mustard and salt in the bowl/blender cup, turn on the machine and pour in the oil in a thin stream as the machine runs.  In very short order...with no wear and tear on the arm...you have mayonnaise.



Since most people don't have a need for large quantities of mayonnaise, most home recipes are for small batches—made with 1 or 2 yolks and a cup or so of oil.  And for a recipe this size, a standard sized food processor doesn't work so well.  The volume of 1 or 2 egg yolks is quite small and the action of the blade sends what little volume there is out to the edges of the bowl.  It is very difficult to get the emulsion started because it is almost impossible to gradually incorporate the oil—which is also being sprayed to the outer edges of the bowl—into the tiny volume of yolk(s).  This is why Hopkinson recommends a narrow beaker type container when you use his electric whisk...and why an immersion or traditional blender work so well....all of the yolk is concentrated in a very small area and it is easy to gradually drizzle the oil right into the yolks.  If you are making a larger batch of mayonnaise (with 5 or 6...or more...yolks) the food processor does very well.

But it is not impossible to make a small batch of mayonnaise in a food processor.  And the trick I use to do it also avoids the thick and sticky consistency that Hopkinson deplores.  To make a small batch of mayonnaise in the food processor, simply use a whole egg...or a whole egg plus one yolk...as the base.  The egg white effectively increases the volume...and the viscosity...of the initial mixture so that the oil is more easily incorporated a small amount at a time.  As a bonus, because egg whites have a wonderful foaming capacity when they are beaten, the addition of an egg white to a mayonnaise made in a food processor lends a light, fluffy quality that is the antithesis of thick and sticky.  The resulting mayonnaise is just about perfect...and almost never needs the usual addition of a bit of water to thin it down.



If you have never tasted homemade mayonnaise, you will be amazed by how good it tastes.  You may use it just as you would commercial mayonnaise.  I have posted several recipes calling for mayonnaise over the years (Basil & Garlic sauce to go with Basil & Garlic Roast chicken, Green Goddess, Blue Cheese & Ranch Salad Dressings, Waldorf Salad), and any one of these would be a great place to start.

Unfortunately your homemade mayonnaise will not have the same lengthy shelf life of store bought.  But if you make it with fresh eggs, from a source that you trust (hopefully a local farmer), it will keep safely in a cold refrigerator for about a week.   However, I predict that it won't last that long.  In fact, it is so delicious that you will probably be looking for ways to use it.  You can of course enhance it in any number of ways (with a spoonful of pesto...or roasted pepper purée...or a handful of minced herbs and some garlic...) to make a dip...or a spread...or a sauce.

You could also make a BLT...before the vine ripened tomatoes of summer disappear for the year.



Or you might whip up some old-fashioned deviled eggs....



or make a simple potato salad to go with burgers (don’t forget to put a smear of mayo on your burger too).



I am certain that as you begin to think about it, the possibilities will multiply....


Food Processor Mayonnaise

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk (best quality organic and local)
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 T. lemon juice, plus more to taste
1 T. Dijon Mustard
1 1/2 c. vegetable oil or 1 cup vegetable oil combined with 1/2 c. mild tasting olive oil


Place egg, yolk, salt, lemon juice & mustard in the bowl of the food processor and process until smooth.  Add the oil in a slow stream through the feed tube.  A thick emulsion will form. Taste and adjust the lemon and salt. If the mayonnaise is too thick, let it out with a few tablespoons of warm water.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Deviled Eggs:  For each hard cooked egg, you will need about 10 grams (2 t.) of mayonnaise and a smidge of Dijon.  Cut the peeled, cooled eggs in half, and carefully remove the yolks.  Set the whites aside.  Press the yolks through a sieve or smash with a fork.  Mix with the mayonnaise and Dijon.  Add salt & pepper to taste.   Spoon or pipe the yolk mixture back into the whites.  Sprinkle each egg with a little Spanish smoked paprika.  Chill until ready to serve.



Sour Cream & Dill Potato Salad:  Scrub a pound and a half of small red potatoes.  Place in a pan large enough to hold them in a snug single layer.  Cover with cold, salted water by about an inch.  Bring to a simmer and cook until tender to the tip of a knife.  Drain the potatoes.  When cool enough to handle, but still warm, cut into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk together a half cup of sour cream, a third cup of mayonnaise and 2 generous tablespoons chopped fresh dill.  Season will with salt and pepper.  Pour over the warm potatoes and stir to coat.  Chill.  The potato salad tastes best the next day.  Serves 4 to 5.  (Recipe adapted from Beyond Parsley by the Junior League of Kansas City)





Sunday, August 23, 2015

Pasta with Arugula & Walnut Pesto and Summer Squash

I was immediately attracted to the summer squash pasta on the cover of the August issue of Food & Wine.  Not only did it look delicious, it bore a more than passing resemblance to one of my all time favorite summer pastas.  I posted this old favorite—a simple combination of pasta, olive oil, basil chiffonade, toasted pine nuts and thinly sliced zucchini—a few years ago.  Instead of olive oil, basil and pine nuts, the recipe in this issue of Food & Wine just uses Arugula & Walnut pesto...making it an even easier dish to prepare if you already happen to have some arugula pesto on hand.  Even though the recipes are similar, the arugula pesto version is so delicious I thought it deserved its own post.  


As is usually the case, I have made a few changes to the original recipe.  For one, I simply use my recipe for arugula pesto.  It is not that different from the one in Food & Wine and I happen to like it as is.  If you have a favorite version, that's the one you should use.  In my recipe, I give a choice of Parmesan or Pecorino...or a combination of the two.  If you are making the pesto just for this pasta, I would definitely use at least half—if not all—Pecorino.  The salty-tangy quality of this aged sheep's milk cheese is particularly good with summer squash...and walnuts. 

Another change was my method of incorporating the squash.  The Food & Wine recipe tells you to simply add the shaved, raw squash to the bowl of pesto with the hot pasta.  The idea is that the squash will cook sufficiently from the heat of the freshly drained pasta.  When I tried it this way, the squash had a bit more texture than I would like.  I have written my recipe with the same directions as my old favorite, directing you to add the squash to the pot of pasta for the last minute of cooking.  This has the added benefit of adding a little bit of the squash flavor to the pasta water (which you will then use to thin the pesto).




Finally, the original recipe includes a healthy dose of lemon juice.  This is an excellent idea since arugula, walnuts and zucchini are all enhanced by the presence of lemon.  But I suggest tasting the finished pasta before adding the lemon juice.  You may find (as I did) that farm/market fresh squash doesn't really need it.  If however when you taste the finished pasta, it seems flat...or one dimensional...go ahead and add some lemon.  It will give the dish just the right flavor boost.  


I should mention that this dish is admittedly pretty light.  For many it is probably most appropriate for a first course...or a small pasta course.  But, if you—like me—would like to serve it as an entrée, simply serve large portions...or maybe top it off with a grilled chicken breast or a salmon filet (pan-seared...baked...or slow roasted).  No matter how...or when...you decide to serve this simple pasta...I'm pretty sure you'll love it. Certainly it has found its place on my rather long list of favorite summer pastas.




Pasta with Arugula & Walnut Pesto and Summer Squash

12 oz. Fettuccine or Farfalle
12 oz. small summer squash, trimmed and cut into very thin rounds on a slight diagonal
3 T. toasted and coarsely broken walnuts
3 to 4 T. grated Parmesan
Juice of half a lemon, optional


Place the pesto in a large bowl.  Set aside.

Bring 6 quarts of water to the boil in a large stock/pasta pot.  Add 2 to 3 Tablespoons of salt.  Add the pasta and cook until almost al dente—it should still be quite firm in the center.  


Add the squash and stir.  Continue to cook until the pasta is al dente—about a minute more.  Drain, reserving some of the pasta water. 

Add enough pasta water (2 to 3 T.) to the pesto to thin it to a sauce consistency.  Add the drained pasta and squash and toss to coat, adding more pasta water or olive oil as needed to obtain a fluid sauce.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  If the flavors need a lift, add a squeeze of lemon and toss again.  Divide among individual serving plates


and top with walnuts and freshly grated Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Serves 3 to 4.

Note:  If you would like to make a full pound of pasta, you will need 1 1/3 recipes of the pesto (2 oz. arugula, a fat clove of garlic, 1/2 c. each walnuts, Parmesan/Pecorino and olive oil)

(Recipe adapted  from Italian Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Herrmann Loomis and Food & Wine, August 2015)

Printable Recipe  (click on "Arugula & Walnut Pesto" in the recipe for the printable version of the pesto)



Monday, August 17, 2015

Cold Soba Noodles with Beef, Red Bell Pepper, Mango & Fresh Herbs

Everyone needs to change up their routine occasionally.  I love the foods of France, Italy, Spain...basically the Mediterranean...and I never veer too far from these influences.  But today's salad is a departure.  I teach it in one of my summer salads classes and it is always a hit.  Because Asian food is not my area of expertise, I'm not going to elaborate too much on the details of the recipe.  Rather, I will just point out a few things that will help you navigate these flavors and ingredients if they are totally unfamiliar to you.


The salad features Soba noodles.  Made from wheat and buckwheat, their color is not particularly appetizing, but they are delicious and have the pleasant nutty character of buckwheat.  I have always enjoyed them cold, in salad-type preparations.  They should be cooked al dente and then rinsed under cold running water.  The rinse will stop the cooking process and rinse away excess starch.  You should keep rinsing until the water is clear and the noodles are cold.  Drain them well after they have been rinsed.  If they have a lot of water clinging to them, the salad will be watery and the flavor of your dressing will be weaker.  In his book Plenty, Yotam Ottolenghi tells you to spread the rinsed and drained noodles on a kitchen towel to wick away the excess water.  I have found this works pretty well.


The recipe I'm sharing today was actually inspired by that salad in Plenty.  The original is vegetarian.  I have added fish sauce to the dressing and topped the salad with beef instead of eggplant...so it is no longer vegetarian...but the vibrant and contrasting flavors of the tangy sauce, fresh herbs and sweet mango are all still there.  I have never made the original (I'm not sure why...I love eggplant), but if you are vegetarian, I'm sure it would be delicious.

If you are unfamiliar with fish sauce (nuoc mam or nam pla), I tend to think of it as the Southeast Asian equivalent of anchovies.  It is fishy and salty...and should be used in small amounts.  Just as with anchovies, typically you shouldn't taste the dish and think that you are eating fish...rather, the dish should just be more well-rounded and well-seasoned because of its presence.  You could omit it and just increase the salt in your recipe, but you will lose depth of flavor and the intense savory quality that it adds. 

If you have never cut up a mango, the only difficulty is navigating around the big seed.  The seed is wide and flat and tall...basically taking up a large portion of the center of the fruit.  The flesh of the mango right around the seed is quite fibrous and not usable in the salad.  To cut the mango, after peeling it, 


cut a thick slice down one of the wide faces of the flattened oval shape of the mango.  


Then make a similar cut on the opposite side.  You should have a 3/4- to 1-inch slab--which encases the seed--remaining.  Turn the mango and cut a swath down the two uncut sides to get the last bit of flesh for your salad.   (The flesh remaining around the seed is typically considered a cook's treat...something to gnaw on in the kitchen when no one is looking.)  


The chunks of flesh that have been cut away from the seed can be diced...or sliced...as you prefer.  


When you choose a mango for this salad, it should be ripe (the flesh will yield a bit to slight pressure) but firm.  If it is too ripe, it will tend to disintegrate into the salad as it sits.

When finished, this salad should be an exuberant medley of flavors and textures.  Juicy, sweet mango.... crisp sweet red pepper and red onion.....aromatic basil and cilantro (use as much of both as you like)....juicy, rich and savory beef....all bound together by the backdrop of the nutty and slightly chewy soba noodles and a tangy-salty-slightly hot and sweet dressing.  Really....a party in your mouth.  You should feel free to adjust the flavorings and additions until you achieve this effect.


My next post will most likely be planted firmly back in my regular territory.  If you visit my blog expecting to find ideas for seasonal produce...most often utilizing the flavors of the Mediterranean...I hope you don't mind the departure today.  I find this salad to be refreshing and satisfying—not only in its own right—but also because it is so different from the foods I normally prepare.  If you try it, I hope you will agree that it is just the thing for a hot summer night.




Soba Noodles with Beef & Mango

6 T. rice vinegar
4 T. lime juice
zest of 1 lime
2 T. Asian fish sauce
2 t. sesame oil
1 1/2 to 2 t. chili sauce (Sriracha)
2 T. sugar
1 fat clove garlic smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1 box soba noodles (8 to 9 oz.)
1 small red onion (4 to 5 oz.), sliced thinly (preferably with a mandoline) and rinsed and drained well
1 small red bell pepper (5 oz.), cored and thinly sliced
1 big mango, cut in scant 1/4-inch thick strips or in a 1/2-inch dice
3/4 to 1 oz. cilantro leaves (about 1 cup), cut in a rough chiffonade
3/4 to 1 oz. basil leaves (about 1 cup), cut in a rough chiffonade
Canola oil for sautéing
12 oz. Beef—strip, flank or skirt

Combine the first eight ingredients in a small bowl, whisking to blend.


Cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still al dente—about 5 minutes.  Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water to stop the cooking process.  Shake the colander and spread the noodles on a kitchen towel to wick away any remaining excess moisture. Transfer to a large bowl and combine with the onion, bell pepper, mango and half of the herbs.  


Drizzle in about a third cup of the sauce and toss until everything is well coated (adding more sauce if necessary).  Salt to taste.  Set aside for up to half an hour.

To prepare the steak, heat a large sauté pan (cast iron is perfect) over medium-high to high heat (or preheat the grill to medium-high).  Season the steak(s) well with salt & pepper.  

A small flank steak (about 14 oz.) ready for the grill...
Add enough oil to barely coat the bottom of the pan (oil the steak if grilling).  When the oil in the pan is almost smoking, add the meat to the pan.  Sear the meat on both sides until splotched with color.  Reduce the heat and continue to cook the steaks, turning at regular intervals (don't forget the edges) until the steaks have reached your preferred doneness.  (If you are grilling, simply place the oiled and seasoned meat on the clean, preheated grill and cook, turning once, to your preferred doneness.)  Remove to a plate, drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of sauce and scatter with a couple of tablespoons or so of the herbs.  Turn to coat.


Let rest, for at least ten minutes...longer is better.  Slice thinly, returning the sliced meat to the mixture of sauce and drippings and herbs.  Set aside.


When ready to serve. Toss the noodles with as much of the remaining sauce as you like (I usually use all of it) and mound on a serving platter or individual plates.  


Pile the beef on top and scatter the remaining herbs over all.  Serves 4

Notes:
  • Depending on appetites, you may of course increase the meat to as much as a pound...or more. 
  • Temperature Guidelines for determining “Doneness” of beef (remembering that the temperature will increase by at least 5 degrees while the meat rests): 
Rare (cool red center) -- 120° 
Medium Rare (warm red center) --  125° 
Medium (rosy center) -- 130°
Medium well (pink center) -- 135°
Well done (no pink)  -- 140°
  • If you don't like fish sauce, leave it out. Season the sauce with at least a half teaspoon of salt. 
(Recipe inspired by one in Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi)



Sunday, August 2, 2015

Summer Peach & Blueberry Crumb Tart



I made a dessert for a private event this past week that I haven't made in years—a simple tart of ripe summer peaches and blueberries.   One of the consequences of teaching cooking classes and developing recipes for a living is that I am always working on something new.   Old favorites sometimes fall out of rotation.  This week as I sliced and plated the warm tart...and nibbled on the little bit of juicy fruit—along with the crumbs of tender crust and sandy streusel—left in the empty pan, I remembered how much I like this tart...and wished I had just a little more to nibble on.  So instead of settling for a few crumbs...and just wishing...I went home and made another tart.



It is an easy tart to make.  For those who avoid making pie crust, don't worry.  This tart has a sweet cookie crust that anyone can make.  



And if you are crunched for time, the crust can be made and baked a day or two ahead (just keep it tightly wrapped in plastic wrap).  The streusel too, can be made ahead.  Once the crust and streusel are ready, making the tart is just a matter of peeling and slicing a few peaches 



and tossing them with blueberries, flour and sugar. 



The amount of sugar is less than the typical American-style summer fruit pie, but you really don't need that much.  The crust and streusel are both sweet....and the fruit itself should be ripe and sweet.  Without a lot of extra sugar, the delicious flavor of the fresh fruit is allowed to shine. 

This tart is best served within a few hours of baking.  It will still be delicious on the second day, but the crust will have begun to absorb some of the fruit juices...making it a bit soft.  Served on the same day...while still slightly warm from the oven (which is when I was nibbling on the remains at my event), the fruit will still be soft and juicy, and the crust and streusel tenderly crunchy....   In short, irresistible.  It is unlikely that leftovers will be an issue (but if they are, I'm sure you will know what to do).


  
Peach & Blueberry Crumb Tart

1 lb. ripe peaches
2 c. blueberries, washed and dried
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. flour
pinch of salt
1 9-inch pre-baked sweet tart dough shell (recipe below)
1 recipe streusel crumb topping (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Cut a small slit in the skin on the bottom of each peach.  Place the peaches in a bowl and pour boiling water over them.  Let stand for a minute to loosen the skins; transfer the peaches to a towel.  Peel, halve, pit and slice the peaches 1/4-inch thick.  You should have about 3 cups sliced peaches.

Place the peaches in a large bowl along with the blueberries.  Combine all of the dry ingredients in a small bowl.  



Add the dry ingredients to the fruit and toss until the peach juices have moistened the dry ingredients. 

Place the tart shell on a baking sheet.  Scrape the fruit into the tart shell, spreading evenly,




and top with the streusel—the fruit should be fully covered.  



Bake until the streusel is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling throughout the tart—about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes.  Let cool an hour or two before serving.  Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Note:  The tart shell will be quite full of fruit and will most likely bubble over a little bit as it bakes.  Setting the shell on a baking sheet will prevent the juices from ending up on the oven floor. 



Sweet Tart Dough:
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter (114g)
6 T. granulated sugar (75g)
1 egg yolk (20g)
1 t. vanilla
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour (150g)
1/3 cake flour (46g)

Briefly cream the butter and sugar together until smooth.  Beat in the egg yolk and the vanilla.  Add the flours and mix until well combined.  Form the dough into a thick disk.  Use immediately, or wrap in plastic and chill or freeze.  Let the dough soften before rolling out. 

On a lightly floured board (or between 2 sheets of plastic wrap), roll about 2/3 of the dough out to a thickness of 1/8- to 3/16-inch (the remaining dough may be frozen for another use...or rolled, cut and baked into sugar cookies—see note).  Brush off the excess flour and transfer the dough to a greased tart pan.  Ease the dough into the pan being careful not to stretch it and pressing it against the sides of the tart pan.  Use your hands to gently cut the dough flush with the upper rim of the tart pan.

To blind bake, place the shell on a cookie sheet and bake in a 375° oven until set and pale golden—10-12 minutes.  (It is not necessary to fill this crust with pie weights.)

Note:  This amount of dough is enough for 1 1/2 9-inch tarts.  I generally make up a double batch and divide it into 3 disks of dough.  Freeze the disks that you don’t need.  Use within 3 to 4 months.

Streusel Crumb Topping:
2/3 c. flour (80g)
1/4 c. granulated sugar (50g)
1/4 c. packed brown sugar (50g)
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
4 T. cold unsalted butter (55g)

Combine flour, sugars, and spices.  Add the butter.  Rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture appears sandy & is homogeneous.



Sunday, July 26, 2015

Summer Simplicity



At a lunch with friends recently I was reminded of the beauty and fragility of that oh-so-desirable quality of simplicity.  The restaurant we ate at was by and large a disappointment.  I had looked forward to our visit there with great anticipation because of the buzz surrounding it—a restaurant featuring food touted as nose-to-tail, farm-to-table simple.  Unfortunately the food we were served was for the most part poorly executed...and other items I looked at on the menu seemed a bit ill-conceived—odd combinations of ingredients, too many things on the plate, etc.  All of this reminded me of what Mario calls the elusive nature of simplicity.  His definition of simplicity* is probably the best I have ever read: "pristine ingredients, combined sensibly and cooked properly." It sounds straightforward enough...but in practice it truly is difficult to achieve and to find.  Elusive indeed.  That day, the ingredients on our plates might have been pristine...but as is often the case, the way they had been combined and prepared hid their beauty from us. 


I am happy to say that all of our food was not so disappointing.  Our shared appetizer scored on all points.  It was nothing more than a spare platter of ripe heirloom tomatoes, a scattering of shaved raw summer squash and sweet red onion, some crusty baguette and a few fluffs of microgreens.  The whole platter was seasoned judiciously with crunchy sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and drizzled generously with olive oil and balsamic.  Everything was fresh, at its seasonal peak, combined in a complimentary way, handled minimally and seasoned to advantage—a perfect example of simplicity done right.  It was so good...  I could have licked the plate. 



The good news in all of this is that in the summer, if you shop at a farmers' market or are a member of a CSA, this kind of deliciousness is available to you at home every day.  Even if you just shop at your local grocery store, so many stores are now purchasing at least some of their produce from local sources, you will find that you have access to wonderful, peak of the season ingredients, throughout the growing season in your area.   I have made my own version of that wonderful platter at least three times since for lunch... doing so is just a matter of arranging the ingredients on the plate...and seasoning them well.  For this kind of dish, you don't even need to cook if you don't want to.



Every time I made this dish, I included almost all of the ingredients the restaurant used: beautiful, vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh summer squash, red onions, toasted bread (drizzled with olive oil), coarse salt & pepper, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. For a little extra crunch I added some toasted pine nuts (but they could be left off).  A couple of times—because corn is so delicious with both summer squash and tomatoes—I added a scattering of roasted corn (but raw would be delicious too).  And since each time I was making an entrée (rather than an appetizer), I included a bit of creamy buffalo mozzarella for more substance. 



You probably noticed I didn't mention the microgreens...which I never have...  Instead, I used arugula...for which I have a good local source.  But if you don't, a scattering of torn, fresh basil leaves would be pretty fine in place of the microgreens too.  The arugula is set off to great advantage by lemon, so to finish my platter of summer vegetables, I tossed a small fluff of arugula with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil and placed it on top.



I mentioned it earlier, but I want make sure I emphasize the role of the salt, pepper, balsamic and olive oil in this dish.  Do not skimp on these items.  The salt and the acidity of the vinegar will make the flavors of your pristine ingredients pop.  The vegetables might seem bland and uninteresting without them (one of the failings of the other items we had at the restaurant was lack of salt).  A nice flakey salt (Maldon's...or Fleur de sel...or even a simple, moderately coarse sea salt) will add even more interest since it will add a pleasant crunch.  Coarsely ground pepper will add a bit of spice and heat...and olive oil will add fruity flavor...and needed moisture.



The interplay of the flavors (tangy, nutty, sweet, hot and salty) and the textures (crunchy, crisp, juicy and creamy) of this dish are a delight to the palate and the senses.  It is a totally satisfying...and simple!...dish.  And since our weather has turned steamy and hot this past week, I have found it to be wonderfully refreshing too....just the thing for a light dinner....or a special lunch.



Of course, the idea of this platter—an artful arrangement of a thoughtful combination of peak of the season produce—can be transferred to all kinds of other ingredients.  Today as I was working on this post, when I took my lunch break, I assembled another platter—this one featuring fruit.  With slabs of fragrant, juicy cantaloupe as my foundation, I added blueberries, toasted pecans and chunks of sheep's milk Feta.  I seasoned it with salt, pepper, a generous squeeze of lime and drizzles of honey and olive oil.  Topped with a little olive oil-dressed arugula (a scattering of fresh mint would have been nice instead), it was another delicious example of the magic of summer simplicity—a well-seasoned mix of complimentary flavors and textures that was greater than the sum of its parts.