I know, I know. I have not written for a while. I was so busy with the CIA World of Flavors conference that I am just starting to catch up. The theme this year was A Mediterranean Flavor Odyssey:Preserving and Inventing Traditions for Modern Palates. Which is just what I did with our food at Square One Restaurant and what I do today. I have great reverence and respect for the old ways of the Mediterranean and I know how important it is to make those flavors relevent to contemporary diners.
The confreence was a bruiser. There were over 700 attendees, plus chefs from Spain, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia and the Italian regions of Apulia and Sicily. I worked really hard. But it was great fun. I did two cooking demos and coordinated two panels with Israeli chefs, moderated a panel with young chefs from Castile LaMancha, interviewed a chef from Lebanon, sat on a tasting panel of newly pressed olive oils which was amazing. I also worked a booth for the Produce Marketing association,serving one of my salads from Mediterranean Fresh every day for 500 guests. The salads were really well received. Above all I enjoyed meeting the chefs from other countries and talking with them about their food. It was a reunion of sorts, seeing old friends like Diane Kochilas and Agalia Kremizi from Greece , food writers Nancy Jenkins,Paula Wolfert, Joan Nathan, Clifford Wright, and Martha Rose Schulman, baker Mark Furstenberg from D.C., chefs Paul Bartolotta ,Ana Sortun, Nate Appleman, Mourad Lahlou.
Anyway I got home just in time to plan recipe for the next conference in January, the World of Healthy Flavors. More good Mediterranean food: grains, greens, legumes and vegetables.
Here are two of the salads that I served at the conference. They might be a great way to start Thanksgiving dinner. and they are ideal for this time of year.
Grilled Radicchio Salad with Beets, Oranges and Orange Balsamic Dressing
A recent restaurant trend trickling into the home kitchen is grilling lettuces like romaine or radicchio for salads. Grilling adds a smoky undertone to the greens while wilting them a bit. This dish is really pretty, all tones of red, pink and oranges. We are playing with many kinds of sweetness: sweet beets and raisins, and the tart sweetness of oranges. You might wonder why I didn’t dress this salad with a citronette. Orange juice is just too sweet and mild to brighten the salad by itself. You need the tang of vinegar for depth to keep the dish from becoming too cloying or wimpy, and to stand up to the smoky grill factor and bitterness of the radicchio. .
2 large heads Treviso radicchio (or 4 small)
About ¾ cup balsamic vinaigrette
¼ cup golden raisins plumped in water, orange juice or marsala
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
4 small beets, cooked and cut in eighths or thinner ( see page00)
2 blood or navel oranges, segmented or cut in rounds if small
Make a fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a broiler or ridged stovetop grill pan.
If large, cut the radicchio in quarters lengthwise. If not, cut in half. Pull apart the leaves. If they seem in any way gritty, wash quickly and dry really well. Brush the wedges of radicchio lightly with the vinaigrette and cook on a grill or a ridged grill pan on stove top. When charred on the outside but still tender within, transfer to a platter or 4 salad plates. .Top with sliced beets and orange segments. .
Pour the vinaigrette into a small sauté pan and add the plumped raisins and pine nuts. Warm the dressing for a few minutes then pour over the radicchio, beets and oranges. .
Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette:
Yield: about 1 cup
¾ cup fruity extra virgin olive oil or a combination of 1/2 cup pure olive oil and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 or 4 tablespoons artisan produced balsamic vinegar or condiment
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette
Yield: 1 1/3 cups
2 tablespoons artisanal balsamic vinegar or condiment
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2/3 cup pure or mild and fruity extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
Salt and pepper
Roasted Pumpkin Squash with Bitter Greens
Contrast is the theme of this autumn dish: sweet against bitter, soft versus crunchy. While I like a creamy Middle Eastern dressing on this dish, it would be equally delicious with pomegranate dressing and garnished with pomegranate seeds, or tossed in a citrus balsamic dressing.
1 ½ pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 small bunches arugula or 4 large handfuls assorted bitter greens or mesclun
½ cup thin tahini dressing with garlic and cumin (page 000)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds or toasted pine nuts or walnuts
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. On a baking sheet, toss the squash with oil, salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 30 minutes. Let cool.
Toss arugula with some of the dressing. Then top with squash and drizzle the rest of the dressing on top. Sprinkle with sesame seeds or toasted pine nuts or walnuts. .
1 cup sesame tahini, Al Wadi preferred
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 cup cold water or more as needed
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne red pepper, optional
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, optional
Combine tahini, lemon juice and garlic in food processor or blender and puree. Add water as needed to thin to a spreadable consistency for a dip, and even thinner for salad dressing. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne red pepper and cumin, if using.