Cucumber, Fennel and Ricotta Salad

In my humble opinion, this is a perfect early spring salad, especially for those of us who live somewhere where the sky and the ground seem irreverent towards the date on the calendar, and to our yearnings for sunshine and fresh food.  It's light and green, like spring, but calls for veggies that are available all year long:  avocado, fennel, cucumber and a handful of sprouts.  The light freshness satisfies my desire to move away from heartier winter veg like kale and squash, although it does little to curb my envy towards people living in warmer climates,  filling their faces with legitimate springtime delicacies.   

This recipe comes from award-winning British food writer and cook Nigel Slater's book Eat, in a section entitled On a Plate.  In the intro to the section he says,"Stuff that goes pretty much straight on to the plate often includes a raw ingredient at it's heart - something so perfect you want to eat it in all its glory."  In this recipe, I think the star is really the ricotta, especially if you make your own (which is surprisingly very simple) or you can get your hands on some that's really fresh.    I love how this salad uses a delicate creamy scoop of quality ricotta as a starting point for a lovely light meal.   In the case of this particular salad,  there are shavings of sweet anise scented fennel, a slight creamy textural variation from the avocado and a bright, refreshing crunch from cucumber and lemon, but this really could go in a variety of directions. Roasted or fresh cherry tomatoes, arugula, smoked trout or salmon, prosciutto, zucchini, pine nuts,  pistachios, mint or basil would all be welcome variations.  

So I will continue to make ricotta salad and eat "spring like" meals until the ground finally yields dusty pink stalks of rhubarb, pungent wild leeks and grassy green stalks of asparagus.  And when they finally, finally do appear I will most definitely feature them, in all their glory, on my plate. 

From Nigel Slater's Eat ( the original recipe is in The Guardian here)

2 tbsp. lemon juice
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
3 sprigs of fresh dill (I also added a bit of mint) 
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut in chunks
Small bulb of fennel, shaved
1 avocado, thinly sliced
Several handfuls of sprouts
1 large scoop of ricotta (about 1/2 a cup)
Flakey sea salt
1 handful of shelled, smashed pistachios

Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, balsamic and dill in a medium size bowl.  Add in the cucumber, fennel and gently fold in slices of avocado.  Let this sit for about half an hour.

Add in several handfuls of sprouts and transfer to plates.  Top with a large scoops of ricotta, a sprinkle of pistachios and flakey sea salt.  Serve with more lemon on the side.  

Serves 2

Sautéed Kale and Fresh Mozzarella on Toast

Last Sunday, as I struggled to cram a loaf of bread into the overflowing freezer, and fit the weekend's dinner party leftovers into a fridge full of wilting greens and cheese ends, I decided that this HAD to be a week of leftovers.   I'm not going to lie, this takes dedication and discipline for me.   Planning meals and trying new recipes is a major hobby of mine and I enjoy being inspired by what I find at my local markets. Defrosting meatballs or a curry I made whenever the date scrawled on the bag tells me I made it, never seems nearly as exciting as making and eating something new and freshly made.  But when dinnertime rolls around on a leftovers night, things do tend to be less hectic,  I have more time with the kids and less time in the kitchen, everybody is still well fed, and I am relieved to know that the lovely food I made weeks, or months ago is having a second life.   Motivated by these past few days of eating leftovers, I'm going to take a full inventory of the freezer this weekend so that hopefully when spring rolls around we won't be stuck with a freezer full of unseasonable stews and soups.  

I find the freezer is a much easier beast to tame than the fridge.  More often than I'd care to admit, wilted, slimy greens and little chunks of fuzzy cheese meet their fate on garbage day.   Sometimes I victoriously involve them in a meal preparation, but it's far more likely that  I will miss the window before they're past the point of no return.  Not this week though!  This week, those sad little bits and bobs inspired me to make one of the most delicious pieces of toast I've ever eaten.   I took my slightly droopy kale, sautéed it with some garlic and olive oil then I put it on a slice of multigrain sourdough bread (from Prairie Boy Bread) and topped it off with some chopped artichokes, a bit of burratta cheese and popped it under the broiler.  It took me less than 10 minutes and, in my humble opinion, it was a restaurant calibre meal.  If you're not familiar with burratta, it's a cream filled fresh mozzarella cheese that is truly decadent and delicious.  I buy it at the Santa Lucia cheese outlet here in Toronto (where the prices are amazing and you can buy hot, fresh ricotta!).  But you could easily use another cheese -  fresh mozzarella, ricotta, feta, brie or a little chunk of whatever is in your fridge.  You could also use spinach, chard or whatever you have on hand in place of the kale.  The real point here,  is to take stock of the fridge and figure out how to eat things before they turn into garbage.  

(a.k.a. Not Garbage Toast) 

1 bunch of kale (if it's starting to wilt you can revive it with a 5 minute soak in tepid water)
1 clove thinly sliced garlic
a pinch of dried red chilis
1 tbsp olive oil
4 slices of fresh mozzarella or burratta cheese (or any other soft cheese you need to get rid of)
Good quality bread  (preferably sourdough, multigrain)

Turn your oven on to broil and turn on your kettle.  Remove the thick ribs from the kale leaves and put into a pot large enough to hold and cover with boiled water.  Once your water has boiled pour over the kale, add some salt and give everything a stir.  Leave for 2 minutes or until bright green.  Drain, squeeze out excess moisture and roughly chop into bite sized  bits.

Put olive oil on a medium frying pan.  Add sliced garlic and chilis to the pan and sauté until just golden, about 30 seconds.  Add chopped kale to the pan and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, until warmed through and soft.   You could do this ahead and keep the kale in fridge for 3 or 4 days, reheating as needed.  

Toast 2 large slices of bread (or 4 small) and spread with butter or drizzle with olive oil.  Pile kale onto the toast and top with 2 or 3 slices of cheese.  Broil for a few minutes, until cheese is just melted.  

I added some chopped, oil packed artichokes which were delicious.  I think roasted tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, olives or smear of pesto would also work well.  You could also toss some shallots or thinly sliced onion into the pan to soften, before adding the kale.  

For an appetizer version, you could serve this on thinly sliced baguette crostini.  You could also omit the cheese entirely and it would still be delicious.   

Serves 2  (with enough kale to serve 4 or use another time) 

** This weeks leftover mission reminded me of a delicious recipe for fromage fort that I  made from Smitten Kitchen years ago.   Chuck all of your random cheese ends into the food processor and make a delicious spread.  Grab a baguette and, you're done.