I think sometimes if you are very, very quiet and take stock of how you are feeling, your body will tell you what it needs at any given moment for optimum performance and happiness.
We call it a craving, a hunger, a jones-ing for a certain ingredient or flavor.
This sensation is simply your body calling out for some kind of food, be it a remembered taste or texture or an even an imagined riff as to what sounds good together.
Me, my cravings really run the gamut– from truffled eggs and lobster rolls and potato pancakes with osetra caviar to garlic fries, salmon BLT’s and chicken wings dunked in an vat of blue cheese dressing.
Oh, yeah, and this.
Like everything else, our appetites are affected by seasons, and sometimes never more so than in shoulder seasons–– something about rotating doors make us stand up and notice.
Both exuberant hellos to long-gone friends and melancholy goodbyes to departing seasonal pals can be unspeakably poignant.
Just think about it; is there anything more glorious than the first asparagus of spring after months of rich daubes and hearty stews?
On the flip side, what is more wistful than that last snap of grilled fresh corn (or the surrender of flesh from a late season tomato) when you are aware of the produce paucity that awaits you?
Right now, sensing the change in the air, the last gasp of summer barely audible over fall’s windy entrance, I’m wanting to gorge on the last of summer produce. Peaches. Basil. Corn. Tomatoes.
Two nights ago, dinner was all about corn, corn, corn.
And for last night’s dinner I collected recent purchases at the produce stand and farmer’s market.
In particular, I wanted to spotlight those beautiful cherry tomatoes my neighbor had given me.
I didn’t know what I was going for when I bought it all, but once I gathered nearly every vegetable I had, it started to come together. I had these Marcona almonds I’d been saving for just the right moment and guess what, that moment had arrived.
And now a dressing.
I wanted something a little bit different with a distinct nod to summer’s end. Looking at those tomatoes I thought of bagna cauda, that lovely Italian anchovy sauce that’s often served with raw or lightly steamed vegetables. I used a remembered meal in a cafe in Nice for inspiration.
My dressing? Think of a Caesar salad minus the egg but with a more pronounced anchovy flavor balanced by the sweet herbal hit of pureed basil.
Now think of this chunky dressing all over these ingredients and you’re almost there.
Bitter radicchio, yes. Sweet tomatoes and basil, yep. The superior crunch of a celery and fennel sliced thin enough so as to avoid being a distraction.
And then all tossed together with the zippy flavors of lemon and anchovy in the basil dressing.
I love this bad boy dressing. It’s so assertive that it doesn’t seem to care what anyone else thinks.
All it needed was a fine dusting of Reggiano Parmesan to seal the deal.
The thing that I love so much about this salad is that not only does it let the tomatoes do their thing, but it can also be adapted in winter.
Just when you can’t stand another beige dish or heavy starches, reach for this; fennel and radicchio can be enjoyed for some time and just replace the tomatoes with red pepper or even sliced pear.
Even if your salad lacks summer produce’s water-packed freshness, the colors alone with invigorate you and the dressing will knock through even the most jaded palate.
And as far as I know, anchovies are on the shelf year-round — just waiting to punch things up.
- For Dressing:
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 Tbs. oil from anchovies (or that much more olive oil)
- 1 anchovy, mashed
- 1 small clove garlic, mashed
- 1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice plus zest of 1 lemon
- 4 basil leaves
- For Salad:
- 1 small head radicchio, core removed, torn into manageable pieces
- 1 C. cut fresh fennel
- 1½ C. cherry tomatoes, halved if desired
- 1 C. celery, sliced
- pinch of salad and pepper
- ¼ C. Marcona almonds
- Parmesan or feta
- Puree all dressing ingredients together. Refrigerated for up to one day before use.
- Toss radicchio, fennel, cherry tomatoes, and celery with dressing and a pinch each of salt and pepper.
- Top with almonds and cheese.