July 30, 2009

Italian Summer Salad

Italians are really good at eating seasonally. Authentic dishes are simple and highlight the seasons freshest ingredients. Summertime is definitely the best time to cook Italian, when markets are bursting with juicy heirloom tomatoes, baby squash, eggplant, crisp greens, basil and sweet fruits. Insalata caprese, panzanella, eggplant caponata, pesto sauce, bruschetta and pasta primavera are all delicious dishes to make during summer months. Light and refreshing sweets such as sorbetto, semifreddo, granita, gelato, panna cotta and crostadas utilize the season’s finest stonefruits and berries.

I have twice visited Italy during the summer months, and what left an impression on me is their overt celebration of food, family and nature. Large groups dine al fresco, and linger over a traditional meal made with local, seasonal ingredients. Simple and light preparations of salads and antipasto dishes are especially popular during warmer months. Here is my creation of a refreshing summer salad--Italiano-style.

Arugula Salad with Prosciutto-Wrapped Peaches and Fig-Balsamic Dressing

The saltiness of the prosciutto pairs very well with the juicy peach. Spicy arugula best compliments the sweet flavors of the salad, but mixed greens or spinach would also work.

Serves 4.

For dressing

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons fig jam

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

For salad

8 cups arugula

1 large ripe peach, sliced into 12 wedges

4 prosciutto slices, each slice cut into 3 strips

8 dried figs, stems removed and sliced

1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

2 oz Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, thinly shaved with a vegetable peeler

1/4 basil leaves, thinly sliced

  1. In a small saucepan or skillet over medium heat, simmer balsamic vinegar until syrupy and slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, fig jam, and olive oil; season with salt and pepper.
  3. Wrap each peach wedge with cut piece of prosciutto. Divide arugula among 4 salad plates. Arrange 3 peach slices on each plate. Sprinkle each plate evenly with figs, walnuts, cheese and basil. Drizzle each salad with about 2 tablespoons of fig-balsamic dressing. Serve immediately.

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