July 3, 2017 — Birthday Party
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For the salad
Half a conference pear, just on the point of ripeness, skin and core removed, pear drenched in lemon juice and stored in the refrigerator until ready.
Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese – one thick 100g slice
2 walnut halves
Small handful of endive
1 lemon for the pear (see above)
For the dressing
1 tbs walnut oil
1 tbs mild olive oil
1 tbs white Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar
Salt and Pepper
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In 1988, an artist friend, gave us a very ‘artistic’ cookbook. The book was Salad, by Amy Nathan and Kathryn Kleinman, (1985). According to the sleeve notes, it was full of ‘stunning salad dishes to delight the eye as well as the palate.’ At the time the book was published, the modern English restaurant scene – with its regalia of Michelin stars and Instagram galleries of beautifully crafted food images – was still waiting in the wings. It’s therefore remarkable that a cookbook, 32 years old, should include such arresting visuals of food – it was clearly well ahead of its time.
Each plate of food (and photographic ‘plate’), was immaculately composed into symmetrical or asymmetrical patterns. The food was shot on top of a light box using transparent dinner plates, a technique that emphasised not only the colour and shape of the food, but also the creativity of the authors. These days, the photographer’s light box has been replaced by burnished metal or distressed wood, the transparent plates with artisan crockery. Both styles could be accused of fetishising food, however, the intention of Salad is not to stimulate a ‘food porn’ reaction, but rather to show the food in a more elemental and refined light so that each ingredient might be appreciated for its own sake. Salad’s dishes are reminiscent of Nouvelle Cuisine, its characteristic lightness of touch, lightly cooked ingredients and the minimalist approach to arranging food could have been an inspiration for the book.
I’ve been critical of the new trend in scattering grains, seeds and whole foods on a plate. I imagined treating ingredients as an assortment of components brought together in a random manner will only create endless nondescript dishes. What is needed is a greater appreciation of the ingredient: why is it distinctive, what are its characteristics, what does it add to the plate, can it be complimented or contrasted by other ingredients? I sense our Salad authors considered this as much as the visual appeal.
My versions, are adapted to add further ideas, either in the visual impact or in the flavour combination. The tomato salad, is simplicity itself. But, it allows us to pause and acknowledge the different tomato varieties. I have also attempted to add, where possible, new ideas about taste and texture contrasts such as savoury, fresh and crunch. A baked goat’s cheese is turned into a poppy flower incorporating beetroot. A pear dish is less about leaves and flowers and more about a classic pairing of flavours.
Salad should be used by culinary colleges to help students with their presentation and appreciation of flavour combinations. It certainly made me re-think how I put food on a plate and provided new insights into combining food.
For art inspired salad recipes like Dad’s Pear Fourme d’Ambert Salad check out some of these: Smoked Chicken, Smoked Salmon and Parma Ham Salad, Capellini, Tomato Consomme and Tuna, Tomato Salad or Plum Soba, Prawns and Shiso Salad.
To make the Pear Fourme d’Ambert Salad follow the recipe below:
The Pear and Fourme d’Ambert Salad recipe is really to arrange the ingredients on an individual plate in a visually satisfying manner.
You may find simply positioning things randomly will produce the desired effect. If not, then like me, you will need a full 30 minutes of trial and error before you will be happy with the arrangement. The aim is to find a coherency and balance between symmetry and asymmetry. I positioned each item to maximise the artistic effect, yet provide importance to each individual ingredient.
Another aim, of course, was to create a dish that was as delicious as it looked. To do this I have used a classic flavour combination for the cheese, fruit, nuts and leaves. I tasted the pear with four different mild blue cheeses, including Fourme d’Ambert, Beauvale, Long Clawson Blue Stilton and Barkham Blue. The combination works best with a defined, but less harsh or intense ‘blue’ flavour. A lingering bitter after taste does not help as the pear flavour quickly dissipates in the palate. Fourme d’Ambert was the best combination with Long Clawson a close second.
As the cheese is a prominent, the dressing is balanced for a lighter taste but still with a hint of walnut. The smooth warmth from the cheese and rich nutty walnuts need some acidity. If necessary add a little more vinegar or lemon to the dressing.
A perfect winter warmer – Cassoulet!
Try Dad’s loaded low-fat salsa quesadillas with The Laughing Cow Lightest x8 cheese.
An excellent way to turn a popular Italian slow food standard into an easy and quicker family classic.
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