Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On the Go (Blackberry Hazelnut Spinach Salad, Prosciutto Crisps)

As I write this article, Aaron is packing moving boxes around me; the Gourmet Gents are moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts! I'm excited to move to the city, but I'll miss some things about our old home, especially its square-foot gardens of salsa and salad vegetables and kitchen garden brimming with herbs and berries of all kinds. We love using fresh, local ingredients and the late summer offerings are especially rich, as most fruits, vegetables, and nuts are just coming in season. A blackberry, hazelnut, and spinach salad let me make use of one last harvest from the garden beds and smooth chèvre cheese, salty-sweet prosciutto crisps, and balsamic vinaigrette fortified with blackberry preserves and hazelnut oil help you schmaltz things up.

With half our kitchen already packed up alongside twelve cubic feet of books (three of those cookbooks), two wardrobes, and a king's ransom of LEGO bricks, I needed something fast, fresh, and easy. A salad is the perfect light meal to showcase summer produce, and toasting hazelnuts and prosciutto allows you to run the oven for a merciful ten minutes, at most. Blackberries are in-season from late July through late September, whenever possible, try to find wild or local berries, the major agribusiness specimens are bred more for size, abundance, and aesthetics than they are for flavor. Always aim to pick the darkest berries you can find, unlike some other fruits, blackberries on ripen on the plant and will not develop once plucked.

Arrested development
Hazelnut season is, commercially, October, as virtually all of the hazelnuts in the United States come from Oregon, where roughly 650 families of farmers grow the trees across 29,000 acres, but those who forage in the woods can harvest wild filberts in the late summer, from August on. The name "filberts" derives from their ripening around St. Philibert's Day: August 22. Hazelnuts are a good source of protein and fiber (though, like all nuts, they are quite high in fat), very high in Vitamin E, and also provide significant amounts of Vitamins C, K, B6, Thiamin, and Folate.

Prosciutto is a fancy Italian cured ham, with Prosciutto di Parma being a specially Protected Denomination of Origin. It has a rich, sweet, and salty flavor, without the smokiness of bacon. When sliced thinly, it has a crumbly texture somewhat reminiscent of aged cheddar. Spread on a baking sheet and toasted in the oven, prosciutto becomes ultra crispy and even more intensely flavored. It makes a great pairing with nuts due to the importance of nuts in the pig's diet. Pork is often "finished:" fed a diet high in nuts for the last 60-90 days before slaughter to enrich its flavor, providing a nutty nuance that begs to be exploited. Mixed with sweet-tart blackberries and soft, mild chèvre, this salad is an easy summer treat to showcase the best of local fare.

Treat yo'self
Blackberry, hazelnut, spinach salad + chèvre, prosciutto crisps

To make a vegan version, substitute a soft nut "cheese" or spoonfuls of silken tofu for the chèvre and extra-thin slices of tempeh, toasted with agave syrup and tamari, for the prosciutto. Serves 2.

1/8 pound prosciutto, thinly sliced
1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts, shelled and chopped

4 handfuls baby spinach
1 cup blackberries
2 ounces chèvre, crumbled 

For blackberry hazelnut vinaigrette:

2 teaspoons seedless blackberry preserves
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly cracked
1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, minced
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 

Preheat an oven to 350 F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Arrange slices of prosciutto on one sheet and toss the hazelnuts on the other. Pop into the oven and bake, 5-7 minutes, until the prosciutto is crisped and the hazelnuts are golden and highly fragrant. Allow to cool.

Pile spinach on plates, topping with berries and chèvre.

Prepped to pile on
To prepare the dressing, whisk the pepper and rosemary into the blackberry preserves in a small bowl. Slowly stream in the hazelnut oil and balsamic vinegar while whisking constantly, until completely emulsified.


Drizzle salads with vinaigrette and enjoy!


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