Monday, April 26, 2010

Al fresco days: rice salad, pea salad, carrot salad and blondies

It's an early spring. Mint and oregano flourish in the garden. Vegetables are whispers of what they will be in June. An April without snow has been a respite. The patio tables yearns to groan under meals enjoyed outside. And so we have dined "al fresco." Whenever it's possible. Because I live in Minnesota. Where dining outside is a vacation from life. Rice salads showed up at outdoor celebrations in my Italian family. They were different each time - making use of what was available. I've never made the same rice salad twice.
Ingredients beckon. Sometimes I just gobble them up rather than combine and create. In spring, ingredients are signposts. During days when I am falling through the rabbit hole, they appear and say, "Eat me." And I oblige.

Italian Brown Rice Salad - serves 6
Brown Rice - serving for four
6 sprigs of oregano - leaves coarsely chopped
1/2 head radicchio - thinly sliced
1/2 English cucumber - peeled if you wish and thinly sliced
4 radishes - thinly sliced
1/4 cup oil (or less)
white balsamic vinegar to taste (I did about 3 tablespoons)
salt and pepper to taste
Italian Brown Rice Salad Preparation
Cook rice acording to package directions. Cool. Combine with vegetables and herbs. Make ahead: Cover and refrigerate. Just before serving, dress rice salad with oil and vinegar. Season to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Daikon has appeared locally. In another few weeks, the Farmer's Market will be laden with them. 3 ounces provides 34% of your vitamin C RDA requirements. At 18 calories for 3 ounces, it is a nutrional bargain. And it has special enzymes which aids digestion. I feel virtuous using it.

And when peeled, it is a spring-snowy-white.

Paired with shredded carrots, it's an ode to spring. It's a root vegetable - a radish (Dai - large; Kon - root) used a lot in Japanese cooking. Much mellower than it's red-radish cousin, it can be braised, sauteed, eaten raw and fried. Is carrot salad Italian? Grandma would have used red radishes - but otherwise - it is something she would have considered in late summer. When fresh carrots and red peppers were at the market. Grandma was seasonal in a time when everyone was - the markets did not truck from Mexico and beyond.
Daikon-Carrot Salad
1 daikon - peeled and shaved
4 carrots - peeled and shaved
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
4 scallions, chopped coarsely
4 tablespoons of canola oil
2 tablespoons of rice vinegar
Daikon-Carrot Salad Preparation
Combine ingredients. Dress just before serving. Can be served cold or at room temperature.

Growing up, I always said "Never did the apple fall further from the tree" when I thought about my chemist-father. When I was a serious little tyke, he would take me to his lab on Saturday mornings. The other young chemists would "play" for my benefit - pouring two clear liquids together that combined would turn a deep purple. They were magicians. I was enthralled. It would be many years before I figured out that I was indeed my father's daughter - only my chemistry was played out in the kitchen and on paper.

I shelled peas as a kid. Spring peas were spooned into risotto. Last night, my aunt and uncle added it into some pasta I prepared. I prepare a very simple pea salad. Proud Italian Cook has one that elevates it to new heights. Do check it out - her site is a golden ring of Italian sunshine.
Pea Salad
1 package organic frozen peas
3 ounces crumbled goat cheese
3 radishes, thinly sliced
3 scallions, coarsely chopped
6 sprigs of mint, leaves chopped, 1 saced for garnish
6 taplesoons olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Pea Salad Preparation
Defrost peas. Add feta, radishes, scallions and mint. Toss. Just before serving, dress with oil and vinegar. Can be served cold or at room temperature.

A smile of spring on a plate.
National Public Radio has often mentioned driveway moments. When you return home a bit too early in an interview or piece of music that you are compelled to listen to through the end. I have had my husband come out to fetch me as I sat in the car for fifteen minutes. Intrigued, my family wonders, "What is she doing out there?" And so it was last week, when an interview with Colum McCann (author of prize-winning novel Let the Great World Spin.) was aired. I was spellbound. Writing down titles, listening to the nuances of his words, his insight into creating. And I thought, "I must get this for my father." And of course remembered as quickly as I had forgotten. The days of book exchanges were now memories.
And needed something sweet.

And found it on Girlichef's blog (click her link for recipe). Lemon-Mascarpone blondies. A wee bit sour, a little tang, a dash of sweet and a entire fortune of creamy goodness. I added more lemon and reduced the sugar. When I thought about it, it was the taste of my days in April. When the blondies were gone, people did battle over the crumbs.

And I must say, it was an agreeably delicate crumb. A concert of flavors - very much like my days.


Anonymous said...

Wow, these salads look so great! Perfect for my lunches at the moment! So refreshing and filling!! You must remeber to remember to take these things to your father lol

Barbara GF said...

Your salads are indeed harbingers of spring, Claudia. And I would have fumbled over the crumbs if I were eating those Lemon-Mascarpone Blondies, too. A beautiful ode to the season of new beginnings.

La Bella Cooks said...

You are right, these are perfect for spring and dining al fresco. I love the blondies as well! You always have something wonderful coming from your kitchen.

figtree said...

Claudia, everything looks so fresh and delicious! Perfect to go with what Im grilling this weekend.

Angie's Recipes said...

Claudia, this is such a colourful, healthy and delicious rice salad. Love your pea salad too!

Anne said...

Everything does look fresh and delicous. Perfect salads to try for company this weekend. Love your recipes. Did I tell you I made the Caprese Lollipops? It got great reviews.

Jen_from_NJ said...

What lovely salads for spring! I always enjoy reading your posts and always learn something new. I need to pick up some daikon!

Whats Cookin Italian Style Cuisine said...

perfect salad for spring those pea's are lovely and love love love those blondies delicious! would love to dig right into this whole post, wonderful!

Mary Bergfeld said...

Gorgeous looking dishes, one and all. I especially loved the pea salad and it's a perfect way to finish the bit of goat cheese that I have left. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings...Mary

Juliana said...

Wow, everything looks so yummie, all the salads are perfect for the time and the blondie sure looks delicious :-)

Wanda..... said...

All your salads suit my tastes, Claudia, especially the peas. We've had macaroni salad a few times over the weekend...tomorrow it will be your rice salad for sure!

I know that feeling of suddenly remembering...I did it with my mother, when wanting to call.

ann low said...

WOW! A healthy and colorful salad. Pass me some please ;D

chow and chatter said...

as ever awesome recipes oh its lovely to eat outside

Anonymous said...

These are terrific salads and I love the radishes in them! Excellent!

Dewi said...

Scrumptious salad Claudia, I especially like the blondies!

Gera@SweetsFoodsBlog said...

A refreshing post Claudia with all these wonderful salads and well....something sweet is oftentimes necessary, beautiful blondies :)

Have a great week,


Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

All your salads look so fresh and crunchy good, Claudia! Perfect warm weather food and low in calories so that I will be able to indulge in those tender blondies cookies..oh my!

My Dad has been gone 37 years and I still iss him terribly. {{Hugs}}

Proud Italian Cook said...

Mmmm, I'm loving that brown rice salad! Don't you just love crunchy radishes? Glad you liked the pea salad, I'm trying it with your dressing next time!

3 hungry tummies said...

What a healthy and refreshing rice salad! Perfect with a glass of pinot grigio!

Reeni said...

What delicious food Claudia! Love the rice salad and the pea pasta. The blondies sound pretty scrumptious too! All this entwined with your sweet memories. XOXO

joe@italyville said...

I know how you feel Claudia... once it gets over 60 degrees we're outside in shorts!

Kim said...

You are really cooking it up at home in your kitchen:D I think you have a fabulous thing going as far as eating outdoors goes. I love your version of the pea salad and really want to try that one! It all looks might tasty Claudia.

My Little Space said...

Claudia, what a healthy complete course! Love how you make the rice salad...such beautiful colour. Not to mention, the lemon blondie is truly mouthwatering as well!
Enjoy & have a fabulous spring time!
Regards, Kristy

Nancy said...

Wonderful post, Claudia! These are three terrific salads; I will keep them in mind as I wander the greenmarket. Must get some daikon. Happy spring!

Lyndas recipe box said...

What lovely spring salads Claudia! The rice salad is gorgeous with color- the pea salad is calling my name loudly and the blondies, oh my, they are sreaming at me! I have to try these!

Kathleen said...

Love the salads! Blondies are one of my all time fav's

janet said...

I just adore salads and these all look amazing! I almost feel as if you wrote this post just for me Claudia, you have such a gift for this.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

What a nice array of salads. I would have a hard time choosing my favorite. I am soooo ready for salad time.

italian kitchen decor said...

That is soooo pretty. And I bet it tasted great. Another great idea!
thank you so much for sharing Recipe.


Pearl said...

it's been so long, Claudia, but your recipes just get better and better. how is your son? last time we "spoke," he was looking for an apt for grad school!

OysterCulture said...

I appreciate your comment that dining al fresco in Minnesota is a great break - they were indeed special times. Your salads look amazing. I love a rice salad so I gravitated towards that, and then the daikon salad looked so appetizing and then finally the pea salad with feta. That's it, I must make them all, why choose!