Tuesday, April 17, 2012
I used to be super organized when it came to the holidays. Back in the pre-internet days, I would be ripping out magazine articles from special themed issues of Bon Appetit, Gourmet and Saveur a year ahead of time, keeping files for menu inspiration for future Thanksgivings, Christmas and Easters.
Things have changed. Not only do I now do almost all my recipe reading online, the timeline to my planning has shrunk from about a year’s lead time to.....a few hours.
Don’t get me wrong. I do think about what we’re going to have for any given meal ahead of time. Especially if said meal is going to be for 16 guests. But I just don’t write up those detailed spread sheets that involve a weekend of meals and the necessary shopping lists. As my friend Gillian said last weekend, “Isn’t it great not to be 30 years old anymore?”
Somehow with age and experience, I’ve gotten way more relaxed on the meal planning front. I now know that there will ALWAYS be enough food. (mostly because I’ll buy an extra 6 kilos of potatoes - just in case).
So last week, when we headed up to Todi for Easter, the thought of 8 house guests for the weekend, plus and extra 8 for lunch on Sunday didn’t phase me. I had ordered a lamb, so that was the main course done. I knew that Zia Tetta would bring at least 2 colombe. My mother-in-law would arrive from Bari with a suitcase full of sopressata. Jane had been buying chocolate for weeks. And Eugenia was going to go over board with desserts, as she always does.
(Ok, I did have one moment of weakness. I had Gillian stop on her way up from Rome at Orte to pick up an extra casatiello and pastiera. Because for one brief moment I thought we wouldn’t have enough food. Gillian went home with both, untouched)
But besides ordering lamb and over buying potatoes for Easter Sunday, I didn’t have much of an idea of what the other side dishes would be. The first course was pasta with artichokes, but I decided to wing it for contorni. Very brave of me, right?
But I knew there’d be something we could use from the winter garden. I was hoping that the weather and hedge hogs had left the few remaining cabbages alone. But it had been unseasonably warm, and I was slightly worried that everything had gone to seed.
As I made my way towards the orto, the bright patch of yellow flowers blowing in the breeze were gorgeous, but let me know right away the cavolo nero had bolted. Too bad, I thought, it would have been nice sauteed, with a bit of garlic and maybe some pancetta to accompany the lamb.
But as I got closer I saw that there was still a lot of dark green peeking through the haze of yellow. The very last of the cavolo nero. Tiny little baby leaves clung to the tall, tough stems. Hundreds and hundreds of them, just right for chopping into a spring salad.
So Sunday morning, before Jane headed off to church, she went out to the garden and carefully picked me a basket full. While she and the nonni were in town, I put together the salad. I barely even had to chop the leaves, they were so small and tender. I added fresh cipolle di tropea for bite, and some pistachios I had in the pantry for crunch. Chopped blood orange chunks went in as well, since I always like to add fruit to cavolo nero salad - dried or fresh.
But the salad was still looking kind of un-festive. It was Easter, for goodness sake, and everything else was all lilacs and brightly colored eggs. I didn’t want my salad to look dull or - God forbid - wintery.
That’s when I remembered all those pretty yellow flowers. So just as everyone was getting back from church, and the lamb was making it’s way from the oven, I headed back out to the orto to pick flowers.
They were slightly spicy, intensely pretty and didn’t take any pre-planning at all.
Just the way I like it.
Spring Cavolo Nero Salad
8 cups washed and chopped cavolo nero leaves (Tuscan kale)
3/4 cups chopped spring onions
1/2 cup chopped pistachios
3 blood oranges, rind cut off and roughly chopped (no pith please)
1 cup or so of edible blossoms. These are mostly for color so choose what is available
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Place the leaves in a big bowl. Scatter onions, oranges and pistachios on top. At the last minute, scatter flowers.
Bring to the table so people can ooh and ahh over how pretty it is. (once you toss it, the flowers kind of get lost in the muddle)
Pour dressing over and toss well.