well-dressed

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If you’d told me writing a book involved so much not-writing and staring blankly, I’m not sure I would have believed you. At least there is the cooking, lots of it, although not in the way I imagined. Which was rambling, recipe testing sessions during which friends dropped in and out, alternating with quiet radio four filled days of experimentation. The reality is (mostly) me with wild eyes, cooking and photographing two diametrically opposed dishes on a small stove, Vincenzo commenting on the pasta and Luca standing on a chair with no trousers and his socks at half-mast shouting ‘What doin? I help knife it mamma‘. Not that I would have it any other way.

Yesterday, having done more than enough not-writing, Luca and I went for a walk. Our usual route, along via Galvani,  through the market (buying soft, sweet, yeasted buns from Costanza and a head of broad, pale escarole from Mario) across the cobblestones and into the Ex-Mattatoio, where the big bambu, a 25 meter high sculpture made from thousands of bamboo poles ingeniously bound and jointed, is dressed as a christmas tree. I’m not sure who was more delighted. Back home, even though Luca stood on a chair brandishing a wooden spoon, I didn’t get wild-eyed, I made pasta with ricotta and lots of black pepper, thinning the cheese with a little pasta cooking water, and then this salad.

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The key to this salad of escarole, gorgonzola cheese, walnuts and pear, is making sure the foundations, the structural weave of leaves, are well dressed. The best way to do this is with your – scrupulously clean – hands, rubbing, almost massaging the oil, salt and vinegar into the leaves. Over the glistening leaves, you break the cheese, crumble the nuts, slice the pear and then gently turn the salad again.

I am generally wary of busy salads and however attractive and potentially tasty, feel disappointed, cheated even if they are called lunch. I felt neither wary nor cheated yesterday. While the pasta eaters ploughed, I ate two plates of bitter/sweet leaves in the folds and creases of which hid nubs of creamy, heady gorgonzola, milky, musty walnuts and arcs of sweet pear. Impertinent flavors and textures playing off against each other and then harmonizing cleverly. There was of course bread. I did feel a little cheated of my inch or two of wine (I am great believer in drinking – just a little – at lunchtime) but there was yellow bread making and non-writing to be done.

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Escarole, gorgonzola, walnut and pear salad

serves two

  • a small head of escarole
  • a ripe but firm pear
  • 100 g gorgonzola
  • a handful of walnuts or hazelnuts
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • a few drops of good balsamic or sweet sherry vinegar (optional)

Wash and then dry the escarole before ripping it into approachable pieces. Peel and core the pear, rubbing the outside with a cut lemon as you work to stop it discoloring. Shell the walnuts and break them into small pieces. Using the point of a sharp knife and your hands break the cheese into smallish pieces.

Put the leaves in a bowl or serving dish, sprinkle over a little salt, pour over some olive oil and a few drops of balsamic vinegar if you are using it. Use your hands to rub, the oil, salt and vinegar into the leaves. Slice the pear over the leaves, add the cheese and nuts and again – gently – use your hands to toss the salad. Serve.

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68 Comments

Filed under cheese, Rachel's Diary, salads, Testaccio, Uncategorized

68 responses to “well-dressed

  1. Oh, how you can write. Just reading about what’s happening in your kitchen always leaves me salivating, and full of appetite for your latest suggestion. But you’ve excelled yourself here. I have no business to be hungry at half past ten in the morning. Stop it! Get on with that book.

  2. This is what I want to read – and eat. Get to it.

  3. I usually make this salad with rocket (and the rest: pear, gorgonzola and walnuts), but “a head of broad, pale escarole from Mario”, from the market, sounds even better.
    I made your orange, fennel and pomegranate salad a few lunches ago, and it was a beautiful thing.

    • rachel

      I never thought of trying rocket, I bet it works brilliantly, will try! Glad you made the orange, fennel and pomegranate and yes it is beautiful, both to look at and eat.

  4. This is exactly the sort of thing I’m craving now. Funny how when the world turns to heavy girdle-bursting fare, I’m giving the greens at the market the beady eye, wondering how I can turn them into supper. This is going on my list.

    • rachel

      I am the same, green cravings, I think it is also our bodies stocking up on green goodness in preparation for the gastronomic onslaught.

  5. I eat a lot of escarole salads in the winter as it seems to be a green that is reliably – and deliciously – available when it is very cold and very dreary outside. As I love any cheese that’s blue (I have been eating a LOT of Black Cambozola lately) and all kinds of nuts, I will make this combination tonight. Perhaps with a dinner of calves’ liver and sautéed spinach.

    There is a little restaurant in the West Village known for its “small plates” that I was hell-bent on trying. When I finally made it there, the best thing I ate was a salad of roasted beets and coarsely chopped, roasted, salted almonds in a tart dressing with a dollop of crème fraîche on top (to mush around myself) . It was delicious. Don’t you think it would be worth a try substituting creamy ricotta for the crème fraîche and roasting the beets Marcella’s way?

    Happy hols and love to you all. xoxo

    • rachel

      I love the sound of that salad, yes to ricotta and beets alla marcella – let me know…Roasted nuts keep popping up in salad lately, at place called 40 maltby street in London we had a salad of cauliflower, boiled egg, lemon aioli and toasted almonds – it was simply delicious. Happy holidays to you too xx

  6. Cath

    Looks lovely but what’s escarole in Italian? Is it the same? I’m not really sure I’ve seen it.

  7. Cath

    Never mind! Just realised that I have seen it!

  8. ah, just the salad for me, i call it muddling when I push the leaves and the dressing around, it helps some of the flavours escape into the food. Delicious. I shall look for some endive or radichio and give this a try, getting escarole out here may be a bit of an ask! lovely. good luck with the half naked knife wielding one, all my children grew up standing on chairs in the kitchen!.. excellent.. c

    • rachel

      I think muddling is the perfect word and I might well adopt it. What is it about chairs and no trousers? This week the knife has been replaced with the coffee pot and L shouting I make cafe and then throwing the pot. It’s all very noisy, but fun. happy holidays to you xx

  9. Awww…writers block is the pitts! But it’s strangely comforting to know even amazing writers like you can get it. Good luck and please finish that book as I’m keen to read it, cook from it and get drips of pasta sauce on it:-)

  10. mimi007

    I make this salad with a few drops of walnut oil when I have it.

  11. Oh, I hear you on the not so much writing part. Working on 2 books now: one with a chef another with ice cream folks here in Brooklyn and there’s a lot of staring and watching my cursor blink. It does, eventually, somehow, comes together. Love the salad, too! Just the thing for our snowy days here.

    • rachel

      Hi Olga, I think you have a job too….I tip my virtual hat to you. I need to hear that it does come together – thank you Rx

  12. Lydia

    Lovely post, thanks for writing it.

  13. Wow – hats off to you. That was the best description of a salad I have ever read. I so want salad now. (And yes, the not-writing is very unsettling. It surprised me, too. Continues to surprise me.)

  14. Tom

    Rachel, I’m sure you know this, but the blank stare when you sit to write results from your inner editor taking over. Banish her and all judgment about what flows from your fingertips. sometimes, just seeing what you didn’t mean to write helps you discover what you did. No worries!

  15. Well, I admire you for doing anything when you have Luca asking if he can knife it for you. The book will come, when it’s ready. Sending you Christmas tidings and all that. xx

  16. You make the act of making this salad sound very enticing. I want to go into my kitchen and make one right now! Your writing is always so vivid and alluring to the senses. I’m sure that anything you decide to write for your book will be equally as wonderful…

  17. Betta

    I wanna drop in and out for recipe tasting too! :D

  18. Non-writing a book, eh? Many congratulations! We can’t wait to read it! And apologies, if we missed the announcement in earlier posts. We’ve had our heads up our _____ lately. Well, that and having a second baby.

    And that salad – do you deliver? It’ll be cornflakes again for us tonight, methinks.

  19. Delightful, Rachel. When I made a similar salad recently with less than stellar pears, I roasted them a bit before adding. Wishing you and Luca a wonderful Christmas season.

  20. I love the little Snoopy in your last photo. This made me smile. x

  21. Eha

    Life CAN be simple, if you only allow it to be so, can’t it!! Love the description of young men sans culottes on kitchen chairs ~ OMG, Celi had four one after the other: my absolute respects :) ! Yes to the salad :) !

  22. Jeannie Marshall

    It’s funny how hard the not-writing goes after more than an inch of wine at lunch. I love the salad. I might have to make it this week.

  23. laura

    Do trust yourself, Rachel, because you DO write so beautifully and so invitingly and so clearly. You WILL “knife” it! :)
    Thank you for all your sacrifices for our sake.
    And thank you for another brilliant post, despite everything else that is going on in your life, including holiday madness.

    • rachel

      I hope ‘I knife’ it too, in fact I am going to write that above my desk. thanks L, you are a star and love and happy christmas to you xx

  24. I noticed Vincenzo’s name pop up in this post. Hmm. Just a visit, or back together? Either way, you seem happy, and this makes me happy. Carry on.

  25. Wow ! That sounds like my kind of salad ! Nice to follow your blog..

  26. I’m so good (bad) at procrastinating. I work better under pressure…and after having a glass of wine or two at lunch. Preferably, after a nap. Too much? :)

    This will be my antipasto on Christmas day. I have been craving blue cheese for a while and I had to put it on the menu – except, I’ll go for Stilton. Such a winning combination.
    P.S: Looking forward to seeing the Pangiallo recipe on your book!

  27. Oh I saw the Big Bambu in New York – and was so disappointed to be wearing sandals and thus not not allowed on. Sorry. Hope you and Luca have been able to scramble over it.

    Never thought to rub the dressing into the leaves…will test the difference next time…

  28. Kate

    I’ve been quietly following your blog while doing my own writing in my Masters thesis (on urban agriculture, not cooking!) and I empathise with the writing pain. I share office space with many other graduate students and having people around to share tips and tricks about writing issues is invaluable to me, even if it’s just finding out that I’m not the only one struggling! I wanted to share this site with you and in particular this post (http://thesiswhisperer.com/2013/09/25/how-to-write-faster/) because it’s a bit like having a chat with other people stuck in the same boat. I hope you find it helpful, just as I and my family find your recipes and food insights helpful!

  29. Good and happy days of writing your book, interruptions and all! You will know doubt look back on these days of pre-bookdom and laugh. Happy Holidays to you and your family. I have so enjoyed your posts in 2013.

  30. Graham Jepson

    “… hands, rubbing, almost massaging the oil, salt and vinegar into the leaves.” – Like!

  31. Pingback: What We’re Reading – Jan 1, 2014 | Chef Deborah Reid

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  33. Love your well-dressed posts and all photos on your blog…that somehow remind me of Caravaggio paintings. :-)

  34. Yup. That sounds just like writing a cookbook. The escarole salad sounds marvelous–we just used some in lentil soup. It’s overlooked here, I think, except by people with broad kitchen minds. I’m with you on the salad-as-lunch business. I always want to say, “Really? Honestly? That’s it?” I love wine at lunch when cycling, or on vacation. But it’s impossible for me to get work done after drinking midday. All I want to do is nap. Ken

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