Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dinner in the Sun

We are very fortunate to have a pretty large balcony. The balcony gets a lot of sun and is absolutely gorgeous on a sunny day. In the last party I had, the balcony was so inviting we took our glasses of wine and hung out on it, even though there was no furniture to sit on and we each had to hold onto our glasses while standing and chatting. This week, Boyfriend and I finally got our shit together and bought adult furniture for our sun-soaked patio. The furniture we bought is large, comfortable, chic, and tres adult!

To celebrate and welcome the newest addition to our apartment, we ate dinner in the warm spring sun. I made a light salad of roasted fennel, caramelized pancetta, and field greens. To go along with the salad, I used some leftover french bread to make crostini topped with brie and honey. The dinner was light, flavorful, elegant and tres adult!

However, there's always a but, isn't there? In making the salad, I followed the directions word for word and ended up with steaming, blackened crisps of overburnt pancetta. A costly mistake that was. The recipe instructed me to mix the fennel and pancetta with brown sugar and garlic with a bit of olive oil. Then it instructed me to bake the pancetta and fennel together for 20 minutes. The sugar caramelized then burnt. While it smelled good, it looked and tasted hideous. Luckily, I had a few strips of pancetta that I did not bake and I quickly tossed those into the oven to crisp. The recipe below reflects the changes I will be implementing the next time I make this salad...and I will be making this salad again very soon.

The salad itself had a lot of great flavors working for it. The pancetta that managed not to get burnt was sweet and crisp. The fennel had a sweetness of its own but it also had a cool, anise-y flavor that complemented the saltiness of the pancetta. The crostini, for me, were the star of my meal. The bread was perfectly toasted and golden brown. The brie had melted lightly over the crisp crostini and the drizzle of honey worked so well with creamy subtlety of the brie. This light dinner enjoyed in the sun and on some comfortable furniture was the perfect end to an otherwise mundane hump day.

Caramelized Pancetta and Fennel Salad
Adapted from a recipe by Giada de Laurentis
5 thin slices of pancetta,
1 bulb of fennel
1 5 0z. bag of mixed salad greens, your favorite kind. I like the ones with ruccola and a bit of radicchio for the bitter bite.
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs olive oil
2 tbs brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground pepper
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F, 190 degrees C. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Arrange the racks 2 racks in your oven to the first and second third of the oven.

Wash and trim your fennel and cut it in half lengthwise. Slice each half into 1/4 inch wedges. Place the fennel into a bowl. To the bowl, add the slices of pancetta. Add the garlic, brown sugar, salt, and pepper and toss. Add the tablespoon of olive oil and toss to try and get some of the brown sugar on each piece. On one baking sheet, pick out the pancetta and lay it on the sheet so that there is no overlap. To the second baking sheet, pour the fennel and remainder of the contents of the bowl. Spread it out so that the fennel makes one single layer. Place the sheets in the oven. Bake the pancetta for about 10 minutes, or until the sugar has caramelized and the pancetta is crisp. You're going to want to watch these. Bake the fennel for an additional 10 minutes or until tender.

While the pancetta and fennel are baking, make the dress. Whisk the following ingredients together in a bowl:
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 tbs lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tsp honey
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil

Pour the salad greens into a serving bowl. When the pancetta and fennel are done, let the pancetta and the fennel cool for about 3 to 5 minutes. Take the pancetta and break it up into the salad bowl. Pour the fennel into the salad bowl. Pour about half of the dressing into the salad bowl and give it a good toss. If you need more dressing, add a little bit more. Be careful not to overdress the salad. Taste the salad and adjust the seasoning.

Brie and Honey Crostini
Recipe adapted from Giada de Laurentis
10 slices of French baguette, sliced diagonally about 1/4 inch thick
10 slices of brie cheese, about 1/8 of an inch if possible.
olive oil
Keep the oven heated at 375, 190. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Place each slice of bread in a single layer on the baking sheet and drizzle each with a healthy drizzle of olive oil. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the crostini are light golden brown. When done, take the bread out and place 1 slice of cheese on each slice of bread. It should get soft and melty but if it doesn't, or doesn't get melty fast enough, you can put the baking sheet back into the oven for 2 minutes. Take the crostini out of the oven and drizzle each with a little bit of honey.

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