As the autumn peaks, and the wind and rain bring the yellow leaves down to the ground, we tend to eat more soups, casseroles, meats, to keep our bones warm. But sometimes you need something to lift up your senses and refresh your palate. A bit like a brisk winter walk in the countryside, with the cold air in your lungs, an autumn salad will make you feel refreshed, and with a spring in your step (pardon the pun)
With summer abundance now forgotten, and all those tomatoes out of flavours, it’s time to pick autumn’s wonderful veggies, such as mushrooms, fennel or puntarelle (the inside bits of a Catalan chicory) as well as fruit such as pears and the first oranges. Pears, we all know, go wonderfully with cheeses, such as pecorino and the new honey that the summer has produced. Mushrooms, such as the Tuscan porcini, are wonderful eaten raw, especially dressed with new olive oil. Fennel and oranges are one of the greatest sweet and savoury combinations that is so important to Italian cuisine. Puntarelle salad, a roman dish that is slowly taking over the rest of Italy, has a bitter taste, which combined with it’s umami rich dressing, awakes the palate.
Raw Porcini Mushroom salad (for 4 people as a starter)
500 gr porcini mushrooms
a few leaves lambs lettuce
juice of 1/2 a lemon
Orange, Fennel and anchovy salad (for 4 as a contorno)
2 large oranges
A large bulb of fennel, with a few fronds still on it
8 quality anchovy fillets.
Puntarelle (for 4 people as a starter or contorno)
300 g puntarelle (Catalan chicory)
5 anchovy fillets
2 small garlic cloves
Which EVOO to use?
Mushrooms: Franci Olivastra Seggianese
From the slopes of Mt. Amiata between 400-700m above sea level, this fresh and delicate oil has a fine fragrance of rose, cut grass and raw vegetables. Light spice at the finish makes it a good pair for raw mushrooms.
Orange and Fennel: Cutrera, DOP Monti Iblei
Monocultivar Tonda Iblea and featuring a fabulous scent of tomato leaf and freshly mown grass plus a touch of artichoke and rosemary mid palate, this is a fantastic benchmark Sicilian EVOO great for this Sicilian style salad.
Puntarelle: Viola, Inprivio
Inprivio (meaning thumb print) is a Monocultivar Frantoio. It features complex aromas of artichoke, basil, mint and almond. It works beautifully with the bitterness of the chicory, the salt of the anchovy and the sour lemon bringing the salad to new heights.
1. Porcini salad: Clean the mushroom very well, with a light brush (there are specific tools you can buy for that), and a damp cloth if needed, making sure there is no earth on them (never put them under running water). Cut off the bottom of the stem and discard. Slice the rest of the mushroom about 3mm wide. Plate it and put some lambs leaf lettuce (or other light salady greens you might find) on the plate. Mix the malden salt with some olive oil and lemon, making sure not to break the salt down to much, and sprinkle on the plate. Shave some parmiggiano over the mushrooms, squeeze more lemon and drizzle more olive oil on top.
2. Orange and Fennel salad: Peel the orange, taking off as much pith as you can, and slice the orange, plating it across a serving dish. Discard the outside of the fennel, then wash the rest of bulb well and cut in very fine slices, using a mandolin, and spread on top of the orange slices. Take the best anchovy fillets you can get your hands on (we use Frantoi Cutrera’s who apart from making wonderful olive oil, produce exceptionally high quality Sicilian anchovies) and place over the fennel in an even manner. Sprinkle salt and a very generous amount of oil.
3. If you can find puntarelle already cut (as you can in vegetable markets in Rome) that is ideal, and all you have to do is dress it. Otherwise take a whole Catalan chicory, discard all external leaves (which you can cook and put on a bruschetta if wish to be resourceful), take the internal white hearts, cut them in half (or in thirds depending on size of each one), and place in a bowl with the juice of half a lemon (to prevent discoloration), while preparing the dressing. In a pestle and mortar, crush the garlic with some salt. Add the anchovies cut in small pieces and make a paste. Add the juice of the remaining lemon and a generous helping of oil. Mix well, then pour over the drained puntarelle. Taste the dish to decide if you need more lemon, salt or oil.