This recipe was heavily inspired by a trip we took to Tuscany in June last year. We’re planning some special posts to celebrate 100 posts on the blog (only 4 more to go!) which will expand more on this and some of our other top foodie moments so keep an eye out for that! We had the most brilliant moment eating ricotta, a creamy gorgonzola, the most heavenly vine tomatoes, and two types of focaccia under the arches of the Uffizi gallery in Florence during a spectacular storm. Cuddled up together, in our anoraks (nerdy love), attracting all manner of jealous stares from everyone else who was trapped by the rain but hadn’t thought to bring lunch… the memory never fails to make us smile. We took a couple of elements of this perfect picnic, a bit of inspiration from a classic Tuscan dessert and added in our current obsession of chargrilled aubergine and a beautiful salad sprang into creation.
- Vine tomatoes, halved
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 aubergine, sliced into 0.5cm thick slices
- 1 sweet, pointed red pepper
- (Prosciutto – optional)
- Mixed salad leaves – we chose lettuce and peppery leaves like watercress to add some bite
- Balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Salt & pepper
Coat the tomatoes in 1tbsp of the olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper and then place in a dish and put into a preheated oven at 140°C – the idea is to cook these slowly, dry them out to concentrate the flavours. The tomatoes we had in Italy were the best either of us have ever tasted and we knew that we wouldn’t get anything that delicious here so by semi-drying them we’ve managed to get a little closer. These should take around 1 hour altogether.
Once they’re in the oven it’s time to prepare the pepper. You know those whole roasted red peppers that you get in a jar? Well this is one of them, but done fresh so it doesn’t have any of that vinegar-y taste. You can start off just holding it over a flame but we ended up rigging up a little system with two skewers going through the length of the pepper so that we could get every bit charred. The whole thing needs to be pretty blackened, it looks scary but will taste like heaven! Simply hold over an open flame, rotating every now and then to char the whole pepper – this should take about 10-15 minutes. Once it’s done pop in a freezer/sandwich bag, seal and just leave it to cool, once it has the skin will just rub off leaving you with sweet, soft flesh.
For the aubergine salt the slices – sprinkle table salt on and stand upright for around twenty minutes then dab with kitchen paper. Mix 1 tbsp of olive oil with salt and pepper in the bowl/ramekin and then brush the slices with this before laying them on a hot griddle pan. They should only take 1 minute on each side as they are quite thin, you’ll have to do this in batches but the salad is supposed to be warm, not hot so just pop the ones you’ve done on a plate.
Now it’s assembly time – scatter some leaves on a plate, add the tomatoes, slice up the red pepper and add this. Blob some ricotta on and then drizzle each blob with a little honey and crack some black pepper on – this is a classic Tuscan dessert which we tried while dangling over the Arno, using it in a savoury dish is a little unconventional but it really works.
Place on the aubergine and the prosciutto if using, we used about 3 slices between us. For the dressing just mix equal quantities of good quality balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil with salt and pepper and drizzle this on.
We’re submitting this recipe for Fromage Homage’s Cheese, Please! Challenge, this salad will forever remind us of one of the most amazing, joyful moments we’ve had and it’s been great playing around with the flavours and putting our own spin on it.