Eating out is all well and good, but even better is trying out dishes tasted and enjoyed in restaurants. Not only is it a chance to change things to ones preference; but it also gets the brain and taste buds working. So inspired by a recent trip to Milan, and after a whole week of eating pizza and pasta, I decided to make a salad I tried and was pleasantly surprised by in a wonderful little restaurant near Milano Corso Genova. I find that when on holiday; one gets a little bit adventurous and daring; especially when ordering from a menu written in a foreign language. I find a good way of trying something new, and something you would never make at home is to abide by a rather childish method of making a decision – ip dip do. Yep, this is a great way of “living on the edge”... that is if the decision is stuck by. Granted, it can be problematic for unadventurous types, but in most cases I have found myself being rather impressed. So, as our lovely Italian waitress was trying her hardest to explain what every single dish on the menu was in broken English, and as my cousins were trying their best to remember what she was saying, I had my heart dead set on the “pink fish and citrus salad.” I couldn’t wait. I had been so disappointed with previous meals for not living up to Italian expectations. Bland Bolognese and sloppy pizzas: I’d had enough! The restaurant was packed and the service was slow, so I picked on the soft, warm bread and sipped on my sparkling wine, careful not to fill myself up or damage my taste buds with the alcohol before my gastronomic experience. A whole day of shopping, walking and poor eating had left a gapping big hole in my stomach and I knew after my four course meal, my little black dress would not look as good as it did when I first walked into the restaurant. This better be worth it...
And it was! When the dish was placed in front of me, I knew instantly from the aniseedy, salmon fresh smell that I was in for a treat. I’m not normally a salad kinda girl, but when good ingredients are used and the salad is more about the celebration of good favours rather than a slimming way to fill one’s self up, I approve. So this wonderful piece of art; at 6 o’clock sat 4 small, but perfectly sized chunks of cured salmon, rolled in dill. At 12 o’clock, a salad of wild leaves with thin slices of fennel, dotted with dark black, firm and plump olives. On top, sat skinned, juicy orange segments, so flavoursome, a dressing of only olive oil was needed to dress the salad along with the juices from the orange. I took my time and enjoyed every mouthful, knowing too well, that this dish could never be recreated back in England the same way. It had a distinctive Italian taste to it, be it the fruity olive oil or even the crisp wild leaves. But it didn’t stop me.
I had the taste in my mouth, and a few days after getting back, I decided to make it as best I could. Late night shopping in Sainsburys is always disappointing, as stocks are low and the most ugliest vegetables tends to be left lonely in the crates. Even worse, there was no salmon, only trout. If it wasn’t for Shakespeare and Shopping (a week of evening shopping combined with immersive theatre in Sainsburys New Cross ), I would have left very angry, cooked very angry and eaten very angry. And if one thing should be remembered it’s - “Food eaten in anger turns to poison in the stomach”- we don’t want this. So I had to work with what I had. Surely a good cook works with what they’ve got and makes it taste good. Maybe this salad will have a distinctive “London” taste to it? So I set to work; Prepped my salad; sliced fennel very thinly and placed over leaves, sliced the trout and layered on top; skinned orange segments (very messy, and rather fruitless due to the poor quality of oranges, but I used as much juice as possible to dress the salad); I added a few olives over the top and sprinkled with dill. To finish off, instead to olive oil, I used Balsamic vinegar with a hint of orange. Done. It did smell and look good, but the proof was in the tasting. And no word of a lie, i was impressed with myself. It didn’t have the distinctive Italian taste like the salad in the restaurant, but it did have something. Something uniquely special. Maybe it was holiday nostalgia. Maybe it was the perfect balance of sweet and sour from the orange, smooth from the trout, the bite from the olives, the fresh crunch from the fennel and the aftertaste of the balsamic. It all worked in harmony, just like the salad in Milan, but this time distinctively different to anything I had ever tasted. I would defiantly make it again. I think it’s a beautifully summery dish.
Next time, I may substitute the orange for a blood orange, maybe even try some grated and dried beetroot, and leave the dill out, as the fennel adds enough flavour. I will also get better ingredients, maybe even go further afield then Sainsburys, just because a salad this good deserves equally good ingredients. Happy Eatings : )