blood orange, bitter endive
sweet ricotta, pomegranate
purple pink passion bliss
As we approach Valentine’s Day, it has felt like a pleasant bit of serendipity to find myself reading The Orchid Thief. It’s a story about many things: there’s the story of John Laroche who was facing charges of having stolen protected orchids from the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve in southern Florida, while claiming that it was all perfectly legal because he was working for the Seminole Indians to whom they rightly belonged; there’s the story of the orchid industry in south Florida, which is one of the most dysfunctional family stories you may have ever heard; it’s the story about the treatment of Native Americans in Florida; and in many ways, it is the story of Florida. But mostly, it is the story of love and desire, and the lengths people are willing to go to sustain their obsessions. … and isn’t that kind of the point of Valentine’s Day?
People may complain about Valentine’s Day. Flowers and fuss, boxes of chocolates, sonnets and soliloquies … all that romantic nonsense: “That’s not real love,” they say. “That’s not what carries people through the hard times. That’s not what carries them through the long haul.”
Maybe not. But nonetheless, mustering whatever heat and passion it might take to bring yourselves back together after finding yourselves wherever the long haul has taken you sure seems worth an extravagant gesture. How long has it been, after all, since you faced down a dragon for your beloved or dove into the deepest waters in search of the silvery word that would reach the center of their dreams? We all need practice, and Valentine’s Day offers an excellent opportunity to stretch the range of our romantic expressiveness. We should seize every opportunity we get.
And this salad? Well, you might not have to slay dragons or scavenge rare blooms from the garden of an evil witch by moonlight or be willing to kiss a homely toad, but, nonetheless, this salad is a little bit of a test. Are you willing to drive to six different specialty providers on the day after a major snowstorm when the roads have not been particularly well-plowed in search of just the right mix of purple and reddish greens, the sweetest, creamiest ricotta, the one last pomegranate? Do you have the patience to carefully remove the membrane from each segment of blood orange so that no remnant of the bitter pith remains? Will you tenderly nurse the maple syrup and citrus juice over low heat until it reduces into the perfect dressing for the bitter greens? Will you be certain that it never burns?
If so, then enjoy the rewards, because every tantalizing bite of the resulting salad is easy to enjoy. The crisp bitter radicchio is a perfect foil for the sweet creaminess of the ricotta and the crunch of the toasted pine nuts, while the carefully segmented sections of blood oranges and pomegranate seeds add bright flavors and jewel-like accents to a truly, madly, deeply, gorgeous salad. Even the member of our household who asks — every time — what that green stuff is on the table swooned. Yes, I got a swoon. And a request for seconds. Definitely worth the effort.
- The base of the salad is radicchio mixed in with whatever purple or red lettuces you can find. Ottolenghi recommends treviso, which is apparently some kind of endive with reddish veining, and I wish I could have found it, but by the time I made my sixth grocery stop of the day, I was running out of options, so I ended up picking out every reddish leaf from a carton of spring mix: some kind of red-leaf spinach, red chard, and a purple-tinged lettuce. From what I could tell, they worked just fine. I bet violets would be lovely, though. And confetti-like tendrils of purple micro-greens would be magnificent. Something that if we started them next January might be ready by mid-February, perhaps?
- For the dressing, Ottolenghi employs a technique he used with the winter slaw: combining citrus juices and maple syrup with a little salt and then reducing it over low heat until it is thick and syrupy. After you remove it from the burner, you then strain the mixture, allow it to cool, and then finish the syrup with a splash of orange blossom water, which you can find in the middle eastern foods section of many grocery stores. Yes, I’m often suspicious about adding this floral water to recipes, but in this case the fragrant perfume of the water simply underscores the frankly seductive appeal of the whole salad. Use it — you’ll be glad you did.
- As for the ricotta, you’re looking for something sweet and silky, with no graininess or chemical aftertaste. If possible, don’t buy it unless you know you like it, or someone will let you taste it beforehand.
Next week: Swiss chard, chickpea, and tamarind stew (p. 148)