Saturday, October 2, 2010

Watercress and Roasted Tomatoes--The Elegant Salad

A friend of mine, who works in the music industry, often says that he has two big regrets in life--one, that he will never record The White Album and two, (he is a baldish type) that he will never have hair like Robert Plant. My biggest regret is that I will never write a romantic bestseller like Sense and Sensibility, and that I will never cater a dinner for John Kennedy Jr, in his Tribeca apartment, like a host of Zen Can Cook was lucky to do.

It is entirely understandable that he was granted such an opportunity, as his dishes, and especially the way they are presented, are culinary art. That is exactly what I was expecting to be treated to when I went to a three Michelin star restaurant and what I dream and try to achieve, cooking at home for my friends and guests.

The idea of this simple salad has been in my heart for almost two decades, ever since I read about it when I was living in London. All I remember is that it was created by one of the top Australian chefs for his Sydney restaurant. I am not even sure if I can remember correctly all the ingredients, but I did my best to make sure that my version remains in the same healthy yet elegant style.

All the ingredients are very simple and well known, and the presentation is key. It would be one of the dishes that I would put under a title "How to impress....", let's say, someone you meet for the first time. I made it a few times for my guests, since I often feel as hosting a culinary blog obliges me to do more than just tasty food, and also because I simply enjoy eating and creating attractive compositions on my plate.

What is nice about this salad is that everything can be prepared in advance (tomatoes and asparagus even a day earlier) and just assembled and served at the last moment.

Watercress and Roasted Tomatoes Salad
(for 6 people)

1 bunch of watercress,
6 medium or 12 smaller (cocktail, but not cherry) tomatoes,
1 bunch of asparagus,
6 slices of Pancetta,
1/4 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese,
balsamic vinegar,
extra virgin olive oil,
salt and freshly ground pepper.

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Remove skin from the tomatoes. In order to do that, put the tomatoes first in the boiling water for about 20-30 seconds and right after that put them in the cold water. Take them out and remove the skin.
3. Place the tomatoes on a baking pan, salt them, and drizzle with oil.
4. Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending how big the tomatoes are, or until soft, and cool them down.
5. Cut 1/3 off asparagus stalks and blanch in the hot water for about 3 minutes, or cook on a frying pan in a little bit of oil and water for about 5 minutes, until they become softer, but still firm (al dente, if you will).
6. Cut the pancetta into smaller pieces and fry on a dry pan until gold and crispy.
7. Arrange the watercress, asparagus, and tomatoes on a plate. Sprinkle with a coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

As I served this salad to my friends, I was wondering "Would John Jr. be smitten?"