Marisa’s Mystical Meatballs

February 9, 2018

These meatballs are really mystical if you consider the sway they hold on my husband, his brother, and his father.  They go wild for these meatballs.

Well, wild in that very restrained Northern Italian way.

If they were Southern Italian, where a dinner conversation can seem like a minor riot, their meatball response would barely register on the scale.  It would signal almost utter disregard for the meatballs.

But that, in fact, is not the case.  The meatballs hold some sort of magical, mystical charm.

Marisa, of course, is my mother-in-law and these are her meatballs.  She considers them quite unusual, having learned to make them from her mother and basically not remembering any other relatives or friends making something similar.

And, as meatballs, they ARE unusual!

An old-fashioned ricer is still an indispensable piece of kitchen equipment. Make sure yours is very sturdy. Many new ones are not.

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But here’s a secret that I haven’t told anyone yet.  They really AREN’T meatballs.  They’re croquettes!  Crocchette in Italian.

There, I said it.  Marisa’s Mystical Meatballs aren’t really meatballs.  But everybody in the family calls them “Ma’s Meatballs.”  “Ma’s Croquettes” doesn’t have the same alliterative allure, even if it’s more accurate.

My mother-in-law and father-in-law celebrating his birthday.

When I did a Google search for crocchette, Google turned up about 1,730,000 results in 0.51 seconds.  When I searched for crocchette patate e carne (potato and meat croquettes), Google returned 1,500,000 results in 0.72 seconds.

And that was doing searches in Italian!

I found a Japanese woman who seems to have the same relationship to her mother’s meat and potato croquettes (korokke) as my husband and his family have to his mother’s.


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The meat for these “meatballs” (a word I’ll use in deference to my husband and his family of origin) is boiled before being finely chopped.  This presents a perfect opportunity to make a really nice beef broth.  You don’t have to do that, of course, but since you’re going to be boiling the meat anyhow, and since it only takes a few extra minutes to throw some aromatics into the pot, why not!

The broth from the meat for the specific batch of meatballs shown in this blog is sitting in the freezer ready to be turned into Auntie Helen’s Stracciatella, which will be coming up on the blog next month.


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look.  They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


 

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Marisa's Mystical Meatballs
Marisa says she usually uses cross-cut beef shank for the meatballs. When we made them, she also a piece of beef she bought for soup so we used both. In the end, we got ½ pound of cooked beef, with fat and gristle removed. Adjust the proportion of the other ingredients if you get substantially more or less cooked beef. If you want to use just cross-cut beef shank, I would try about 2 ½-3 lbs. The beef is boiled and then finely chopped to make the meatballs, giving you the opportunity to make a really nice beef broth with just a few minutes more work.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Servings
meatballs
Ingredients
Beef and Broth
Meatballs
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Servings
meatballs
Ingredients
Beef and Broth
Meatballs
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Instructions
Beef and Broth
  1. Cross-cut beef shank.
  2. Put the meat and all other broth ingredients in a large stock pot.
  3. Cover with abundant cold water.
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 4-6 hours, until the meat is very tender.
  5. Remove and cool the beef.
  6. Strain the broth and reserve for another use.
Meatballs
  1. Remove fat, gristle and bone from beef. You should have approximately ½ pound of cooked beef.
  2. Cook the unpeeled potatoes in boiling water until you can easily pierce them with the tines of a long fork or paring knife, 20-25 minutes.
  3. Remove the potatoes from the water and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, mince the garlic or grate it on a microplane grater.
  5. Combine beef, parsley and garlic in a food processor. Process until finely chopped.
  6. Peel the slightly cooled potatoes. If they are too cool it will be difficult to rice them.
  7. Pass the potatoes through a ricer.
  8. Combine the beef mixture with the potatoes, nutmeg, allspice, salt and black pepper.
  9. Mix well with a large spoon or your hands.
  10. Add the lightly beaten eggs.
  11. Mix well using your hands.
  12. Form the mixture into 16 balls and then flatten them slightly.
  13. Lightly roll the meatballs in fine dry breadcrumbs.
  14. Pour ⅛ inch of oil into a large sauté pan.
  15. Heat the oil on medium-high heat.
  16. Fry the meatballs in two batches, on medium-high, flipping once, until brown.
  17. Drain on paper towels.
  18. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2018 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Italian Wedding Soup

February 5, 2018

Growing up I never really understood why this was called Wedding Soup.  It was NEVER served at weddings.

It was mostly served at home, unceremoniously.

The fact that it was unceremonious is a shame.  It is a wonderful soup and, being honest, takes a bit of work to pull together.  Both the soup, and the soup-maker, in my estimation, deserve a bit of attention.

Although it takes some work, it doesn’t require much in the way of heard-earned skills like frosting a cake or making pie crust.  It’s just a bit of slogging through a series of steps.

This is a beloved soup among Americans of Italian descent.  Interestingly, my in-laws who are actually from Italy had never heard of it until I made it for this blog!


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But back to the “wedding” part.  I did a bit of internet research (thanks Google!).  Actually, I hesitate to call it “research.”  I’m old school.  I remember when doing research meant hours upon hours spent in libraries looking at actual hardcopy materials.  It almost doesn’t seem fair to sit on my sofa with my laptop and read materials served up by Google based on natural language questions and call it research.

The “natural language” part is interesting too.  In the “old” days, if you found an article that was relevant to the research topic, you would look at the articles referenced by the author and find, potentially, other relevant articles.  But they would all be older than the first article.  This is where the “Science Citation Index” came into play.

The Index was a series of periodically published volumes that listed all the articles that cited a particular article in their bibliography.  With the Science Citation Index, you could start with a relevant article and then work forwards finding all the newer articles that had cited that article.

Now I just tell Google what I’m interested in and I get a bunch of (almost always) relevant “hits!”  Google is even nice enough to tell me how many hits there are and what fraction of a second it took Google to identify them.

Even when I’m researching a biomedical topic I sit on my sofa with my laptop and search the National Library of Medicine.  The search language is a bit more arcane than the natural language used by Google but it still feels like cheating compared to slogging around a library.  I can even have the full article delivered to my laptop so I don’t have to figure out what library has the publication I need.


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So, what did I learn from my Google search?

It appears (at least it’s a plausible theory) that Wedding Soup is an inaccurate translation of Minestra Maritata or Married Soup; apparently so-named because of the way the different ingredients marry together so well.

I’m guessing that many Americans with no affiliation to Italy have never had escarole.

Interestingly, my husband’s Tuscan grandmother would use up small amounts of different types of dried pasta, perhaps putting them into a soup or serving them with a simple sauce.  She referred to this as Pasta Maritata because she was marrying the different types of pasta to create a dish.

If this theory is correct, I am perplexed by the inaccurate translation but, be that as it may, the soup is wonderful.  I urge you to give it a try.

I like breaking up the work over two days, especially since I like to make a long-simmered broth as the base of the soup.  My mother didn’t do this.  Once the chicken was cooked, it was removed and shredded and the broth was used without additional simmering to make the soup.  It shaves about 3 hours off of the prep time.  But, since making broth is mostly hands off, and the improvement in flavor is dramatic, I simmer everything a bit longer before straining and discarding the solids.


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look.  They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


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Italian Wedding Soup
If you don’t want to use the white center of the escarole, start with two heads and just use the dark green parts. The pale inner portion can be served in a salad or cooked in a number of ways. I like to divide up the work over two days, making the broth on the first day and the remainder on the second day. It’s perfectly feasible to do it all on the same day, however. I always keep a stash of rinds from Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino cheeses in the freezer. They add great flavor to broths, beans, and an array of other dishes.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 5 hours
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Broth and Chicken
Meatballs
Final assembly
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 5 hours
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Broth and Chicken
Meatballs
Final assembly
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Instructions
Broth and Chicken
  1. Cut the chicken into breast halves, legs, thighs, and wings. Cut the back into 2 or three pieces. Reserve the liver for another use but chop the remaining giblets.
  2. Slice the onions. There's really no need to peel them first.
  3. Same with the garlic, no need to peel. It all gets strained out in the end.
  4. Combine all ingredients in a large stock pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered for two hours.
  5. After two hours, remove the breasts, legs, and thighs. Continue to simmer the broth.
  6. Remove the meat from the bones. Return the chicken bones and skin to the broth.
  7. Continue to simmer the broth for another two hours, adjusting seasoning as needed.
  8. Meanwhile, shred the breast meat and refrigerate.
  9. Reserve the leg and thigh meat for another use.
  10. After the broth has finished cooking, cool it for several hours. Strain and discard the solids. Allow the broth to come to room temperature and refrigerate.
  11. Alternatively, immediately strain and discard the solids and proceed as below.
Meatballs
  1. Put all the ingredients except the bread into a mixing bowl.
  2. Cut the crusts from the bread.
  3. Cover the bread with warm water for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Squeeze some of the water from the bread.
  5. Add the bread to the mixing bowl.
  6. Mix with your hands, until thoroughly combined and no streaks of white from the bread remain visible.
  7. As you are mixing add a bit of the bread soaking water from time to time (about a quarter cup or so total) to keep the mixture moist but not wet.
  8. The mixture should become tacky from the effects of the water and the mixing on the proteins in the meat. The tackiness will help the meatballs hold together for the same reason that sausage doesn’t fall apart when the casing is removed.
  9. With damp hands, roll the mixture into approximately 50 meatballs. Keeping your hands moist will enable you to create a smooth surface on the meatballs. If there are visible cracks, the meatballs will split when cooking.
Final assembly
  1. Skim the fat from the broth. Add water to make 6 quarts of broth. Bring the broth to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, coarsely chop the escarole.
  3. As the broth comes to a boil, adjust the salt and pepper.
  4. Add the chopped escarole. Return to a boil and cook at a moderate boil for approximately 5 minutes.
  5. Add the meatballs. Return to a boil and boil gently, so the meatballs don’t break, for 10-12 minutes.
  6. Add the shredded white meat chicken and return to a gentle boil.
  7. Adjust salt and pepper. At this point, slightly over-salt the soup as the dry pasta will reduce the saltiness of the soup. The soup can be made ahead to this point. Return to a boil and add the pasta just before serving.
  8. Add the pasta and boil gently until pasta is cooked, approximately 10 minutes.
  9. Adjust salt and pepper.
  10. Serve with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2018 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Angie’s Pickled Hot Peppers

September 13, 2017

With one set of grandparents and many relatives hailing from Southern Italy, hot peppers and foods containing hot peppers were staple features of the cuisine I grew up eating.

Hot sausage, with fennel seed, was frequently on our table and, since it was often homemade by Uncle Joe Medile, it could be as hot as we wanted. When it wasn’t Uncle Joe’s sausage, it would typically have been from Lopresti’s Market in Geistown, a suburb of Johnstown, PA.

Spicy foods more often showed up at lunch, though. There was spicy salumi, including Calabrese salami, capocollo (of which there are several types but in our house it was always the spicy one), and sopressata, among others.

There were hot banana peppers fried until tender, usually with onions. The fried peppers could be a condiment or they could be used as the filling for a sandwich. Fried hot pepper sandwiches are still one of my favorite lunchtime treats!

There were various pickled, spicy vegetables like giardineria and pickled peppers of various types. These were usually store-bought except for my cousin Angie’s pickled hot peppers.

Angie is the daughter of my mother’s oldest sister. Angie, however, was born six months before my mother. It’s kind of interesting to think about the fact that my grandmother was pregnant with my mother at the same time that my grandmother’s daughter was pregnant with Angie.

Despite their inverted ages, Angie always called my mother Aunt Theresa.

Angie’s mom, my Aunt Rosie, died at a young age. I never knew her. Aunt Rosie’s husband, Uncle Dominic lived with their other daughter, Marie.

Uncle Dominic grew vegetables, including hot peppers, in the back yard. He’s the one who taught me about fried hot pepper sandwiches for which I am eternally grateful!

Usually I would make Angie’s Pickled Hot Peppers with Italian Banana Peppers but fresh New Mexico Green Chile is far more abundant in Santa Fe than Banana Peppers and the substitution works just fine. Years past, when we lived in Chicago and grew lots of peppers, I would even make these with jalapeno peppers.

These peppers are a breeze to make, just some slicing and dicing and pulling together a quick pickle. No actual canning or processing is required. They will keep for months and months in the refrigerator.

The recipe calls for a peck of peppers. A peck is an interesting measure. It is eight dry quarts. A dry quart, however, is not the same as a liquid quart (unless you use the British Imperial system in which case a dry quart and a liquid quart are the same volume but not the same volume as any quart used in America).

Confused? Oh how I wish we used the metric system!!!

A dry quart is slightly larger than a liquid quart. Eight dry quarts equals 9 1/3 liquid quarts. If you go to a farmers market, chances are you’ve seen produce displayed in baskets that are one peck in size. Not to worry, though. First off, the measurements aren’t that critical for this recipe, so plus or minus a quart (dry or liquid) isn’t a big deal. Second, if you have any type of large container, pot, or bucket marked in liquid measure, just fill it up a little beyond the 9 (liquid) quart mark and you’ll be good to go.

If you’re buying peppers in the supermarket and don’t want to carry a bucket to measure a peck, I suggest buying approximately four pounds of banana peppers. I found that amount of New Mexico Green Chile came very close to a peck when I measured it out.


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Angie's Pickled Hot Peppers
Though usually made with hot Italian Banana Peppers, I made this batch with hot New Mexico Green Chile which is far easier to source in Santa Fe than are large quantities of Banana Peppers. Four pounds of peppers should come pretty close to a peck. A peck is 8 dry quarts which is the equivalent of 9 1/3 liquid quarts. If there isn’t enough pickling liquid to fully submerge the peppers, make a little extra following the proportions in the recipe. These peppers will keep well in the refrigerator for many months. Try to let them mellow at least a couple of days before eating them…if you can!
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Prep Time 75 minutes
Passive Time 8 hours
Servings
quarts
Ingredients
Prep Time 75 minutes
Passive Time 8 hours
Servings
quarts
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Wash and dry the peppers.
  2. Cut off the stem ends.
  3. Cut the peppers crosswise into rings a little more than 1/8 inch thick.
  4. Cut the celery into ¼ inch dice.
  5. In a non-reactive container large enough to hold all the ingredients, combine the vinegar, water, oil, garlic, salt, and oregano. Mix well.
  6. Add the sliced peppers and diced celery.
  7. Mix thoroughly. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight.
  8. Using a slotted spoon, ladle the peppers and celery into clean jars.
  9. Once the jars are filled, ladle the pickling liquid into the jars. Mix the liquid well with each ladleful so that you get the right proportions of vinegar/water and oil.
  10. If there is not quite enough liquid to cover the peppers make a small amount more using the same proportions.
  11. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Turkey Noodle Soup

May 24, 2017

Soup!

If my mother said she was making “soup” without any qualifiers, it meant her beef noodle soup.

She would cook a good-sized piece of beef in her soup pot along with large pieces of carrot, celery and potato till the meat was falling apart.

She would cook thin egg noodles separately.

To serve the soup, everyone would get a bowl of broth with pieces of carrot, celery and potato.  The large piece of beef would be in its own serving bowl and the noodles in another.

At the table, everyone added beef (shredding it with a serving fork) and noodles to their bowl of broth for the ultimate customization.

I haven’t had soup this way since my mother died.  I actually don’t ever remember being served soup in the same manner by anyone else, anywhere, ever.  If you’ve ever heard of, or had, soup being served this way, I’d really like to hear about it.

The other soup my mother made frequently was what is sometimes called “Italian Wedding Soup.”  It is a rich chicken broth with pieces of chicken, small meatballs, carrots, celery, pasta (typically, acini de pepe), and escarole.

Occasionally my mother would make Slovak Mushroom Soup, with dried mushrooms and potatoes, or Potato Soup with potatoes, milk and onions.  More often, however, we’d get these when visiting my grandparents.  Early on, my grandmother would make soup, but when she got older, Aunt Ann or Aunt Mary would make it and bring it to my grandparents’ house.

On a Sunday, when my father, his six brothers, and all of their spouses and children would visit my grandparents, a lot of soup could be consumed.  Mind you, there was no guarantee that there would be soup, but if there was, it needed to be an industrial quantity.

In the winter, my grandmother would keep the soup in a big pot in the root cellar in the basement.  It was the same root cellar where she would make sour cabbage but that was before I was born.  I know because my father and all of my uncles never tired of talking about my grandmother’s sour cabbage soup, or kissel.  They bemoaned the fact that nobody made it any longer.  I don’t have her recipe and while I can find recipes for soups that sound similar, none of them sounds exactly like the soup my father described.

Today’s soup, however, is not one that I grew up eating.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, my mother thought the carcass of a roasted turkey wasn’t intended to be reused.  I first had turkey noodle soup, made with roasted turkey leftovers, when I was in college.  The soup was made by Mary Lou d’Aquili, the wife of my college advisor and, many years later, the person with whom I went into psychiatric practice, Eugene d’Aquili.

Ever since then, I’ve turned the bones of most roasts into broth.

We have an array of fresh herbs year round thanks to the greenhouse.  I have totally given up dried bay leaves in favor of fresh ones.  They’re really easy to grow and the taste is incredible.  California bay leaves are stronger than Mediterranean bay leaves so if the balance of flavors in a dish is critical, and you’re using the former, opt for about half the amount called for in the recipe.  For most dishes, it’s not a critical distinction, however, and you can just substitute California for Mediterranean bay leaves.

Here’s a picture of our Bay Laurel plant, pruned down and ready to start its seasonal growth spurt.  In the fall I’ll harvest the leaves to make an Italian Bay Laurel Liqueur, Liquore al Lauro or Liquore Alloro.

The following recipe for Turkey Noodle Soup starts with the Roasted Turkey Broth I posted a few weeks ago.

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Turkey Noodle Soup
Save the bones, skin and shreds of meat from a roast turkey to make broth for soup. You can freeze the bones and make the broth later. You can also make the broth and freeze for future use. What you don’t want to do is to freeze the turkey noodle soup. I prefer not to freeze the soup, as the vegetables become too soft. If you must, however, freeze it before adding the noodles and peas. I keep a container of Parmesan cheese rinds in the freezer so that I always have them available to add to soup or other dishes to amplify the savoriness.
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Bring the broth to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, slice the carrots.
  3. Slice the celery.
  4. Dice the onions.
  5. Mince the garlic.
  6. Dig a Parmesan cheese rind out of your freezer.
  7. To the broth, add sliced celery, carrots, onions, minced garlic, bay leaf, marjoram, cheese rind, and salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Return to a low boil and cook, partially covered for 30 minutes.
  9. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  10. Add cooked turkey and tomato paste. Cook at a low boil for another 15 minutes.
  11. Taste and adjust seasoning to your preference then add an additional ½ teaspoon of salt. (Remember, you’re about to add unseasoned peas and noodles.)
  12. Add the noodles. Bring to a boil.
  13. Add the peas. Boil gently till noodles are done.
  14. When noodles are cooked, taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in chopped parsley.
  15. Serve immediately.
  16. Pass grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese at the table.
Recipe Notes

Here is the recipe for Roasted Turkey Broth.  You should have 3 quarts of broth.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Pear, Celery and Arugula Salad with Lemon Dressing

December 26, 2016

I grew up in a family that put salad on the table at the same time as the rest of the meal.  I married into a family that does the same.  However, in the years between leaving home to go to college and getting married I most definitely converted to serving salad after the main part of the meal was over.  Notice, I didn’t say main course because the other change I made was thinking of the meal as comprising an antipasto (even if it is just a nibble of cheese and a cracker for a family meal) followed by, what Italians would call, the first course (il primo piatto) followed by a second course (il secondo piatto).

In an Italian meal, the first course is usually pasta, or soup, or risotto.  The second course  usually consists of meat or fish with several side dishes (contorni).  After that comes the salad.  Granted, there are exceptions to this sequence, even in Italy.  One of the most classic exceptions is serving Risotto alla Milanese with a breaded and fried veal chop.  OK, so these days, I try not to eat baby animals, so veal is pretty much off the menu at our house, but the point is Risotto alla Milanese is typically served with the meat, not before the meat.

The general rule that the sequence is antipasto, then first course, then second course, then salad was made abundantly clear when my Italian tutor had dinner at our house a few years ago.  For some reason, even though my in-laws grew up in Italy, we served spaghetti and meatballs (very good spaghetti and meatballs, mind you!).  Where it got interesting, however, is that we all ate the spaghetti and meatballs at the same time (for full disclosure, I didn’t touch my salad until afterwards).  My tutor, hailing from Italy however, ate her pasta first.  Only then did she put a meatball or two on her plate for her second course.  Only after that did she touch her salad!

When I am serving dinner for company, the salad always comes after the second course.  I’d rather not serve salad than serve it with the rest of the meal.  Salads, by design, have sharp dressings meant to cleanse the palate.  You can’t go back and forth between a subtly seasoned dish (whether it be pasta or fish or meat) and salad and do justice to the subtlety of the first.  The vinegar and/or lemon juice and/or mustard (and/or whatever else you put in your salad dressing) doesn’t allow that.  Forget what it does to the wine that you’ve paired with the dish!  If it’s just family, however, in the interest of domestic harmony, the salad goes on the table at the beginning.  I still don’t eat mine till the end but I can’t say the same for others.

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Pear, Celery and Arugula Salad with Lemon Dressing
Pears add a welcome freshness to this salad that is a perfect antidote to winter when so little really good fresh produce is available. This may be a lot of pear for some but the sweet juicy taste is a great contrast to the crunch of the celery and the peppery bite of the arugula.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Servings
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Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Squeeze about half a fresh lemon to make 2 ½ tablespoons of juice. Allow the juice to sit, uncovered, at room temperature for about an hour before using it to dress the salad. The flavor of the juice will improve.
  2. Remove the top of the celery stalks, the part where the center stalk gets much thinner and smaller stalks come off the sides. Reserve these pieces for another use. Cut the remaining celery stalks on a long diagonal to create thin long pieces.
  3. Using a sharp knife or cheese paring knife, cut about 18 curls of Pecorino Romano cheese.
  4. Peel the pears and cut into quarters lengthwise. Core the pears. Slice into thin wedges.
  5. Combine the lemon juice and olive oil. Shake well to combine.
  6. Toss the arugula and celery with about 2/3 of the lemon-olive oil dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste and toss again.
  7. Divide the arugula and celery onto six plates.
  8. Toss the pears in the remaining lemon-olive oil dressing. Arrange the pear slices and Pecorino Romano cheese on top of the arugula. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2016 by VillaSentieri.com.  All rights reserved.

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