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07/05/2012

~ Blueberry-Kiwi-Watermelon Salad on Baby Greens w/White Balsamic Vinaigrette (My heatwave salad!) ~

PICT0006The heatwave on the East Coast is well over a week old now and the 90-100 degree temperatures show no immediate signs of dropping.  My three poodles and I are lucky.  Our AC is functioning (as best it can) and our power has remained on, so, we've been holed up in a comfortable house watching movies and playing indoor "puppy games".... throwing and fetching tennis balls and toys down long hallways, and, barking at birds, butterflies, rabbits and squirrels through glass windows.  Joe's been picking up groceries for me on his way home from the office. While I welcome complete hibernation for a few frigid weeks during December thru February, I sort of resent captivity at this time of year, when the world outside is so lush, green and pretty!

It is so sunny and hot outside today, I've decided I don't even want to turn the coffee pot on.  I have some really nice, fresh, Summer fruit leftover from our 4th of July celebration and I'm going to use it to make one of my favorite "it's too hot to cook" salads.  Joe's coming home with some chicken breasts this evening, which he'll put on the grill.  This will be a delicious dinner tonight!

PICT0003Up until 5-6 years ago, Lemont, PA, (which is about 5 miles from us) had an upscale restaurant called The Victorian Manor.  Joe and I got married on January 4th, 1980. This is where we ate a very, very elegant after-wedding dinner (not a reception folks, there were only four of us). Until the year they closed their doors, Joe and I went back every year to celebrate our anniversary.  Eleven years ago, Joe surprised me by hosting a dinner party at "The Manor" for twelve people.  It was my 45th birthday and the date was August 10th.  The dinner was just lovely, but, what I most remember (after the champagne and hors d'oeuvres) was the first course:  an amazing, refreshing watermelon salad with a white balsamic vinaigrette.  This was a recipe I immediately set out to duplicate!  

PICT0008The difference between balsamic and white balsamic vinegar:

6a0120a8551282970b0153941b73c9970b-320wiA bit about balsamic vinegar: Balsamic vinegar was introduced to the USA in the late 1970's and quickly became the darling of restaurant chefs.  It is hard to believe that thirty-some years ago almost none of us in America had even heard of it.  This wonderful wine-based vinegar is still made in Modena, Italy, where it is aged in oak or other wooden kegs.  During the process, it takes on a mellow, full-bodied, slightly sweet flavor and a deep, reddish-brown color.  When a recipe calls for balsamic vinegar, there really is no good substitute for it.  When purchasing balsamic vinegar, look for brands that denote Modena or Reggio, which are the only two authentic versions.

6a0120a8551282970b015437ef5e4e970c-120wiThe Italian word "balsamico" means "balsam-like" or "curative".  There are two types of balsamic vinegar:  commercial and artisanal.  Artisanal balsamic vinegar is made by simmering and reducing the juice (or "must") of sweet, white Trebbiano grapes and aging it for at least 12 years in a succession of graduated-in-size wooden kegs made of various types of wood (oak, cherry, juniper and mulberry).  The vinegar maker works meticulously, transferring the ever-more concentrated vinegar down the line until a litre or two of finished vinegar emerges from the smallest barrel.  Artisanal varieties, which are quite pricey, are very complex and are used sparingly as a last minute flavoring.  A red label means the vinegar has been aged for at least 12 years, a silver label denotes 18 years, and, a gold label designates 25 years or more.

Commercial balsamic vinegar, which is much less expensive, is made by blending good wine vinegar, reduced juice ("must") and young balsamic vinegar.  It is then aged in the kegs that were used in the artisanal process.  It is used in salad dressings, dips, marinades and sauces.

PICT0006A bit about white balsamic vinegar:  White balsamic vinegar is a blend of white grape juice ("must") and white wine vinegar.  It is then cooked at a low temperature to avoid any darkening of the product.  Some producers age the vinegar in wooden kegs while others use stainless steel.  While dark and white balsamic vinegar have similar tastes, the dark balsamic tends to be sweeter and thicker.

From a personal standpoint, in culinary applications using delicate foods, white balsamic vinegar is preferable to dark because it does not overpower or dominate the dish being prepared.  While its flavor, when compared to dark balsamic, is understated, it provides the tartness of dark with a smoother flavor.  Furthermore, its clean, light appearance will not change the color of the dish being served!

It's time to make my sweet and savory heatwave salad!

PICT0003For the white balamic vinaigrette:

1  cup white balsamic vinegar

1/2  cup vegetable oil

1/2  cup sugar

2  tablespoons Dijon mustard

~ Step 1.  In a 2-cup food storage container with a tight-fitting lid, place all ingredients.  Vigorously shake until thoroughly combined. Set aside while preparing the salad as directed below.

Note:  Leftover dressing can be stored in the refrigerator indefinitely. Remove from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature prior to vigorously shaking and serving as directed in specific recipe.

PICT0004

 

For six servings of salad:

2  cups blueberries (1/3 cup per serving)

6 ripe kiwi, peeled and cut into 6-8 slices (1 kiwi per person)

12  cups watermelon chunks (2 cups per person) (1, 10-11 pound seedless watermelon, cut into 1/2" slices and chunked)

1 1/2 cups thinly shaved red onion (1/4 cup per person)

6  cups baby greens (1 cup per person)

1 1/2  cups small cubed or crumbled feta cheese, 3/4 cup for salad and 3/4 cup for garnishing salads

1  cup coarsely chopped and lightly toasted walnuts, 1/2 cup for salad and 1/2 cup for garnishing salads 

zest of 1 lemon, for garnishing salads

coarsely ground peppercorn blend, for garnishing salads

PICT0008~ Step 1.  Prep all ingredients as directed and pictured above.  For a personal touch and a pretty presentation, after you slice the watermelon, use a  1 1/2" cookie cutter to cut it into one or more shapes.  Kids (of all ages) just love this!  Note:  Even though these watermelons are labeled "seedless", they are not totally seedless, but, the seeds they contain are smaller, softer and easily digestable!

PICT0012~ Step 2.  Place the watermelon chunks in a large bowl.

~ Step 3.  Add the blueberries, kiwi, onion and 1 cup of vinaigrette. PICT0017Using a large rubber spatula, gently toss, until all ingredients are evenly coated in vinaigrette.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1-2 hours.

PICT0016While you can serve this salad alone as a starter course or a side-dish, grilled chicken is the perfect accompaniment... the vinagrette is amazing drizzled on top of it, and, it turns this simple salad into a full meal!

For the chicken (optional)

6  large, meaty, chicken breasts, on bones with skin, grilled to perfection (1 per person)

To serve,  place 1 cup of greens and 1 chicken breast on each of 6 serving plates.  Remove salad from refrigerator, add 1/2 of the feta and 1/2 of the walnuts.  Briefly retoss the salad, and, using a largeslotted spoon, distribute it on top of the greens on each plate.  Garnish each portion with a sprinkling of the remaining feta, walnuts, lemon zest and freshly ground peppercorn blend.  Serve remaining vinaigrette tableside or refrigerate to use at a later date: 

PICT0004Blueberry- Kiwi-Watermelon Salad on Baby Greens w/White Balsamic Vinaigrette (My Heatwave Salad!):  Recipe yields 6 servings and 2 cups of vinaigrette.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; cutting board; chef's knife; 1 1/2" cookie cutter(s) (optional); large rubber spatula; large slotted spoon; microplane grater

6a0120a8551282970b0167645909d0970b-800wiCook's Note: For another one of my vinaigrettes, which uses dark balsamic vinegar, you can find my recipe for ~ A Luxurious Lemon and Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette ~ in Categories 2, 8 or 21!  

~ Reducing Balsamic Vinegar: To Create a Savory Syrup, Sauce or Glaze for Dipping or Drizzling ~ can be found in Categories 8 or 15. I keep this super-easy-to-make condiment on hand all Summer long.  It's a great dip for grilled vegetables, and, a lovely glaze for chicken or fish! 

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos Courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

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Comments

Janey! I keep a bottle of this in my refrigerator at all times. So much better than store-bought dressing!

That vinaigrette is something I wouldn't mind trying out. I have been trying my hand at new condiments Miami FL (ex. http://inter-paksupplyinc.com ). There is nothing like giving a little excitement to the tastebuds.

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