Our family decided to forgo a traditional Christmas this year, cashed in a staggering number of frequent flyer miles, and jetted off to London during the week before Christmas. Best decision ever. First, I can’t begin to describe how freeing it was not to have to shop for gifts this year. We’ve always treasured experiences over things, so what better place to build memories than in a city that sparkles with Christmas spirit? And fabulous food? I actually teared up when walking through the Arrivals Hall at Heathrow (OK, I routinely tear up during movies trailers and TV commercials, so that’s not that unusual, but you "Love Actually" fans will understand.)
If you follow my Instagram, you know that I spent last week logging dozens of miles exploring cafes, restaurants, open air markets, and food halls. We feasted on curries and mince pies, fish and chips, chocolates, cheeses, and Christmas puddings, and drank gorgeous cocktails all over town. In between meals we did occasionally pop into museums and bookstores (and more bookstores) and wander through parks and gaze at historical landmarks and attend the theatre and generally bond as a family. It was a nostalgia tour for us in many ways, as we moved back from London after a three-year tour exactly 10 years ago.
I’m back in Virginia now, ahem, assessing the damage to my waistline, and deciding to reacquaint myself with lighter fare, at least for a few days until New Year’s Eve rolls around. So let’s talk about this salad.
While living in Chicago this fall, we often stopped into one of our favorite Italian lunch spots downtown – Quartino – to share small plates, specifically the veal meatballs. They pull me in like a magnetic force. I should note that Quartino will always hold a special place in my heart, as that is the first place I was introduced to my amazing sister-in-law Nicole.
To counterbalance the meatball consumption, we loaded up on the solid selection of salads and veggies. One of the salads especially captured my attention – the one I’ve tried to recreate here. I’ve only recently come to appreciate the charms of nutty, slightly chewy farro. I learned on NPR (my go-to news source) that this grain originated in the Fertile Crescent, where it has been found in the tombs of Egyptian kings. Italians have dined on farro for centuries. So I’m very late to the farro party but quite enthusiastic nonetheless.
In this case, this “grain-with-a-history” is combined with the slightly peppery greens, sweet oranges, lovely toasted hazelnuts, and tangy goat cheese – a wonderful combination of textures and flavors. Quartino uses ricotta instead of the goat cheese – also a terrific option.
I’ve now made the salad several times. Once, I mixed up a batch of lovely orange-balsamic dressing which was delicious. But on another occasion (when pressed for time, as I often am), I simply tossed it with a bit of balsamic vinegar and good quality olive oil, which also works. You do want a very light hand with the dressing – I generally use less than half of the batch of dressing, saving the rest for later.
Hey, that was fun. This eating lighter thing is off to an excellent beginning, don’t you think? Wishing you happy eating and joy and peace,
A few things I’m crushing on lately:
Let me be clear – 2016 has been so awful that I barely watch the news anymore. I have always loved year in review videos, and this one from Google somehow manages to be both devastating and uplifting.
Have you been watching The Crown on Netflix? I’m obsessed.
Finished The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows on the flight home. Fascinating. I highly recommend it. What are you all reading?
Arugula Salad with Oranges, Farro, Hazelnuts, and Goat Cheese
Serves: 6-8 as a side salad
- One 6-8 oz bag of arugula (you may also use baby kale leaves or baby spinach leaves)
- 2 large oranges, sliced into ½-inch rounds, seeds removed and rind cut away
- ½ cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
- 1 ½ cups cooked farro, prepared according to package directions
- ½ cup crumbled goat cheese (Quartino uses ricotta, also a lovely option)
Orange Balsamic Dressing
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon orange juice (preferably fresh-squeezed)
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced
- ½ cup good quality olive oil
- salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Prepare the dressing: Measure all the ingredients into a small mason jar, and shake vigorously to combine. Set aside.
- Scatter the salad greens evenly over a large platter.
- Next, scatter the farro evenly over the greens.
- Layer the oranges over the salad, then top with the hazelnuts and the goat cheese.
- Toss the salad with the dressing, to taste. I like my salads dressed very lightly, so usually use less than half of the dressing. Or I just drizzle a bit of olive oil and vinegar over it.