When you cook for others, let's say for a dinner party or cocktail party, the recommendation is don't make something you haven't prepared before. I suppose this is so you are certain you know how to properly prepare the dish and that you know the flavors are right. I don't follow this advice. In fact, I see unique cooking opportunities outside of my nightly meals as a chance to try something different, stretch my creativity, impress my guests as well as myself. You might say I like living on the edge. In no other circumstance is that true. But in the kitchen, I like to take risks. Sometimes they work, sometimes they bomb. That's what keeps it interesting, right?
Recently I was honored to cater a cocktail reception for the occasion of a book launch event for Kurt Senske, CEO of Lutheran Social Services of the South, and his new book Wine and the Word. That evening, Mr. Senske gave a wonderful introduction to his book as well as drawing attention to the good work LSS is doing here in Texas.
Yet, as the caterer, I was stuck between the kitchen and the buffet table and only got a chance to hear what people thought of the food. The overwhelming favorite of the evening was a little skewer I put together of peach, prosciutto, and basil, drizzled with a roasted jalapeno vinaigrette and sprinkled with crushed pistachios. It is such an unassuming little canape on the plate, but the flavors pack a punch. Over and over I was asked "what makes it so spicy?" The vinaigrette was an after thought, a little inspiration I took from an appetizer I made last summer from Love and Lemons. I wasn't sure if it would work or if it would even be noticed. Sometimes you take a chance, a hunch. And this time, this little addition was a star.
Since I am not regularly whipping up little appetizers for our family (except of course on Friday evenings when we sip bourbon cocktails and dress up all fancy and retire to the smoke room at the end of the night) I wanted to figure out how to bring all these flavors into a week night dish. When Emily threw a salad at me, I knew instantly what to do.
Melon and prosciutto are a common match in Italian cuisine. But peach and prosciutto is my Texas twist on that. Basil is not just for tomatoes anymore either. With the sweet juicy peach and the salty prosciutto and the bright herbal basil, you have yourself the answer to all things summer in a salad. But throw in this little vinaigrette with a hit of smoky heat from the jalapeno and a touch of honey (I love a dab of honey in all vinaigrette's these days. It is always what pulls the flavors together), and you take that salad to the next level. Don't leave any of these ingredients out. Each one needs the other. Even the shy little pistachios give the crunch you don't get from any of the other elements. Sweet, salty, herbal, heat, crunch. I went wild and risky in the kitchen, put myself right out there on the edge, so you can go ahead and make this for your next summer get together without a worry. Or just tomorrow for lunch. And, unlike Emily, you now have the whole summer to enjoy this salad, you don't have to wait until next season.
Hey Sis Try This...
Peach Prosciutto Salad with Roasted Jalapeno Vinaigrette
Makes 2 hefty side salads or 1 even heftier dinner salad
4 cups mixed greens
2 peaches, thinly sliced
2 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced and bite size pieces torn
Handful fresh basil, leaves torn
1/4 cup finely chopped pistachios
Roasted Jalapeno Vinaigrette from Love and Lemons
1/3 cup olive oil
1 roasted jalapeno, sliced in half
1 garlic clove smashed
2 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoons orange juice or agave syrup
Mix the oil together and let it sit at room temp for 30 minutes or up to a couple of days. Remove the jalapeno and garlic clove just before using.
Top salad greens with peach, prosciutto, basil, and pistachios. Drizzle with Viniagrette to taste (I used all of it.)