So, this crazy language-soup title…
I don’t speak much French — just basic travel French, and even that is pretty spotty sometimes. But this phrase “avec goûts d’ici” has stuck with me since the time I was forced — yes, forced — to go to a French restaurant on my first night of a visit to Milan years ago. I mean, what kind of sense does that make, I ask you? Jet-lagged, in need of a classic risotto milanese, or a fabulous ossobuco. Something filling and comforting. But not only was that not in the cards, I was hauled off to a nouvelle-ish cuisine French restaurant. Where I sat, trying not to sulk or look at my then-boyfriend like he was a complete idiot.
Reviewing the menu didn’t help. It looked to be some kind of hybrid beast — neither Italian nor French. Like the caprese salad with “tastes of here.” Tastes of where? Milan? Capri? Paris? Mars? With a barely-suppressed sigh, I chose it as a starter to go with the bottle of Pinot Grigio then-boyfriend ordered. (At least something was making sense in this bizarro world.)
I don’t remember the rest of the meal, but I will never forget this salad. It was quite possibly the most beautiful plate of food that has ever been set before me. Composed but not too precious. A gleaming white plate held an artfully arranged stream of goodies: the requisite tomatoes (a variety of colors and shapes), slices of mozzarella di bufala, and then the goûts d’ici. There were sour cherry halves, French breakfast radishes, pickled Nasturtium buds (ascertaining that bit of information in broken French mixed with Italian mixed with English was not easy, I can assure you), snips of carrot greens, some kind of fancy baby green onion. All drizzled with some kind of shallot-raspberry vinaigrette. And it was heaven. Not just fresh and beautiful, but delicious. Something about all those layers of flavors and textures — sweet, savory, earthy, pungent, salty, oily, crunchy, juicy, creamy. I all but licked the plate.
I was reminded of this salad this week, when I picked up a tub of mozzarella di bufala and began to put together a quick caprese with the remnants of a pint of grape tomatoes. I started rummaging around in the fridge to see what goûts d’ici I could add. Daikon. Pea shoots. Scallions… My arrangement is not nearly as perfect as the original, but it was delicious all the same. A few crunchy baguette toasts and I was set.
This would make a great Labor Day starter. I can see it arranged down a long, rectangular platter, set in the middle of a picnic table, with several sets of serving forks, and enjoyed on a lovely summer evening… Cheers!
Pairing: Pinot Grigio
No matter the composition of this salad on any given day, I seem to reach for a Pinot Grigio to go with. This Bortoluzzi 2011 Pinot Grigio Venezia-Giulia ($20-ish) is a substantial one. Creamy, structured, with fig, crisp apple and light smoke and mineral notes. Find it!
Here are a couple of others I’ve enjoyed recently:
Cellar No. 8 2010 Pinot Grigio California ($10). A nice surprise, fresh, refreshing, not particularly complex but fine for cold quaffing on a hot day. Find it!
Yalumba 2012 Pinot Grigio South Australia The Y Series ($12). Easy, bright citrus and smooth melon. Refreshing. Find it!
Esperto 2011 Pinot Grigio delle Venezie ($10). Nice for the price, with pretty green melon, hints of stonefruit, and a clean finish. Find it!
Recipe: Caprese avec Goûts d’Ici
This is less recipe and more suggestion. The whole idea is to use an assortment of flavors “from around here” — so use your imagination and brush off those plating skills! Here’s what I used this week:
Grape tomatoes, yellow and red, halved
Wedges of green tomato
Wedges of a pluot
Slices of good mozzarella di bufala
Toasted almond slivers
Thin slices of red radish
Thin slices of daikon
Scallion, cut into long diagonal chards
Arrange all on a plate. Drizzle with a vinaigrette (I added a dollop of grainy mustard to a basic balsamic and olive oil mixture, plus salt and pepper) or just drizzle with good extra virgin olive oil, a few drops of balsamic vinegar, and a good sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Serve with thinly-sliced baguette toasts and enjoy the admiring oohs and ahs from your guests.