the problem with salad


warm fig, prosciutto & buffalo mozzerella salad


It’s been a lot longer than I’d care to admit since my mouth was emblazoned with train tracks. Let’s just say that it was long enough for me to take for granted the fact that my teeth are straight when I look in the mirror. Long enough to have forgotten that uncomfortable and sometimes down right painful feeling of having your smile behind bars. And definitely long enough to have forgotten how it felt to be wishing for the day when you could just chomp into a crisp fresh apple or nibble hot buttery corn straight from the cob.

That distance from the memory of braces all changed early last year. I turned up to a first date – a little late and a little nervous. It wasn’t technically a ‘blind’ date as we had been introduced a few weeks earlier but that meeting, while memorable, was very brief and didn’t really allow a girl to check out the finer details. Details like the bloke in question happened to have braces.

Yes. I was a little surprised to find that this gorgeous guy in his 30s with the most dreamy Irish telephone voice had a mouth full of metal. A quick mental flash back to my teenage years confirmed that braces hadn’t hindered my abilities in the kissing department even when my partner in crime also happened to be in a similar dental situation. Phew. It wasn’t going to be a deal breaker. And as they say – the rest if history.

In terms of the kissing part I can definitely confirm that braces don’t cause any problems. But the surprising thing that I have become reacquainted with is just how tricky salad can be for those with braces. On the top of the most difficult list is wild or baby rocket – those little individual leaves with spiky bits that just love to tangle themselves around metal teeth. Watercress, can be almost as treacherous.

In the ‘not so bad’ range are things like baby spinach, butter lettuce and other soft leaf lettuces which, while not being so readily caught, can still get stuck. The more crunchy and easy to masticate leaves like cos (Romaine) or baby gem or witlof are by far the most preferred.

Then there are the wilted green and leaves which are problematic because of the ‘chewy factor’. These are things I really love, like cavalo nero or your Asian greens like bok choy or choy sum. And another thing that I recently discovered to be in this category, BBQ radicchio.

Which brings us to this week’s recipe. With the leaves on the plane tree outside my bedroom window turning that Winter-is-coming shade of brown there’s no escaping the fact that the Seasons are a changing. As is usual at this time of year I’ve been consoling myself that Summer is over by making the most of my favourite Autumn bounty – fresh figs.

The figs have been teamed with some not-so-braces friendly wilted BBQ radicchio, torn bread and the usual suspects of buffalo mozerella and prosciutto or Parma ham. Finished with a balsamic dressing given a little spike with some garlic and rosemary, they all combine to make an easy Autumn main course salad. A one bowl dish that you can dress up and serve on individual plates, or keep to a more informal style by presenting it on a platter and letting everyone help themselves – perfect for when you happen to be sharing dinner with someone who is having some orthodontic work done and would prefer to steer clear of anything braces-problematic.

warm fig, prosciutto & buffalo mozzerella salad
serves 4

This salad started out life as Jamie Oliver’s sexy fig salad which is still a favourite of mine as a starter but I like to think that my warm salad gives Jamie a run for his money. Especially when the evenings are getting cooler and you’re more in the mood for a quick main course salad.

Buffalo mozerella can be a bit tricky to source so If you aren’t able to get hold of any or it’s not quite in your price range you could substitute in some bocconcini. It won’t have quite the same lovely milky melt-in-the-mouth texture but it will be a hundred times better than rubbery old supermarket mozerella. Of course you could always try another angle with some fresh ricotta or even goats cheese.

If you don’t have a BBQ or feel a bit weird about BBQing lettuce – which I do understand – you could either leave the radicchio as is for a lighter feel or ditch the radicchio altogether and go for a couple of handfuls of basil or flat leaf parsley leaves.

A final option, if you or your guests are more of the vegetarian persuasion you could leave out the prosciutto (although if it were up to me I would be tempted to have a go at trying to convert them) and substitute in some roasted walnut halves or pinenuts.

a hunk of sourdough or other rustic bread (approx 120g or 4oz)
1 head radicchio, leaves washed and separated
2T aged balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
6T extra virgin olive oil
1 small sprig rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
6 fresh black figs, halved lengthwise
200g (7oz) buffalo mozerella, bocconcini or ricotta, torn into chunks
4 – 6 slices prosciutto, torn into bight sized pieces

Preheat your BBQ or a char grill pan.

Tear bread into bight sized chunks (stale bread is fine) and lightly toast under the grill or broiler to warm and freshen it up a little but not to make it golden or crispy.

Whisk together balsamic, garlic, oil and rosemary in the base of a large bowl and season well. Take out 2T of the dressing and reserve for serving. Wash radicchio leaves but don’t worry about drying too much. Cook leaves on the BBQ for a minute or so until the leaves have started to wilt and char around the edges. Toss the wilted leaves through the dressing with the bread and allow to stand for at least 10minutes.

To serve, fish the garlic out of the salad and place the leaves and bread on a platter or divide between individual plates. Artfully arrange the figs,cheese and prosciutto over the top. Drizzle each fig cut side with a little of the reserved dressing.

Serve straight up but I find if you happen to be sharing with someone who has braces it helps if you’re prepared to eat their share of the radicchio.

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