Category Archives: arugula

Arugula Pear Blue Cheese Salad with Nuts

Spring is a delicate time for everyone going easy on carbs and fat in hope for renewal (and to eventually fit into bikini). This colourful salad is a great recipe to include in your transitioning menu and feel festive at the same time. The contrast between sweet pears, bitter arugula, sharp hits of blue cheese and the toasty crunch of slivered almonds makes this dish an instant hit. It travels really well too, in case you would like to include it into your picnic basket or to brig to the potluck party. This salad can be ready in 15 minutes and is excellent with some toasted bread. It was inspired by our trip to St. Benedict Abbey (Saint-Benoît-du-Lac)earlier this month and the specialties we brought with us from there.
Located in Eastern townships (around 150 km Southeast of Montreal), the monastery was founded in 1912 by exiled French Benedictine monks. A little more than 50 monks live there today under the Rule of Saint Benedict spending their days in ”vigilate” (watch & wait in Latin), divine reading, meditation, prayer and humble work. The impressive medieval-looking architectural complex perched on the hill overlooks the eerie lake of Memphremagog and is surrounded by forest, apple gardens, marshes and fields. 
Receiving guests is in the faith of Benedictine monks, so visitors and those who decided to stay temporarily in their guest house feel welcome. The on-premise store sells their quality crafts like: fine cheeses, jams, jellies, apple cider and vinegar, ice wines and even CDs of their famous Gregorian Chants. If you manage to be there by 5PM, the time of the liturgy, you can listen to Gregorian Chants (Vespers) in their church: an incredible and thrilling experience in itself. In case you would like to learn how silence works or to live a life much different from yours for a short period of time, check their website on how to become a staying guest. Keep in mind though, it’s a community of men, although women can visit the monastery and attend the church any time.
The rhythm of cheese making combines well with the monastic life, and St. Benedict Abbey has been making cheese since 1942. It is the only cheese factory in North America managed by Benedictine monks, which is why you may have heard about them even if you are not Catholic. It is especially famous for their blue cheeses like ”Bleu Ermite” and ”Bleu Bénédictin”, which are made the same way, but are different at their ripening stage. 
Blue Ermite, not so strong blue with herbal aroma, hints of sweetness and earthiness is perhaps their most famous one. It is aged for five weeks, then is removed from the ripening room and the natural mould rind that has formed is washed away. Because it is very mild blue, in today’s salad, I would pair it with Romaine lettuce, almonds and apple cider vinegar in the dressing (see below choices) for harmonious result.
Blue Benedictine, an award winner across Canada, is sharper and tangier: it stays in the ripening room for three months and the blue mould rind is kept on. This outer layer and longer aging help to add flavour and ripen the cheese further, making its texture smoother and creamier than Blue Ermite. Its tastes better combined with stronger ingredients, such as, bitter arugula, radicchio, rich walnuts and tangy balsamic (or even xérès) vinegar.

I personally find a special magic in the taste of this salad if you use some apricot preserve in your dressing. If not, honey works well too. And, by the way the blue cheese can be any of your choice including Gorgonzola:
 Voila: bitter-sweet, salty, tangy and light – what else blue cheese and pear lovers can dream about?


Yields 4 portions
3 cups baby arugula (or 1 head of Romaine lettuce rinsed, dried and chopped)
2 small heads radicchio (optional)
2 ripe but firm pears, cored and cut lengthwise into 1/4” thick slices (sprayed with lemon juice to prevent darkening)
3/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted* (or other nuts of your choice)
2-3 ounces of crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup almond oil (or olive, or walnut oil)
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (or apple cider or white wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons honey (or apricot jam preserve)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
In a large bowl, combine the arugula, radicchio, pear slices and nuts. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper until smooth. Mix well and pour dressing over salad. Toss until evenly coated. Spread crumbled blue cheese on to and serve.
*To toast nuts, arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in preheated 350 degrees F oven for 6-8 minutes until lightly toasted. Cool completely before using.
And here is more about Abbey St. Benoit du Lac should you decide to visit:

Perfect Green Salad Vinaigrette

Something tells me I am not the only one who Santa has brought few extra pounds over the holidays. Although we are still weeks away from Lent, I guess its time to reverse the holiday weight gain with something light, but not too boring. I am taking a detox brake and this is exactly when a humble side dish like a good salad steps in and becomes our diet centerpiece.

Each time I am buying a green mix, I am trying to find one with a fair amount of arugula in it. Its peppery notes pair perfectly with the below dressing as well as sweet or salty flavours in salad if you decide to add some other ingredients. In addition, this low-caloric oak-shaped leaf brings an immune boost like almost no other green making it a perfect cruciferous to detoxify and even fight cancer.

 Naturally, some crispy Romaine or Boston lettuce can be a good substitute for green mix. I tend to avoid the iceberg lettuce though for the lack of taste or nutritional value.

Good dressing is the heart of any salad. Every chef has his own take on a vinaigrette for green salad, but most of the time the truly successful dressing is all about the proportion of oil and acidity (3-to-1). This vinaigrette recipe has been my standby for years and has 4 simple ingredients: olive oil (I use unfiltered), balsamic vinegar (Modena), minced garlic and salt. No need to say that quality ingredients such fine grade oil & vinegar, and crispy fresh greens & garlic make a huge difference as opposed to bargain priced groceries.
Sometimes I replace garlic with a minced shallot, or add minced shallot in addition to the garlic. What makes this dressing universal, is that instead of balsamic vinegar you can use any vinegar of your choice: red or white wine, sherry, champagne or even apple cider vinegar. You can also replace the vinegar by or mix it with lemon or lime juice. Equally, you can modify the oil component with walnut, canola, avocado, sunflower or any other oil you like or feel proper for your salad mix. A dash of Dijon mustard will turn this dressing into a French dressing, but I usually skip it, which is why I marked it as optional in the recipe. As long as the proportion (3 parts of oil, 1 part of vinegar) is kept as a baseline +, you will be successful with your own take on any green mix salad variation. If your dressing doesn’t taste the way you like, feel free to add more of salt, freshly milled pepper, vinegar, etc. to adjust the flavor and alter the recipe according to your palate.

A while ago my grandma gave me this gorgeous set of wooden salad bowls (unvarnished and untreated) with a peculiar advice on how to use them properly. “The bowls should never be washed, just wipe them out well with a paper towel” (what?)…”eventually they will be seasoned and perfumed from many salads,” she went on handing me her collection of notes on multiple salad dressings. The more I insisted on secretly washing the bowls with soap, the more often I discovered some similar instructions in the old cookbooks regarding wooden salad bowls and omelet pans care. Until I gave up and decided to give those bowls some proper respect. The down side of course is that I am only using them on special occasions (following the rule: whatever can not go into the dishwasher, has to wait).

You can top the dressed salad with countless number of other things be it veggies, fruits, nuts, cheese or some lean protein – this dressing pairs really well with huge array of food. My latest favorite is walnut – blue cheese – pomegranate topping.

Like most vinaigrette, this one can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator or a cool place, but I prefer to make it fresh each time, because it tastes way better in the room temperature keeping the garlic bits pungent.

1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic (or shallot)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or vinegar of your choice)
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard (optional)
6 tablespoons good quality olive oil (or oil of your choice)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Whisk together garlic, vinegar, mustard (if using), salt and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly add olive oil while whisking until dressing is well mixed. If using mustard, whisk until vinaigrette is emulsified.
Place the salad greens in the bowl and dress to moisten with the vinaigrette. Do not use too much dressing, the salad should not be liquid. Sprinkle with little extra salt and pepper if desired and serve immediately.

Potato Pizza with Baby Arugula

Everybody loves good pizza. Almost everybody loves potatoes. Combining these two favs into one dish can actually produce a blissful combination of yum. Years ago I tried my first potato pizza in Livorno, Italy, but was not much impressed. Perhaps it was not warm enough, or my palate was too young at the time… Today it’s a different story – I literally adore it! And now that (with years of practice) I’ve came up with my totally fool-proof recipe of pizza dough that always works, I make this pizza almost every second month. Along with many other varieties of pizzas of course (for that I double or triple the dough recipe below to stash a batch of pizza balls in a freezer and thaw them in a fridge overnight when ready to hit it).

Although I have dozens of cookbooks on Italian cooking, it was not until I got a “Great Tastes Italian“ that the recipe of potato pizza grabbed my attention due to a good quality image, a svelte look (if ever anything baked with cheese can be svelte) and a mountain of baby arugula on it (that bundle of health). It was called “Potato & Rocket Pizza“. Here we are: the visual impact pushed me to try this recipe and it was so delicious my family was literally fighting for the last piece.

I am including my perfect pizza dough recipe in this post – please take a note of it and you won’t regret it!

PIZZA BAKING TIP: When baking pizza, preheat oven to 450F at least 40 minutes before for a stone and at least 20 minutes before for the baking sheet for the best results.

For potato pizza, you can always experiment with ingredients (try sweet potatoes or very thinly sliced brussels sprouts (pre-soaked in salted water for 2 hours) and lemon, for change), but please do not make this recipe with mashed or boiled potatoes (or you will regret it).

Certainly, you can always experiment with specialty cheeses of your choice, like feta, blue, brie, Gorgonzola, etc.

Bake at 450 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes or until pizza base is crisp if you are using baking sheet. For a pizza stone, bake at 500 degree for about 10 minutes, or until both the top and bottom of the crust is brown and the cheese is melted.

Voila! Remove from the oven, top with fresh arugula and serve. For and extra layer of taste: umami lovers can add some anchovies, while meat lovers can add some prosciutto. I used some dry Coppa for this recipe.

Yields two pizzas
2 tablespoons instant dry yeast
1 1/2 cup lukewarm water
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading and stretching
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
In the bowl, add yeast to lukewarm water and let it stay for about 6 -10 minutes until creamy.

Combine 750 ml (3 cups) of flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer, and slowly add mix of yeast with water and olive oil. Mix well on low speed until ingredients begin to combine. Add gradually 250 ml (1 cup) of flour and continue to mix for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic and cleanly pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl.

Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic or parchment paper and towel and allow to rest for 1 hour in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until it has doubled in size. Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a well floured surface. Form dough into a round and split the dough into 2 equal parts. [At this point you can store some extra dough into the freezer and thaw it in a fridge over night in future, when ready].
1 pizza dough (see above recipe)
2 small potatoes, washed, unpeeled and thinly sliced (about 2 cups) [preferably Yukon or Idaho]
1 small onion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
7 oz cheese, cut into small cubes [mozzarella or cheddar
1/4 oz baby arugula
1 teaspoon dry oregano
extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
Salt and pepper to taste
Form the dough into a log on a floured surface. Dust with flour and cover loosely with plastic to retain moisture.  Allow it to rest until the formed dough rises in size again while you prepare potatoes.
Thinly slice potatoes using a knife or a mandolin. Drizzle sliced potatoes with 1 spoon of olive oil and work the oil into the potatoes with your fingers.

Grease the baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil (Note: no need to do that in using pizza stone or pizza baking tray with holes). Work out the dough flattening and stretching it gently with your fingers/palms and flipping 3-5 times on the floured surface. Leave the outer edges a little thicker. Once the dough is stretched to a desired size, transfer it to the pizza tray or a baking sheet. Using the palms of your hands, lightly flatten dough out to the edges of the pan. Spread 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon oregano in a circular motion leaving a 1-inch border.
Distribute the potatoes in a single layer, overlapping slightly if you can. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Top with cheese cubes and onions.
Bake at 450F for 15 to 18 minutes or until pizza base is crisp and the cheese is bubbling. For a pizza stone, bake at 500 degree for about 10 minutes, or until both the top and bottom of the crust is brown and the cheese is melted.

Top with arugula and serve. Bon Appétit!