Recipe: Plum Salad with Almonds, Fennel, and Arugula
I’ve found that an excellent way to work more fresh fruit into my diet is by including it in a green salad, better even than churning up a batch of glorious cholesterol-elevating peach ice cream and shoving it all down. A salad is never going to be ice cream, but it can be a beautiful eating experience, if you crack open your best olive oil, gather good greens and dripping summer fruit, and go about it with a freewheeling but informed culinary spirit. As long as I stay away from dried hippie chunks like desiccated pineapples or cranberries, or birdseed, I can usually turn out something elegant.
You might not think of stone fruit—plums, peaches, or apricots—as making a good partner for lettuce, but actually those sweet, tart flavors go exceptionally well with bitter greens such as chicory, frisée, dandelion, or arugula. I bought small round red-pink sugar plums at the Greenmarket. Their color is stunning, a Matisse red (a flattering lipstick shade for Southern Italian girls like me, by the way), and they have the gentle sourness that I was looking for. I also like dusky, purple-black, pointy Italian plums, although they’re lower in acid than the ones I used. Depending on your plums, you may need to adjust the dressing, possibly leaving out the sugar or upping the vinegar. You don’t want it too sweet. What you do want is a tongue-tingling sweet, sour, bitter, salty, savory flavor experience. And the great thing about adding fruit to a salad is that it curbs your desire for desert. I swear it really does. When I was thinking up this salad, I immediately thought of pork for the first course, so I marinated a few thick pork chops in some spicy stuff and grilled them up. Nice summer meal, don’t you think?
Plum Salad with Almonds, Fennel, and Arugula
5 small summer plums
A generous pinch of sugar
1 large bunch arugula, well stemmed
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
A handful of whole, blanched almonds, lightly toasted
2 scallions, thinly sliced, using the tender green part
A handful of basil leaves, left whole
1 teaspoon Spanish sherry vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
A few scrapings of nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Halve and pit the plums, placing them in a small bowl, and add a tiny pinch of salt and a bigger pinch of sugar. Let them sit for a few minutes, so any juices can run out.
In a salad bowl, combine the arugula, fennel, almonds, scallions, and basil. Add the plums, leaving the juice in the bowl.
Add the vinegar and mustard to the plum juice. Add the nutmeg, salt, and a generous amount of black pepper. Add the olive oil, and give it all a quick whisk. Pour the dressing over the salad, and toss it gently. Serve right away.