The more I travel, the less I bring back with me. (Sadly, it doesn’t work in reverse — I’m always traveling with more than I need.) In part it’s a reaction to my olive oil debacle. Many years ago, Michael and I fell in love with an olive oil we tasted in Paris, and so we bought a six-pack, had it wrapped well, labeled it fragile on every surface and and sent it through with our luggage. What were we thinking? Of course a couple of bottles broke, explaining why the bags that circled the carrousel had glistening Rorschach-like spots on them. But to add insult to injury, the following day, when we went shopping down the street at Zabar’s, we found the exact same olive oil and at almost the same price. Two lessons learned: 1) everything fragile gets carried on (we were newby travelers then); and 2) only buy things you can’t easily get at home (which, since we live in New York City, narrows our shopping list considerably).
But all bets are off when it comes to cheese (… and butter … and kitchen tools … and anything with a rooster), which is how we returned home with a wheel of Cabrales, straight from Asturias, the Spanish region it calls home, and ended up slicing it into a salad and, as always happens when you return with food, bringing back memories of our trip.
Cabrales is an artisanally made blue cheese much in the vein (oops, sorry) of France’s Roquefort. Like Roquefort, it is aged in caves, aging and blueing from the outside in, and brought to market wrapped in heavy foil. While Roquefort is made with sheep milk, Cabrales is made with a combination of sheep, goat and cow milk. Both cheeses are pungent, salty and slightly crumbly. And both go well with something a little sweet: dried fruit, honey, a dot of jam or a wine with some residual sugar, which is what we had on hand, quite accidently, yesterday. Last night a friend brought an Alsatian Pinot Gris to dinner, one he bought expecting it to be light and bright, but which, instead, was golden and syrupy and just right with the taste-of- Spain salad I’d made.
Roasted Beet, Dried Cherry, Cabrales and Arugula Salad
This is hardly a recipe. I made it up as I went along and you should too.
- A bundle of beets
- Arugula, washed, dried and cut into ribbons or torn
- Moist, plump dried cherries (mine were coarsely chopped)
- Shards of Cabrales
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Sherry vinegar or fresh lemon or lime juice, optional
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Toasted walnuts (I wish I’d had them)
To roast the beets: Cut away the leafy greens from the beets (if they’re fresh, you can add them to a mixed salad; if they’re limp but still tasty, you can add them to a saute of greens) leaving about an inch or so of stem attached to the beets. Leave the wispy roots too. Scrub the beets and lay them in a single layer in a roasting pan. Add a little water (just a couple of spoonfuls), cover the pan with foil, poke a pair of holes in the foil and roast the beets at 425 degrees F until you can pierce them easily with a paring knife. My beets were small and took just 30 minutes, but average-size beets usually take 40 minutes or more. Remove the pan from the oven, carefully lift off the foil (you don’t want to be hit with a puff of steam) and, when the beets are cool enough to handle (or cool), trim and peel them (the messy part). Cut them into small chunks or thick slices.
To assemble the salad: When you’re ready to serve, toss the arugula with a little olive oil and, if you’d like, a drop of vinegar or juice. Season with salt and pepper and make a layer of arugula in the bottom of a serving platter. Season the beets with oil, salt and pepper and a squirt of vinegar or juice, if you want, and pile them in the center of the greens. Scatter the dried cherries, pieces of Cabrales and toasted walnuts, if you’ve got them, over the beets and drizzle the salad with a little (very little) honey. Toss the salad at the table.