Thursday, June 2, 2011

Vegetable Ribbon Salad with Balsamic Drizzle

This salad is really a vehicle for the balsamic drizzle.  I have seen balsamic reductions on fancy restaurant menus before and had thought it was too involved for me.  I'm telling you, this quick technique for reducing balsamic vinegar with a little bit of sugar has really opened my eyes to a whole realm of possibilities.  The sweet and tangy, intensely-flavored syrup tastes amazing (like scraping your finger to get the last little bit out of the dish after you've used it all up good), makes for a very simple yet sophisticated presentation and can add deep dimension to savory and sweet dishes alike.  Try it over salads, pasta dishes (it would be especially good on top of a creamy, cheesy sauce like Alfredo, grilled chicken or steak (and a sprinkle of crumbled blue or gorgonzola cheese), even on fresh strawberries with ice cream...yum. 

Paired with delicate ribbons of fresh summer vegetables, this combination that appears elegant and intricate is crisp, refreshing and insanely easy.

Shaved Vegetable Salad with Balsamic Drizzle:
serves 4-6
2 small zucchini
2 medium carrots, peeled
1 small yellow squash (optional)
1/2 cup very thinly sliced red bell pepper (optional)
1/2 cup very thinly sliced red onion (optional)

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Balsamic Reduction:
(makes about 2 tablespoons...feel free to make more as needed)
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons granulated sugar

For Balsamic Reduction:
In a small skillet or sauce pan, stir together balsamic vinegar and sugar.  Turn heat to medium high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Continue stirring until mixture thickens a bit and is syrupy.  The whole process will only take a couple of minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

For Salad:
Using a vegetable peeler, shave very thin slices off of the zucchini and squash, rotating when you reach the seeds of the zucchini and squash so that you're just left with the core of seeds (very much like the recent post on Zucchini Fettucini).  Discard the core and place ribbons into a medium sized bowl.  Repeat process with carrots (only you won't have a core of seeds, but at some point when the carrot gets a little flimsy, you have a crunchy little snack).  Add to the bowl.  Mix in bell pepper strips and onion, if using (for the picture above I only used carrot and zucchini).  Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice and olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

To assemble, toss shaved vegetables with dressing.  Season with additional salt and pepper as desired (this is also where you could certainly throw in some nice freshly chopped herbs like basil or something, too, I just didn't have that on hand nor the inclination).  On individual salad plates (or one big plate), drizzle a small amount of the balsamic reduction in a fancy (or haphazard if you're like me) pattern.  Using salad tongs, pile a portion of the vegetable salad onto the plate (use a twisting motion with the tongs to give the salad "more lift" and visual interest on the plate.  Repeat with remaining plates.  Drizzle with additional balsamic reduction as desired.  Serve immediately.  

Note: Salad can be assembled with the dressing in the bowl up to an hour ahead and kept in the refrigerator (you could also keep the shaved veggies and prepared dressing refrigerated separately for longer).  Just make sure to add the balsamic reduction on immediately before serving because it gets absorbed into the salad and loses some of its flourish very quickly!

Adapted from: Pampered Chef Spring-Summer 2006 Recipe Booklet

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