There are few things sexier than a man that cooks…and is a good dad…and gives his time generously to pretty much anyone who asks him to, whether it is to speak for a charity event or volunteer to help a friend. Lucky for me, I got them all in Gary, but the cooking thing has always been a special one because it shows his very playful side that he gets in the kitchen and loves to create something special for me, or for friends, just like I do.
He has always had a few specialties – his now quite infamous baked beans, silky creme brulee, a perfect beef tenderloin, orange-ginger salmon, and his parmesan baskets…ideal vessels to hold a mixed greens salad, and they taste pretty good too! He made three of them for our charity dinner the other night, the most impressive being his parmesan baskets, which I filled with an arugula and spinach salad dressed with a light basil pesto vin over juicy yellow and red heirloom tomatoes, each as pretty in plating as they were to eat! The key to perfect baskets – use a typical, inexpensive, store brand parmesan, not an expensive kind as, though they may taste a bit better, the cheese tends to have too much oil to melt smoothly and come together.
Pair with a refreshing Italian white, like an herb and citrus filled Gavi from Riccosa and your first course of a special dinner party is complete.
Parmesan Baskets with Baby Lettuces, Heriloom Tomatoes and Pesto Vin
Ingredients: (for 8)
12 ounces shredded parmesan cheese + more for garnishing – Digorno is fine or any store brand
8 ounces mixed baby arugula and spinach (the arugula adds a nice peppery flavor to the salad, but any mixed greens will work)
4 ounces yellow and red grape tomatoes, cut in half
3 heirlooms tomatoes, sliced
Salt and pepper
Drizzle reduced balsamic vinegar, optional
For the dressing:
1 bunch fresh basil, leaves only, roughly chopped
1 ounce shredded parmesan cheese
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil + 1 tablespoon
1 large clove garlic, smashed
Splash white wine or water
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
For the Pesto Vin – add all ingredients except the oil and vinegar to a blender and pulse a few times, then on low speed drizzle the oil and vinegar until fully incorporated and the basil is fully minced. Pour out into a jar with a lid and refrigerate until ready to use.
For the Parmesan Baskets – add about an ounce and a half of shredded Parm to a non-stick 10 inch skillet on medium heat. Using a rubber spatula carefully move the cheese around forming a round disk. Let the cheese cook until it melts together and creates a rich golden color. Using the spatula carefully lift the cheese out of the pan, careful not to break it and fold it over a coffee mug (we have found they work best) to form a perfect basket to hold the greens. Let sit on the mug for a few minutes to harden into the form as you start the next one. Repeat for 7 more baskets. After the basket has set for a few minutes carefully unmold it from the mug, turning it upright and place on a paper towel lined baking sheet until ready to use.
Assembly – Slice the heirloom tomatoes into 1/2 inch slices, laying them out on paper towels to absorb a bit of the water. Add the greens and sliced grape tomatoes to a bowl and season with salt and pepper then dress the greens lightly (you will probably only use 1/3 – 1/2 of the pesto vin.) Lay two or three slices of tomatoes to a salad plate and season them with a bit of salt and pepper. Place a basket in the center of the plate on top of the tomatoes. Fill the baskets with a handful of the greens and top with a bit of extra parm. Drizzle a bit of reduced balsamic on the tomatoes before placing the baskets on top if desired. Serve immediately.