If you’re looking for something fancy to serve with a special dinner, this sexy little arugula salad might just be it. The arugula is gently tossed with a truffle oil and sherry vinaigrette and finished with a dusting of rich Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds for just the right amount of saltiness. The sophisticated, earthy flavors of the truffle oil mixed with the rich tartness of the sherry vinegar pair well with rich meats such as a filet mignon or beefy prime rib.
The word truffle conjures up thoughts of wintertime in Provence with pigs sniffing for truffles followed by old men in heavy coats adhering to ancient rituals and secret destinations passed down through the centuries from their ancestors. Today you can go on guided truffle hunting trips in France while living in luxurious accommodations and dining at the best local restaurants that specialize in truffles. If you would like to know more, my friend Christine of Fresh Local & Best wrote about her truffle hunting excursion in the Luberon region of Provence that I know you will enjoy reading. It’s a fantastic foodie experience and will provide great hunting stories you can pass on to your grandchildren.
The first time I tasted a black truffle was in a little olive oil tasting shop in the south of France on the boulevard Victor Hugo in the small village of Saint-Remy-de-Provence. The truffle’s strong earthy flavor reminded me of exotic mushrooms and it smelled of heady perfume. We purchased a bottle of black truffle oil that day, carefully wrapped it in bubble wrap, and tucked it in our suitcase to bring home. Since then I’ve found that truffle oil is easy to find in gourmet shops and some supermarkets in the US and you don’t have to lug it home from Provence. Although if you’re looking for an excuse to go to Provence, please don’t let me stop you from using, “I need some good truffle oil” as the reason.
There are three star ingredients in this salad – infused black truffle oil, Spanish sherry vinegar, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese from Italy.
Infused black truffle oil begins with pressed oil. The brand I purchased, La Tourangelle, uses organic sunflower oil so its flavor won’t interfere with the aroma like olive oil may do. The oil is slowly infused with the black truffle aroma following a 150 year old French method. Black truffles originate in Provence in France and are one of the most precious ingredients in Mediterranean cooking. The strong earthy flavor of this oil will bring a deep aroma to your dishes and is heavenly drizzled in mashed potatoes with chives. After opening it should be stored in the refrigerator to retain its flavor.
Sherry vinegar comes from Spain. The brand I’ve chosen, Columela, is aged for 30 years in oak barrels (just like wine) until it mellows. It’s made from the same grapes that are used to produce Spain’s famous sherries. I always have a bottle on my shelf because it’s wonderful tossed with equal parts walnut oil and a neutral tasting oil such as grapeseed oil to make a fantastic robust vinaigrette for green salads that I’ve topped with Roquefort cheese and toasted walnuts. I also use sherry vinegar in French lentil salads.
Parmigiano-Reggiano, often called Parmesan cheese, is aged for at least two years and its depth of flavor is the result of the long aging process. This is a special salad and uses expensive ingredients. Don’t be tempted to buy the pre-grated Parmesan cheese from the deli in plastic containers. It’s not worth the money and tastes a bit on the sawdust side. Honestly, it doesn’t even come close to the flavor of freshly grated cheese. Buy a wedge of the real stuff from Italy. The words Parmigiano-Reggianos will be stenciled on the rind and it mean you are buying the finest, which is produced in the areas of Bologna, Mantua, Modena, or Parma (from which the name of this cheese originated). Martha Stewart recommends removing the cheese from its plastic wrap and store, covered first with parchment paper or wax paper, then covered again with aluminum foil, in the cheese section of your refrigerator for maximum preservation of flavor.
5 Star French Arugula Salad with Truffle Oil and Sherry Vinaigrette
Adapted slightly from You Can Trust a Skinny Cook by Allison Fishman
1 ½ tablespoons black truffle oil
2 teaspoons Spanish sherry vinegar
1 5-ounce box of arugula
¼ cup roasted salted sunflower seeds
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, grated freshly from a wedge of real Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt to taste
In a glass jar with a screw top lid, combine the truffle oil with the sherry vinegar and shake well to mix. Set the vinaigrette aside while you assemble the salad.
In a large bowl, combine the arugula, sunflower seeds, and Parmesan cheese and toss well. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and toss again to combine. Season the greens with freshly ground black pepper, then taste to see if the salad needs salt. If so, add sea salt to taste.
For best results with the Parmesan cheese, grate with a microplane grater to achieve "snow-like" light and fluffy cheese.
This recipe will be linked to Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Full Plate Thursday at Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen, and On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable. Please join me there for more great recipes and menu ideas.