Over the weekend, I couldn't resist treating myself to a colossal bouquet of elegant scarlet dahlias at the Saturday morning market. This screaming-red cluster of velvety, tuberous flowers brought a certain elegance to my kitchen and a blissful reminder to continue to surround myself with simple splendors.
I also brought home some splendorous strawberries, juicy apricots, and aromatic lemon basil that necessitated experimention with a sweet and spicy fruit salsa. Additionally, I dragged out a cookbook and attempted something new: homemade vegan focaccia bread.
The finale was exquisite—a sumptious appetizer that screamed of summer colors and flavors, paired with a SLO County wine that lent itself to the season.
If you haven't bought flowers for yourself lately...what are you waiting for?
SLO FRUIT SALSA
1 very large apricot (or 4 small), seeded & sliced
1 medium heirloom tomato, diced
1 large jalapeno (use a small one if you want to add more heat), seeds removed & finely chopped
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed & finely chopped
1 - 2 tablespoons lemon basil leaves, chopped
(If you can't find this varietal, use Italian basil and the zest of 1 or 2 lemons)
1 - 2 tablespoons Italian parsely leaves, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
1 - 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 - 2 small lemons
Raw honey for drizzling (optional)
This recipe is all about your personal preferences. Use peaches instead of apricots. Add an extra tomato (or none at all). Throw in some red onion, or yellow. Maybe squeeze a little extra lemon juice. Do whatever appeals to your senses.
When you're ready to experiment, chop all ingredients and layer in a glass bowl. In a separate small bowl, whisk olive oil, lemon juice, and salt & pepper. Using your hands, gently toss all chopped delicacies in the large bowl until mixed. Then pour dressing over chopped ingredients and gently toss. (Of course you could use a spoon, but I think this way is much more fun). Let salsa marinate at room temperature for 2 hours to let colors macerate and flavors meld. Stick in fridge for 30 minutes before serving.
If you're up for crafting your own freshly baked bread, give this recipe a whirl for a finished creation that produces a chewy, sponge-like interior and a satisfying external crunch.
Adapted from the Quick-Rise Focaccia Dough recipe in Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein
2 ½ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 package quick-acting/rapid-rise yeast
½ teaspoon salt (plus a bit extra for dusting)
1 cup warm water (between 120 - 130F)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (plus a bit extra)
2 teaspoons dried lemon peel (optional)
In a large glass bowl, add 1 ½ cups of the flour, yeast, and salt. Stir in the warm water and oil. Gradually stir in ½ cup of the remaining flour (reserve ½ cup). Pour mixture onto a lightly floured board and knead for 8 - 10 minutes. Incorporate the remaining flour as needed until you have a smooth dough that you can form in to a ball. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat oven to 200F. Lightly oil the bottom of a 13 x 9 glass baking dish. After dough is finished resting, transfer to the baking dish and stretch the dough with your fingers and press until it is stretched evenly along the entire bottom of the pan. Dampen the kitchen towel and lay over the glass dish, careful not to touch the dough. Place the baking dish on a large baking sheet and place in the oven. Turn off the heat and let it sit for 20 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size. Then remove from the oven.
Remove the kitchen towel and heat oven to 400F. Wet your fingertips and poke small indentations across the dough. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle evenly with a bit of salt. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, or until firm in center and lightly golden. If you wish to add the dried lemon peel, sprinkle evenly over the top after bread has been baking for 10 minutes, or you risk burning the delicate peel.
Let cool slightly, then serve up crusty, warm pieces plated with fruit salsa and drizzled with honey. I paired this seasonal starter with Alapay Cellar's 2009 Viognier ($28). This lovely wine's undertones of apricot, honey and citrus, blossomed with this sweet and zesty salsa's melded flavors, and cut through the spice.
A fine start to a decadent SLO summer.
If you make the trek out to Avila Beach this season, Alapay Cellar's tasting room is within walking distance of this sandy summer hangout.
Indulge a little.