The New Convivialist

Month: July, 2013

Seasonal Salsa – A Recipe from Maine and… France?


Everyone was talking about my aunt Nancy’s strawberry salsa when I was home visiting Maine a couple weeks ago. Strawberries are perfectly in season there now, and though I would have preferred being in Maine a month later for blueberry picking, I was not in any position to turn down these perfectly-ripened berries. The strawberry is never something I had considered for a savory dish. When freshly picked, I think they’re perfect just the way they are and don’t need much fluffing and fussing to make delicious. But strawberry salsa, with tortilla chips. Hmmm, well, why not? Come to think of it, strawberries and fresh tomatoes can have a similar texture, and when a tomato is good, it is in fact also quite sweet. So, matched with something more vegetal and sharp, it might just be a golden summer treat. And it was. Everything I had hoped for. My aunt and sisters matched the salsa with these cinnamon chips, which made the snack more dessert-like, but I found it more satisfying with normal tortilla chips.

When I saw the recipe, I was surprised (confused?) to see a half up of “Catalina Dressing” on the list of ingredients. What in god’s name is Catalina Dressing, I thought. Is that like, a bottle of Thousand Islands or Creamy Ranch, or something equally turn-offish? Where does the name Catalina come from? It sounded vaguely Italian to me. Or from Catalina Island in Southern California? Yes, that must be it.

Like me, you might be suspicious of recipes that include a bottle or a can or a jar of something or other from the salad dressing aisle of the grocery store. “Just add two cans of Campbell’s mushroom soup and bake at 350°- it’s delicious,” you can practically hear a one of the Stepford Wives declare. But the strawberry salsa tasted so perfect and naturally sweet, that I couldn’t believe this “secret ingredient.”

A quick google search yielded a photo of a reddish colored Kraft bottle with the subtitle “Anything Dressing”. Ok, great, but what IS it? I urge you to check out and take a peek under their portfolio of dressings. Yes, portfolio, as if they were works of art and not chemical compounds. Kraft Catalina Dressing is, and I quote: Red French dressing characterized by a sweet, tomato flavor and tomato-red color. Basically, upon researching a bit further, I learned it is a kind of ketchup and mustard salad dressing with a bit of chili sauce. This is apparently what American food giant Kraft considers to be French.

The original salsa I tasted in Maine was exceedingly fresh and, I admit, had no taste of anything processed or Kraft-like. So, if you have access to the above-mentioned in your local supermarket, do go ahead and give it a try, for convenience’s sake. A simulation of Catalina Dressing using fresh ingredients is, however, quite easy and probably cheaper. It should stay fresh in the refrigerator for a few days, so it can be a great way to process strawberries that you may have over-picked. From my experience, though, with a group of eight people on a hot summer day, it won’t stay around for more than a half hour.

(photo above: adorable wooden strawberry – flea market find; odd thing found inside a bell pepper; fresh strawberry)


recipe strawberry salsa


Recipe – Strawberry Salsa

Yield:  approx. 3 cups

2 l/2 cups or about 500 grams finely chopped fresh strawberries

1 medium sized chopped green or yellow bell pepper

2 Tbsp. chopped green onions

2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley

1/3 cup “Catalina salad dressing”, homemade version uses the following:

-1 small/medium tomato, halved and seeded

-1/4 cup vegetable oil

-2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

-1 tsp. grainy mustard

-1 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar

-a few dashes of hot sauce or to taste

-salt and pepper

Tortilla chips

1. In a bowl, combine the strawberries, green pepper, onions and parsley.

2. To make the salad dressing, place the tomato pieces in a food processor or blender and process with the oil, vinegar, mustard, sugar and hot sauce. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

3. Stir the salad dressing into the strawberry mixture.

4. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

5. Serve with tortilla chips and lemonade.







Brown Rice Arancini

recipe convivialist arancini

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to happen upon an entire pot of untouched day-old brown rice. Steamed and sticky to perfection.

Happen upon, you might ask? You see, I have a boyfriend who likes to cook what he calls eco-rice. This kind of rice ensures that as little heat, i.e. energy, as possible is used, employing instead patience and time for an excellent result. Just dump a kilo or so of brown rice in a pot, add water (no matter exactly how much), bring to a boil and leave on for a couple of minutes, turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for… well, that depends. Until all the water is absorbed, so, at least a few hours but if you are in our house, probably a day or more. Best is an electric stovetop for this purpose, one of the few things it is better than gas for.

Paul has admitted he buys and cooks rice just because he thinks it looks healthy. So he tends to cook it without actually imagining an end result, in other words just to have it around in case inspiration arises. In case. And sometimes it does just that­– sits around. It is almost infuriating to me, as someone who consistently overthinks how rice should be cooked, that it can some out so perfectly with such little effort. I mean, how people can obsess over rice! To soak, to toast, to rinse, to double rinse, to salt, to parboil…. the possibilities are myriad and, let’s be honest, ridiculous, once you have tried eco-rice.

But back to my story: when I happened upon this pot of lovely brown rice, with a Dritte Mitte aperitivo fast approaching, I dipped in a spoon and a little parade of arancini began to dance in circles before my eyes. It was already so sticky and gelatinous that the answer to this unaccounted for rice was obvious.

Usually arancini are made with cooked risotto. The Italians, being masters of the leftover, have from their already delicious risotto, developed something even more toothsome. Although I suppose if you cheese, batter and fry just about anything, you can turn an eight into a 10 without fail.

Feel free to go the traditional route and use cooked risotto/Arborio rice. All I’m implying is that if you choose to get creative, go ahead and use any rice you like, so long as it’s well cooked (ideally day-old) and relatively sticky. All you need to do at that point is mix the rice with a bit of egg, flour, finely grated Parmesan cheese, pepper and salt. Then form a small, compact ball around a square of mozzarella, bread with fine breadcrumbs and fry in a neutral oil. A quick note about the salt: I felt that my arancini were undersalted, even though I added quite a bit into the mixture. I attribute this to the fact that the original pot of eco-rice was not salted at all. Therefore, I would recommend salting your pot of rice to taste to ensure you have the right amount in the final arancini.


Recipe: Arancini


1 kilo brown rice, cooked as instructed, ideally leftover

3 eggs

150 grams finely grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup flour

2 cups of finely grated breadcrumbs (or more as needed)

approx. 2 balls fresh mozzarella, cut into small squares

neutral oil for frying

pepper and salt to taste


  1. Place a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and add enough vegetable oil to rise 4 inches in the pot.
  2. In a large bowl mix together the cooked rice, Parmesan cheese, 1 egg, flour, salt and pepper
  3. Form a small ball of the rice mixture around a cube of mozzarella. Make sure that it is compact (squeeze a bit) so that it does not dissolve when placed in the oil. Repeat with the remainder of the rice mixture.
  4. Whisk together the remaining 2 eggs. Dip each arancini in the eggs and then in the breadcrumbs, shaking off any excess.
  5. Heat the oil over medium-high heat. When hot enough (you can try one as a sample- if it starts to sizzle, not spatter when placed in the oil, it’s a good temperature), place a few of the balls in the oil and cook through until browned on the outside.
  6. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cooked balls and place on a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining rice balls.

Ideally serve warm and with a light tomato sauce.