Rocket defies fashion like nothing else that has been subjected to such overuse, misuse, abuse and downright misspelling. It’s been picked from the wild and cultivated for aeons by people who eat for pleasure and, like all the most interesting vegetables, can vary widely in flavour depending on its age and place of birth. Young, early-spring rocket, or tunnel-grown, is delicate, pale and subtle; later on, when the leaves are bigger, darker and tougher, it can be peppery, pungent and bitter. Some people have an ideal rocket and while I tend towards the more mature and robust, I love to follow its changes and make adjustments to how I treat it. This recipe needs a strong-flavoured rocket to cope with the various sweet, sharp and peppery flavours. It is an evolved salad, taking one element from a dinner I had at Chez Panisse in San Francisco, a couple from home and one from an otherwise awful meal in Dublin, which I can’t bring myself to credit. The parmesan mixed into the salad lifts it to a higher level, because if there’s one thing rocket loves, young or old, it’s fresh parmesan. The essence of this salad, the one we eat at home, is rocket, parmesan, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, eaten using fingers as cutlery, of course.
SOAK THE CURRANTS IN HOT WATER - just enough to cover them - for 20 minutes, then drain off the water. Pick through the rocket and parsley to sort out any unworthy leaves and tough stalks. Leave the rocket leaves whole and tear the parsley stalks into manageable pieces, about the size of the rocket leaves. Slice the red onion very thinly in half-rounds, and gently mix it into the rocket with the currants, the grated parmesan and some coarsely ground black pepper.
To make the dressing, put the oil and vinegar in a jar, crush the garlic and add it in. Put a lid on the jar and shake it briskly for a few seconds. Use a whisk and jug if you prefer, but not an electric blender as the result will be too thick to do anything but sit on top of the salad. Toss the salad in the dressing, distribute it on to four plates and scatter a few shavings of parmesan over each one.
To make the crostini, first take any crust off the bread. The slices need to be about 10mm thick. Brush the slices generously on both sides with olive oil and put them in a moderate oven for about ten minutes. You may need to turn them once, though a fan oven will cook both sides evenly. The crostini are done, or at least done to my liking, when the slices are crisp on all sides while retaining some softness in the middle. They will keep for a few days in this condition in an airtight container.
To finish the crostini, spread a thin layer of tomato pesto on each slice and pop them back in the oven or under a grill just to warm them through. Cut the slices into small triangles, or any shape you want, and tuck a few crostini into each salad or put them on the table separately.
© 1999 All rights reserved. Published by Cork University Press.