- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

When we returned after being on vacation for several weeks, some good friends suggested that we all catch up by having a pizza supper together. The hosts offered to pick up several varieties of pies from a local pizzeria (one that specializes in inventive creations) and to make a couple of sorbets for dessert. I volunteered to be in charge of the salad.

At first I was going to toss together my mainstay salad of mixed greens coated with a red wine dressing, but in the back of my mind was the memory of an unusual recipe for a salad of arugula and baby spinach dressed in sherry vinaigrette garnished with thinly sliced cantaloupe and prosciutto.

It sounded like a perfect accompaniment for our pizzas, and after I finally located the recipe in a French cookbook, I followed the basic premise, but made a few changes.

I used peppery arugula alone rather than in combination with spinach and whisked together my own basic sherry dressing. Along with the melon and prosciutto garnish, I sprinkled some chopped pistachios over each serving for texture and color.

The salad was a huge success, almost upstaging the pizzas. Simple yet distinctive, light yet satisfying, it provided an ideal foil to the robust entrees.

You can make the dressing a day in advance, and several hours ahead, you can clean the greens and slice the cantaloupe and prosciutto so that at serving time, a quick assembly is all that is necessary.

The following recipe serves 4 but can be doubled for a larger group. The salad is quite versatile as well, especially for entertaining. Use it to begin an early fall dinner or make it part of a soup-and-salad supper. Serve it as an accompaniment to grilled chicken breasts, lightly floured and sauteed trout and, of course, to your favorite pizza.

Arugula salad with cantaloupe and prosciutto

2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup olive oil

½ ripe medium cantaloupe

5 ounces (about 6 cups) arugula (see note)

3 ounces very thinly sliced best-quality prosciutto cut into 2-inch pieces (see note)

1/4 cup chopped roasted pistachios (salted or unsalted)

Place the vinegar, salt and a single grind or pinch of black pepper in a salad bowl.

Whisk in the olive oil. (The dressing can be prepared 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 15 minutes before using and whisk well.)

Scoop out the seeds and membranes from the cantaloupe half. Then cut the half into two large wedges and, using a sharp knife, remove the skin.

Slice each wedge, crosswise, into thin (1/4-inch or less) slices. Place the slices in the salad bowl and toss with the dressing. Marinate 15 minutes.

Add the arugula to the bowl and toss to coat lightly with dressing. Arrange the salad on 4 salad plates. Then tuck some prosciutto pieces into the greens on each plate and sprinkle each serving with some pistachios. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Notes: If arugula is unavailable, you can use baby spinach.

Use the best prosciutto available for this salad. I purchased a domestic prosciutto made by La Quercia, which is available at Whole Foods. It was less expensive than imported ones and had superb flavor and texture.


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