Heirloom Caprese #2

Last month I showcased a gorgeous Caprese Salad with Burrata cheese. Sliced and simply dressed with extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, salt and pepper, it was the perfect salad for a summer pool party.

This month, I roughly chopped super-ripe heirloom tomatoes and tossed them with fresh mozzarella. I seasoned the salad with oregano, salt and pepper, then finished it with a julienne of basil and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar.


© Giovanni Cucullo 2010 / 2011

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

It’s only Monday, and I have eaten at least a six Vietnamese Spring Rolls or Summer Rolls as I like to call them. Fresh, healthy and easy to make…what else could you ask for? Well, maybe summer-like weather.

Your shopping list items are in bold.

Here’s the deal…

  1. Cut your veggies into thin strips or large matchsticks and marinate them for about an hour in a blend of rice vinegar, sugar and salt. You want the marinade on the sweet side. Your vegetable choices include: carrots, cucumbers, radish and daikon, but always feel free to experiment. These are the same veggies they use in the Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich; I just may eat 6 of those next week.
  2. Put a bundle of beanthread (cellophane) noodles in a bowl and cover with hot water. Let them soak for about 15 minutes, then drain and keep in cold water until ready.
  3. Cook your protein! I’ve used shrimp for this recipe so I simply boil the shrimp in their shells, remove them as soon they start to curl and chill them in an ice bath. You can peel them as soon as you can handle them.
  4. I also set aside four small bowls on my counter, one with cilantro leaves, one with mint leaves one with shredded Boston lettuce leaves and one with strips of scallions.


Now we’re ready to make the summer rolls.

Lay a clean damp kitchen towel down on your cutting board or counter.
Dip one Vietnamese rice paper wrapper into hot water for 10 seconds, lift out of the water and lay it on the kitchen towel. You now have your canvas for all those goodies in front of you. This will take a bit of practice; just be gentle when handling the rice paper.

On the side of the wrapper closest to you, put a few shreds of lettuce, noodles, shrimp, some veggies, herbs and few pieces of scallions. Now roll it up like a cigar. You can leave the ends open with some of the healthy goodness popping out or you can close the ends as you would for a burrito. Repeat with all the ingredients.
To serve, cut them in half and serve them with either the Nuoc Cham dipping sauce or the Hoisin-Peanut dipping sauce.


The summer rolls can be made hours ahead, making them perfect for parties. Cover with a clean damp kitchen towel, wrap in plastic and refrigerate. Spray them with a little water just before serving.


Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce

1 garlic clove, crushed
½ hot red chile, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
juice from 1 wedge of lime
2 tablespoons Fish Sauce
2 ½ tablespoons of water

Grind the garlic, chile and sugar to a paste in a mortar and pestle. Add the lime juice, fish sauce and water. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Hoisin Peanut Dipping Sauce

2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/3 cup hoisin sauce
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Dash hot pepper sauce or Sriracha

Combine first three ingredients until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients. Transfer to a serving bowl.

NB: Rice paper wrappers are sold in packages of 50 or 100. I use the brand with the red rose on the package. Seal leftovers in the same package wrapped in plastic.


Crispy Plantain Croutons

In the Caribbean, the most popular way to prepare a plantain is fried. Plantains are peeled, sliced into rounds, fried, lightly pounded to flatten and then fried again, resulting in the classic snack…tostones.

The tostones are traditionally served with a raw garlic sauce.

I love tostones but I wanted to experiment a little. I’ve made plantain chips many times and those are always fun and easy but I wanted to try something different, so I cut the plantain into small cubes and fried them twice. After removing from the oil, I tossed them with salt and granulated garlic.

These easy to make nuggets are a great snack but also add wonderful texture to many salads as a nutrition-packed substitute for croutons.

Dinner with The Murphy’s: Salmon & Wisdom


Whole Roasted Salmon takes the stage once a year at Chez Murphy.       

Fennel-Citrus Salad



Wood-fired in an oven built by the man-of-the-house himself, this wild Salmonidae is roasted perfectly in a mere 30 minutes and receives roaring praise from everyone at the table.       



I’m certain my Irish hosts would toast to this bit of information:
The salmon is an important creature in several strands of Celtic mythology and poetry, which often associated them with wisdom and venerability. In Irish mythology, a creature called the Salmon of Wisdom (or the Salmon of Knowledge) plays key role in the tale known as The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn. The Salmon will grant powers of knowledge to whoever eats it, and has been sought by the poet Finn Eces for seven years. Finally Finn Eces catches the fish and gives it to his young pupil, Fionn mac Cumhaill, to prepare it for him. However, Fionn burns his thumb on the salmon’s juices, and he instinctively puts it in his mouth. As such, he inadvertently gains the Salmon’s wisdom.       

Roasted Garden Tomatoes




A bit of grog helps lubricate the process.       



I am always filled with a little more wisdom every time I leave a Murphy gathering, though I’m not certain I owe it to the salmon.

Dandelion Salad

If you sometimes enjoy a touch of bitterness in food, as I do, then this is the salad for you.

Growing up, my mother would occasionally make a dandelion salad in the spring and summer, and I would make sure I ate somewhere else; I hated dandelion salad! Things change, and so do our palates.

By the way…dandelions are one of the healthiest greens you can eat, being much more nutritious than broccoli.

For the dressing:

I took some of my Oven Roasted Tomatoes, put them in a food processor with Dijon mustard, minced red onion, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper and sugar. I quickly blended that and then slowly added some olive oil until I had a delicious vinaigrette.

I finished the salad with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.