Daydreams of rucola, prosciutto and pecorino romano

My previous blog post was about productivity and fighting procrastination, yet I’d really be inhuman (and a liar) if I claimed to never fall into procrastinatory daydreams myself! I attribute these spells of distraction to (thankfully) having many other interests, and see no harm in entertaining some of these interests for a little while, even when PhD life is at its busiest. Something I frequently catch myself doing is wondering and pondering about food. I’ll think of an ingredient that I like, or one that I am curious about, and then I will Google it to see what I could possibly do with it, should I want to cook something new that evening or weekend. Indeed, I admit that thoughts of pecorino romano and rucola often seep into my day, interrupting my thinking about how a bilingual individual’s brain might deal with multiple competing languages.

So, here I am now, channeling my most recent food-thoughts into a blog post. What does a blog post about cooking have to do with PhD life, you ask? Well, although we PhD students are always pressed for time, we naturally get hungry when we work so hard, and we should be able to enjoy our life and eat healthy and tasty food, in order to compensate for our stress and deadline-filled days. Aside from that, for those who enjoy cooking, trying out new recipes can be seen as an opportunity for creativity, for taking a break and for gaining energy from a great meal.

For me, the best part of finding new recipes is experimenting with new combinations of foods, flavors and colors. With cooking, I am the complete opposite of my own character — no longer the meticulous perfectionist who wants to be guaranteed of success and who fears to be surprised by the outcome, but preferring instead to improvise, replace, adapt, add, omit, all the while obeying my one golden rule: include garlic wherever possible, even if the recipe does not explicitly call for it! (I say wherever possible because the combination of flavors has to allow for it. I’m not one for adding garlic to sweet tasting foods!). I only measure when the consequences could be dire, and usually “eyeball” everything – not that I am particularly experienced, but perhaps because I don’t take the instructions (and the potential consequences of not following them) seriously. What’s the worst that can happen? (Says the person whose rice never turns out the same way twice). This attitude, by the way, is the exact reason 1) I nearly failed chemistry in high school and college, and 2) I do not bake.

I like consulting recipes to see how I could stretch my own creativity and learn more about what kinds of flavors mix well together. Sometimes I open a cookbook or blog not to follow a particular recipe, but just to see what goes well with an ingredient I am craving, or what spices to use. Perhaps because of photography (and my growing admiration for food photographers), I’m also increasingly interested in how different ingredients actually LOOK together – both from the way they are cut, to the way the colors pile up and what kind of dish they’d be best served in. Just the other day, I made tons of different foods for a family party we were hosting, and I stood in front of a series of widely-open cupboard doors, silently computing what would look best in which dish, with my husband staring at me as I stared at the shelves, not daring to intervene. (So, I guess I am getting more and more meticulous, at least with presentation, after all. Soon I might even outgrow my haphazard way of cutting vegetables, too, although I do think there is something charming about no two cucumber pieces looking alike in a salad.)

Summer is synonymous with freshness, crispness, crunchiness, zestiness, zinginess and COLOR. My eyes have now been trained by my camera after all the time we have been spending together lately, and they are easily excited by vibrant, deeply saturated, strongly contrasting colors. Summer means picnics in the park, refreshing weekend mornings spent on the sunny terrace of a café or at the bustling Jean-Talon market, and long evenings spent with ice cream and friends. Although I have an intimidating amount of work to get through these days, it is also on my priority list to enjoy the season, to be creative with cooking and with photography, and to just feel alive.

While many great recipes can be found for free online, a series of cookbooks I really enjoy are those by Giada De Laurentiis. Having a soft spot for Italy and Italian cooking, I love her recipes because they are usually made with all the things I really love to eat. Her recipes are quite simple but creative, and I enjoy the conversational tone with which she describes how she thought of the recipes, or how they got passed down to her from earlier generations in her family. Some of them can be more challenging than others, but she takes you through the steps in a very easy-to-follow way. They also don’t take much time or exotic ingredients, which is a bonus for busy students like us.

Although I can share many favorites with you, I thought I’d share 2 summery recipes for salads I tried this past weekend, from her book “Weeknights with Giada“. They turned out to be tasty and refreshing, especially accompanied by a tasty glass of rosé !

1)        Salad with couscous, watermelon, watercress and feta cheese

Giada describes this as “the perfect summer salad” and, after trying it, I agree! I was particularly intrigued by the combination of tastes and textures (for one, watermelon, with crunchy watercress (which I replaced with rucola because I love rucola), and salty feta cheese.


–        Salt and freshly ground black pepper

–        1 cup of Israeli couscous (which is nice and plump)

–        Grated zest and juice from 2 lemons

–        ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

–        2 tablespoons honey

–        1 (4-pound) piece of watermelon, rind removed, cut into ½ inch cubes

–        2 blocks of feta cheese, cut into ½ inch cubes

–        2 packed cups of watercress of rucola

In a medium saucepan, bring 3 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Stir in the couscous and reduce heat so that mixture simmers. Cover pan and cook for 8-10 minutes until couscous is tender. Drain and set aside to cool for 15 minutes.

(Kristina’s note: If you buy couscous in a box, follow the instructions on the box, with respect to water-couscous ratio. Some types of couscous don’t need to be drained and just need to be fluffed with a fork.)

In a salad bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, salt and pepper.

Add the cooled couscous, watermelon, feta and watercress (or rucola).

Toss until all the ingredients are combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and enjoy!

Photo by Kristina Kasparian; Recipe by Giada de Laurentiis

2)        Roasted salmon, snap pea, and cucumber salad

Now here’s a salad that has a ton of color, and also a really fresh, lemony zing to it!


–       1 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed (on how to trim a snap pea, check here)

–       2 small Persian cucumbers, unpeeled, thinly sliced

–       1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

–       ¼ cup chopped fresh dill

–       ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

–       Grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon (on how to zest a lemon, check here)

–       Salt and freshly ground black pepper

–       1 can of boneless, skinless pink salmon, drained

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the snap peas and cook until they turn vibrant green (about 1-2 minutes). You could also lightly steam the snap peas for 2 minutes instead of boiling them. Drain and transfer to a bowl of iced water to cool for about 2 minutes. Drain again and put into a salad bowl.

Add the cucumbers, tomatoes and dill.

Whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper until the mixture is smooth.

Using a fork, flake the salmon from the can into ¾ inch pieces and add to the salad.

Pour the dressing over and toss until coated.

Photo by Kristina Kasparian
Photo by Kristina Kasparian; Recipe by Giada de Laurentiis 

And so, happy summer, happy cooking (and eating), and happy writing-your-thesis-on-a-full-stomach! (Note: excessive amounts of white wine and/or rosé MAY lead to temporarily impeded scientific thinking, impaired grammatical abilities, and a total insensitivity to typos!)

2 thoughts on “Daydreams of rucola, prosciutto and pecorino romano

  1. Gd Evening,

    Enjoyed your latest entry & thanks for including those tempting, eye-appealing & healthy recipies which remind me of some creative nutrious salads Alice has made.
    Now, you’ve got me inspired & hungry!

    Love, Aunt Genny


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