Summer Grilling: Culina's Arugula Salad with Spot Prawns

Courtesy Culina Restaurant

For something as easy and primal as cooking food directly over fire, grilling often intimates people. But with so many cooking classes at stores and restaurants around town this summer, you can finally develop your outdoor cooking prowess, and maybe even get lunch, to boot.

At one new series, led by chef Vic Casanova at Culina Restuarant, you'll first learn about seasonal ingredients like corn shoots--the tender leaves of early corn plants, which you can find at most gourmet grocers right now--finding the best tomatoes, and how to select and clean fresh Santa Barbara spot prawns (or how to politely ask your fishmonger to do it). Then you'll see how he pulls together flavors to create his modern Italian menus, and finally, how to best utilize that fire for vegetables, fish or meat.

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After a few hours, you'll realize that something as elegant as grilled halibut with artichokes, fennel and black olive vinaigrette isn't that difficult to make in your own kitchen. The class includes lunch, so you get to eat the dishes he makes that day, and you can even rate them: The most popular dish from the class will show up on the Culina menu this summer.

One recent winner was a fantastic salad with spicy wild arugula, corn shoots, grilled corn and prawns, and tangy tomato vinaigrette (recipe below). It's the perfect light dish for summer (Father's Day!) barbecues, and really showcases the way Casanova likes to cook both at home and the restaurant--use the best ingredients you can find, pack in but balance the flavors, and cook simply.

Culina's sommelier, Brick Loomis, who offers wine pairings during the class and luncheon, recommends serving an aromatic Vermentino from Liguria with the salad. We'll cheers to that!

The Estate Salad
Recipe adapted from Vic Casanova, Culina at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills
Makes 4 servings

5 ripe heirloom tomatoes (any variety), coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
¾ cup, plus 3 tablespoons, extra virgin olive oil
2 ears fresh yellow corn, hulled and cleaned
8 fresh spot prawns, cleaned with head still intact (or 8 to 10 regular shrimp)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 pound wild arugula, cleaned and dried
4 ounces fresh corn shoots
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1. In a food processor or blender, puree the tomatoes and then pass through a fine mesh sieve, reserving the liquid (it should yield 1 ½ to 2 cups of juice) in a mixing bowl. Add vinegar to the juice and combine well, and then whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Add salt to taste and set aside.

2. Heat the grill to medium. Place the corn on the grill and turn until slightly charred on all sides, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Remove and let cool to room temperature. Using sharp knife, cut the kernels off of the cob.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine the arugula, corn shoots, corn kernels and vinaigrette. Toss gently until the greens are well coated; add salt and pepper to taste. Divide the salad on four plates or serve on a platter, and set aside.

4. In another bowl, toss the shrimp with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the chopped garlic and a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Place the shrimp on the grill and cook for about 2 minutes on each side. Remove, place on salad and serve.

The Tasting Panel classes ($85) are held on the Culina garden terrace every second Saturday of the month. Call 310-860-4000 for reservations.

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