The edge of greatness

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

There's nothing more alluring than a nice, close shave.

And it doesn't apply only to a man's face: Vegetables and fruits could use a shave, too. No, they don't get a 5 o'clock shadow. And no, you don't shave them with a Gillette. You use a mandoline. Or a good vegetable peeler. Or sometimes a very sharp knife.

The transformative power of the simple technique of very thin slicing is nothing short of stunning.

Anyone lucky enough to have been in possession of a truffle, black or white, knows the pleasure of that particular shave -- and how slicing it so thin changes it from a fungus you'd never want to bite into one of the most amazing things you can eat.

But for a much less recherche example, take the prickly artichoke. You'd never think of eating one raw. Eating even a baby artichoke would be akin to eating wood -- with a garnish of prickles. But shave baby artichokes and the texture changes radically: The slices, in their wonderful thinness, are tender. Somehow even the flavor changes -- air becomes an ingredient and the raw thistle is suddenly delicate rather than impenetrable.

That's the idea of the artichoke salad at La Botte in Santa Monica, where chef Stefano De Lorenzo shaves baby artichokes into lengthwise slices. When he tosses them with a mustardy lemon-olive oil dressing, they really soak it up.

But De Lorenzo doesn't stop shaving there -- he's a regular Figaro, adding shaved celery heart and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. He tosses all that with arugula and more dressing, to marvelous effect. Somehow, because the ingredients are all tissue-thin, the flavors combine in a way that they wouldn't otherwise.

Asparagus aspirations

AT Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, chef Judy Rodgers has been known to shave raw white asparagus, for a salad with sliced blood oranges and shaved bottarga (salted, pressed dried tuna or mullet roe). She uses a vegetable peeler to shave thin slices off the peeled asparagus, making lovely white ribbons that get draped over the blood oranges. A microplane grater is used to shave the bottarga (tuna is her preferred roe with this salad).

That dish raises the question: Why not shave green asparagus? In fact, that makes a compelling salad too. Trim the bottoms of the spears, then peel them. Lay one flat on a cutting board and start shaving -- which in this case means more peeling. Toss the pale green ribbons with some julienned prosciutto or ventresca (Spanish tuna belly canned in olive oil; other high-quality canned tuna works well too) and a little vinaigrette, and it's pretty fabulous.

Carrots done this way are brilliant: Use a peeler to shave pared red, yellow and orange carrots from the farmers market. Shave a baby beet or two the same way, if you dare, and toss it with the carrots, some chopped carrot greens and a light vinaigrette for a fresh take on carrot salad.

Shaving completely changes the nature of fennel. Cut it thick and you get plenty of crunch and a strong, sweet anise-like flavor that some people find overpowering. Shave it on a mandoline and the flavor goes much more subtle, making it a more cooperative partner for smoked salmon (dress the fennel with a mustardy vinaigrette to make a nice bridge). Or even yellowfin tuna carpaccio and shaved watermelon: That's how Dakota Weiss, the new chef at Jer-ne at the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey, serves it.

The shaved fennel, she says, isn't sweet, and "the shaved watermelon adds a note of sweetness." Unlikely as it sounds, drizzled with a lemon zest-infused olive oil, it's quite appealing, with a wonderful contrast of textures between the silky tuna, the barely crisp fennel, the juicy-fresh watermelon and crunchy crystals of black sea salt.

You can even shave ripe cantaloupe, giving a textural spin to the old classic prosciutto and melon. Let the ribbons fall on a plate, add a squeeze of lime, a drizzle of ruby Port and some unexpected chopped mint, then scatter jullienned prosciutto on top.

And why stop there? Certain big, red radishes could probably use a shave; ditto daikon. And don't forget jicama -- which, sliced thin on a mandoline, benefits from a jaunty lime aftershave. Powder its nose with cayenne or chili powder, and you're good to face the day.


Artichoke salad

Total time: 45 minutes

Servings: 4

Note: From chef Stefano De Lorenzo at La Botte restaurant in Santa Monica


1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 ice cube

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon best-quality olive oil, divided

1/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large bowl, whisk the Dijon mustard, ice cube and lemon juice. Add the olive oil a few drops at a time, whisking to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. (Makes two-thirds cup.)

Salad and assembly

12 fresh baby artichokes

Juice of 1/2 lemon


1 small white celery heart

1/2 cup freshly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided

Salt and pepper to taste

4 cups baby arugula, cleaned and trimmed

Olive oil

1. Trim the ends of the stems and pare down the artichokes to the tender leaves and hearts. As you work, place the prepared artichokes in a bowl with enough water and the lemon juice to cover. Remove the prepared artichokes from the lemon water and pat dry.

2. Using a mandoline, cut the artichokes into very thin, lengthwise slices. Place the slices in a large bowl and toss with 1 to 2 tablespoons of dressing. Still using the mandoline, delicately slice the celery heart and add to the bowl with the artichoke slices. Add one-fourth cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, tossing gently, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Place the arugula in another bowl and toss with 1 to 2 tablespoons dressing or to taste. Gently combine the arugula and the artichoke-celery mixture. Add the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano and transfer to a chilled salad bowl.

4. Drizzle the salad with the remaining teaspoon of olive oil. Pass the remaining dressing on the side.

Each serving: 345 calories; 5 grams protein; 15 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams fiber; 30 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 8 mg. cholesterol; 349 mg. sodium.


Shaved fennel salad with smoked salmon

Total time: 15 minutes

Servings: 4

2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed

2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons best quality olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 to 2 teaspoons chopped fennel fronds

4 ounces smoked wild salmon

Meyer lemon wedges for garnish

1. Using a mandoline, shave the fennel against the grain into paper-thin slices. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, salt and mustard. Whisk in the olive oil in a slow stream. Add the pepper and whisk again.

3. Add the shaved fennel to the bowl, along with the fennel fronds, and toss to coat the fennel well. Adjust the seasoning and set aside.

4. On each of 4 plates, arrange one-fourth of the smoked salmon. Next to it, heap one-fourth of the fennel salad, giving it some height on the plate. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

Each serving: 124 calories; 6 grams protein; 7 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 8 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 7 mg. cholesterol; 665 mg. sodium.


Shaved cantaloupe with prosciutto and mint

Total time: 20 minutes

Servings: 4

1 ripe cantaloupe (about 3 1/4 pounds)

2 tablespoons finely chopped mint

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1/4 cup ruby Port

Freshly ground black

pepper to taste

4 slices of prosciutto (about 4 ounces)

1. Cut the cantaloupe into quarters, remove the seeds and peel. Using a mandoline, slice each quarter lengthwise as thinly as possible without having the fruit disintegrate. Divide the fruit equally and pile high onto four plates. Scatter one-fourth of the mint over each.

2. Drizzle one-half teaspoon lime juice and a tablespoon Port over each, along with a little black pepper.

3. Cut the prosciutto into quarter-inch julienne strips, and scatter one-fourth of it over the melon on each plate.

Each serving: 149 calories; 10 grams protein; 19 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 3 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 22 mg. cholesterol; 791 mg. sodium.


Tuna carpaccio with shaved fennel and watermelon

Total time: 15 minutes

Servings: 4

Note: From Dakota Weiss, chef at Jer-ne at the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey. Black sea salt is available at Sur La Table stores.

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1/4 cup best quality olive oil

4 ounces best quality yellowfin (or other sushi-grade) tuna

1 small fennel bulb, fronds reserved to garnish plate

1 (3-inch by 2 1/2 -inch by 3/4 -inch) slice watermelon, rind and white outer edge removed

Sea salt

2 teaspoons Hawaiian black sea salt or other top quality coarse salt

1. To make the lemon oil, combine the lemon zest and the olive oil.

Set aside.

2. Thinly slice the tuna (about one-fourth-inch thick), and piece it together into a (5-inch-by-2-inch) rectangle on each of four plates. Drizzle each with about one-half teaspoon lemon oil.

3. Shave the fennel across the grain on a mandoline. Divide into four portions (one-fourth cup each) and place on top of the tuna on each plate.

4. Using a long, sharp knife, cut the watermelon into 16 very thinly sliced 3-inch-long strips. Lay 4 slices over the fennel on each plate.

5. Season with a little sea salt and a drizzle of lemon oil. Garnish the plate with a small pile of black sea salt. Reserve the remaining lemon oil for another use.

Each serving: 125 calories; 8 grams protein; 9 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 7 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 13 mg. cholesterol; 834 mg. sodium.

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