Vegetable Carpaccio

Most of the time Carpaccio is associated with beef, as in thin slices of raw beef, veal or even tuna. The name comes from Vittore Carpaccio, the Venetian Rennaissance painter who, as history points out, favored the use of red and white in his paintings. Food lore suggests — quite accurately –– that Carpaccio was invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice, in 1950, the year of the great Carpaccio exhibition in that illustrious Italian city.

The fact is, though, that not everybody is comfortable with the idea of eating raw meats, so I figured it was time to explore the idea of vegetable Carpaccio, which is every bit as colorful (actually more so) and delicious as Carpaccio made with beef, and a lot more interesting than a Carpaccio made with veal or tuna.

The depth of flavor connected to Carpaccio has to do with the seasonings. A classic Carpaccio of beef, for example, goes like this: The raw beef (tenderloin) is sliced (and pounded) almost paper thin. Next the slices are overlapped on the plate (in most instances to cover the whole plate). Now the beef is dressed with extra-virgin olive oil (or a vinaigrette) or, in its classic guise, a Carpaccio sauce. Simple yet delicious.

Now let’s take that same idea, and in place of raw beef use raw (or gently cooked) vegetables. The first vegetable that comes to mind is the tomato, not only for color, but for overall appeal.

Zucchini is the next vegetable that comes to mind –– again, sliced paper thin, slices slightly overlapped. Fresh fennel (anise) and roasted red bell peppers are two more delicious possibilities. Beets are not one of my favorite vegetables, but they are ideal for a Carpaccio of vegetables.

My first choice for the ultimate vegetable carpaccio, though, would be tomatoes. In your mind’s eye, picture a plate of red adorned with drizzles of white (the same idea as used for a carpaccio of beef). In this simplicity lies beauty, not unlike that of the painter for which the dish is named. The important reality of this is that you can charge a good buck for this attractive and tasty dish, yet your food costs are next to nothing. Check the recipe to see how to do it.

Tomato Carpaccio
Yield: 1 serving; Scale up in direct proportion

4 (about 3/4 pound) fresh, almost dead ripe, Roma tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup Arugula or mesclun (baby greens)

Use a 9-inch diameter serving plate. Slice the tomatoes almost paper thin into rounds. Arrange the tomatoes around the outer edge of the plate, slightly overlapping the slices, working toward the center of the plate to cover the plate entirely (you will use about 30-35 slices). Drizzle the tomatoes with the olive oil. Sprinkle the cheese over the tomatoes. Fluff the arugula onto the very center of the plate.

Chef’s Note: To create a tomato and zucchini carpaccio, alternate layers of thinly sliced tomatoes and zucchini. Serve with a cup of vinaigrette dipping sauce in the center of the plate in place of the arugula or mesclun.

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