September's Can't-Miss Dish

By Ellen Bhang · 09/01/2020

Looking for a no-fail, mouthwatering, gonna-tell-your-friends-about-it plate? Each month, Boston Globe columnist Ellen Bhang highlights the dish you need to try right now—and something to sip alongside it.

On the plate: Ivory Silo Melon and Cucumber Salad

Where to find it: If you’ve ever wondered what makes the produce at Michael Pagliarini’s Italian restaurants pop with color and flavor, the chef-owner will tell you about Bill Braun and Dee Levanti of Ivory Silo Farm in Westport, Massachusetts. The couple supplies distinctive varieties of vegetables, fruits, and herbs to Giulia, located south of Porter Square on Mass. Ave., and Benedetto, in Harvard Square’s The Charles Hotel.

Pagliarini remembers an early conversation with Braun. “He told me how he wanted to plant, and be a seed breeder, and be a resource for growers in that [South Coast] microclimate,” recalls the chef. The farmer talked about propagating and preserving seeds that would be resilient in the face of climate change, promote biodiversity, and yield fruits and veggies bursting with flavor. “I was so taken by what he said—the weight of it and the urgency—that I said, ‘I’ll buy whatever you grow,’” says the chef.

“It’s probably the single most important collaboration I’ve had since I’ve been cooking,” adds Pagliarini. “It puts into focus the bigger picture things that really are at the heart of what’s important.”

Notes on the nosh: Ivory Silo Melon and Cucumber Salad is served at Benedetto, which now has two patios. (One adjoins the restaurant while another alfresco space is steps away, located in the hotel’s courtyard.) The dish features juicy curls of an orange-hued Trifecta melon tucked next to a green-fleshed melon called Jenny Lind. Headily perfumed and full of peak-season sweetness, the fruit is plated with wafer-thin slices of a cucumber called Salt and Pepper, a flavorful, yellow-skinned variety. Nestled alongside is stracciatella, mozzarella curds tempered with hot water and doused with Mapleline Farm cream. Rosy slices of Prosciutto di Parma, flecks of dried Calabrian chili, and a scattering of basil (a cross of Mrihani and Opal varieties, also grown on the farm) round out the gorgeous presentation.

Sip alongside: Maitalia, a Jamaican rum-based cocktail, has the tiki feel of a Mai Tai kissed by the sunshine of southern Italy. Bar director Daniel Motsinger takes the recipe from his predecessor, Charles Coykendall, and switches up the brand of orange liqueur. Instead of the Borducan, he uses one called Solara, from Gruppo Caffo, a venerable distillery in Sicily. Motsinger loves its sharper acidity and sweetness. “The Caffo Solara works wonderfully in cocktails, given its extra zip,” he says. This colorful libation—citrusy and mint-adorned—is as bright and refreshing as the sumptuous salad.

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