My family has grown quite significantly over the years, from five in my immediate family to now brother-in-laws as well as seven nieces and nephews between my two older sisters.  When I was in college and my sisters were newly married and later young mothers, we started doing a secret santa gift exchange to save money and unnecessary purchasing.  My cousin would draw names and email each of us the one (adult) person we were to buy a gift for, and over Thanksgiving when we were typically all able to get together we would go around in a circle and open them.  With just one person to focus on, it opened up a lot of time (and fun) to find the absolute perfect gift.  I still have the custom skull high top Converse sneakers with pink laces my brother-in-law got me.  After quite a few years of doing a secret santa, we all decided we missed a little the joy that comes from gifting to others, and decided to open up the possibilities a bit.  However, we didn't go back to buying gifts for everyone.  Instead, for Christmas as well as for birthdays, mothers day, fathers day, and the like, we would purchase if it was within our means and we happened across something perfect throughout the year, but no obligation.  So, a present might come on your birthday in August or a present might randomly show up in June when you were least expecting it.  Oh what more fun!  This is what happened a few months when a box from Amazon was unexpectedly leaning up against my door upon arriving home.  I opened it to find a copy of "Dinner: Changing The Game" by Melissa Clark.  Had this been shipped to me by mistake?  No, the address is correct.  Is there a note inside?  Nope.  Hmmm.  One of my sisters had texted a few days prior to double check my address, so I texted her.  Bingo.  A good friend of hers had said the cookbook was amazing and had been getting rave reviews so she bought one for herself and for me.  How thoughtful.  And unexpected.  And something we can now share as sisters.  All Summer long, we've been communicating back and forth with which recipes we have tried, how they turned out, and what the next ones on our list are (she was surprised I listed the Warm Squid Salad, but I'm sticking to my guns!).

Melissa's goal with "Dinner" was to help us figure out what to make for dinner without falling back on what we've eaten before, to give choices and help expand the way we think about dinner so cooking it becomes "one of the most satisfying and loveliest moments of the day."  She provides a list of ingredients to keep on hand and the history and uses behind them in the front of the cookbook.  The list can seem a little daunting as they're not all your average pantry staples (sumac, kimchi, and thai red curry paste to name a few).  But, I poured over this cookbook for hours the first day totally immersed in how attainable Melissa made incorporating these ingredients into anyone's arsenal.

The first recipe I made from "Dinner" was the Warm White Bean Salad with Arugula Pesto and Preserved Lemon.  I was drawn to it because it seemed like a nice light salad for Summer, but also because it would teach me how to make a version of pesto, which I could translate later for many other dishes if it became part of my "arsenal."

Most of the ingredients I had on hand, and the others I quickly scooped up from the local supermarket...except for the preserved lemon, lemons that have been pickled in salt and their own juices.  I hunted all over the store to no avail.  Check back tomorrow for more info on how to make your own preserved lemon, in no time at all!

Total time: 20 minutes
Serves 4

6 to 8 cups arugula
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 1/2 tbsp chopped preserved lemon
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/4 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
3 cups cooked white beans, rinsed and drained
fresh lemon juice to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 to 3 tbsp thinly shaved shallot or red onion (optional)

1) In a food processor or blender, combine 2 packed cups of the arugula with the almonds, cheese, preserved lemon, garlic, and the 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Process or blend until everything is finely chopped.  With the motor running, blend in the 1/3 cup olive oil.  
2) Warm the beans in the microwave for about 1 minute, or in a small pot on the stovetop for about 2 to 3 minutes.  The beans should be warm to the touch, but not hot.
3) In a medium bowl, toss the arugula pesto with the warm beans, and adjust the seasoning to taste.
4) In a large bowl, toss the remaining arugula with lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  (If you're unsure, add the seasonings a little at a time, tasting as you go, until you like it.  Be generous with the black pepper.)  Arrange the arugula salad on a large platter, and spoon the beans on top.  Sprinkle the shaved shallots over the beans, and serve.

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