In cooking school we learned that there are two kinds of salads, simple and composed. Simple salads consist of a single ingredient, like lettuce, with a basic sauce. Hearts of iceberg with Green Goddess dressing. Composed salads consist of, well, more than one simple salad put together, and, we were told, never tossed: jello mold with carrots and pineapple chunks on a leaf of iceberg lettuce with a mayo dressing…
At home, in my early years, we grew up on the simple type – a bit of lettuce, perhaps a tomato wedge or two, tossed with our choice of Kraft or Wishbone, French, Blue Cheese, or the aforementioned Green Goddess (I have a recipe for the stuff buried somewhere around here). But sometime in my early teens my parents discovered a salad bar at some local eatery. I think it was The Gandy Dancer (don’t ask me), an old railway station converted to a temple of haute cuisine. From that day on we had selections of things like croutons, bacon bits, and green pepper slivers, tossed with our choice of the same three dressings.
On picnics we had salads that didn’t involve green vegetables – potato salad, macaroni salad, chicken, or tuna salad. Nothing like mayo in the hot sun. Fruit salads made their appearance at special events like birthdays and Thursdays.
Turning to the various bibles of cuisine, the Larousse Gastronomique gives a lovely recipe for an “American Salad.” This is an artfully arranged bowl of lettuce, canned pineapple, canned corn, cucumber, egg, and diced chicken topped with ketchup flavored vinaigrette. Now I realize that it is in some small way our fault that there are fast-food chains in downtown Paris, but that’s no call to get nasty. Famed nineteenth-century chef Auguste Escoffier begs to differ in his tome, Ma Cuisine. His American Salad is an odd combo of tomato, pineapple, orange sections, banana slices, and lettuce topped with orange juice sweetened mayonnaise. Although, strangely enough, if you remove the banana slices and add a little fresh cream to the mix he calls it a Japanese Salad. Go figure.
As summertime arrives, so do chances for picnics, outdoor dining, and romantic candlelight suppers on terraces. Salads are perfect for these warm weather occasions, and without any more rambling, here are three of my favorites.
1 bunch of fresh baby spinach leaves
1 red onion
1 pint of strawberries
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey sea salt coarsely ground black pepper
That’s right, spinach. But not the cooked mushy stuff from a can your mother made you eat. If you just can’t stomach spinach, substitute other strongly flavored fresh baby greens. Wash and dry the spinach leaves, trim off the stems. Thinly slice the onion. Quarter the strawberries. Lightly whisk the oil, vinegar, and honey together, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss with spinach, onion, and strawberries just before serving. Serve by candlelight. On the terrace.
1 bunch, each fresh:
flat leaf parsley
1 head garlic
1/4 cup + 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
crushed mixed color peppercorns
We normally think of herbs as mere flavor complements to other ingredients. But what’s wrong with a strongly flavored salad–especially with fresh green herbs just picked. Wash and dry the herbs. Pick the leaves from the stems; for the chives cut in short links, about 1″ long. Soak the head of garlic in water for five minutes, place on a small baking sheet, and drizzle with the 1 teaspoon of oil. Roast at 350F for 20-30 minutes until soft. Let cool, cut the top off the head of garlic, and squeeze out the roasted garlic paste. Mix with remaining oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. Toss herbs together and drizzle lightly with roasted garlic dressing. Hmmm… Serve by candlelight. On the terrace.
2 lbs small new potatoes
1/4 lb of thick cut bacon
3/4 cup creme fraiche
1 teaspoon white truffle oil
2 tablespoons stoneground mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
salt and pepper
Wash potatoes, cut in bite-sized pieces (halves or quarters), and cover with cold salted water. Bring to a boil and simmer until soft. Meanwhile, dice bacon into small, 1/4″ pieces, spread out on a baking sheet, and bake at 250F, stirring occasionally, until cooked through. Drain off the fat. Blend remaining ingredients together and season to taste. Drain potatoes, add bacon bits, and, while the potatoes are still warm, add dressing mixture. Serve warm or room temperature. Forget the candlelight and terrace. Take this one on a romantic picnic.
Wine is always tough on salads. Vinegar and wine are not the world’s best complements. You need something with a bit of acidity, and maybe a bit of sweetness. Chenin blanc may be the best grape for the job. From California, try Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc, Yountville Cuvee, or the Chapellet “Old Vines Cuvee.” From France, the Loire Valley is home to the best of these wines. I like the Chapin Landais Vouvray, or splurge a little on a Clos de la Coulee de la Serrant Savennieres.
Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.