Thursday, June 11, 2009

Salad Season

It’s still down to the 50s most nights and my winter squash seeds definitely did not make it, but our veggie and fruit CSA starts distributions this week and there is a whole long list of veggies that are in season in New England!

As I write, the farmers at Red Fire and other farms across Massachussetts are picking lettuce, mesclun, spinach, radishes, turnips, beets, kale, greens, green garlic, herbs, and strawberries right out of the fields. And from the greenhouse Red Fire Farms promises cucumbers, peppers, cherry tomatoes, and carrots. I am planning a different salad for every night. How variety in repetition functions is something I often ponder in my work life; in the kitchen I’ve figured it out: the effect is pleasure and good nutrition; the method is to add and subtract specific ingredients and to change up the cuts.

One night a few years ago I passed off the salad-making on my friend Melissa and found the very same ingredients I always lay out on the cutting board transformed into a totally new salad. Much more meticulous than I, Melissa had not simply given a general kind of a chop to each thing, but had carefully diced everything from the tomatoes to the peppers into little perfectly matched pieces bedded in thinly sliced lettuce. The texture and even the flavor was completely different. Then last year, Blanca started taking over the salad-making. She always remembers to slice red onions over the top, but best of all she carefully cuts on a slight bias, so that the carrots and cucumbers slide off the knife in gentle ovals. I think there’s a French word for that kind of slicing, but whatever it’s called it ensures that the “goodies” don’t fall to the bottom, and produces wonderful mouthfuls of flavor. It’s not that I prefer one or the other method, but that I love the variety in repetition, and the opportunity to play not only with what goes into a salad but in what shape and size.

Melissa’s petite diced salad

1 head romaine, iceberg, or Boston lettuce (any variety of “crunchy lettuce”)
1 bunch full-sized spinach
1 red pepper
1 bunch cherry tomatoes
3-4 radishes
1 cucumber
2 carrotts

Thinly slice the lettuce and spinach. Cut the rest of the ingredients into matching small pieces (start by quartering the cherry tomatoes, and use that as a size guide). Toss with a vinaigrette. (my basic vinaigrette recipe is a the end of this post).

Blanca’s French-cut salad

4-6 cups mixed salad greens, mesclun, and baby spinach (at this time of year, they come so small there’s no need to cut)
1 red pepper
1 bunch cherry tomatoes
3-4 radishes
1 cucumber
2 carrotts
1/2 red onion

Cut the carrots, cucumber, and radishes on a bias, or at a slight angle so that you get sort of long oblong pieces. Slice the red pepper and red onion into long thin strips. Toss with a vinaigrette.

Grated Salad

1-2 beets
1-2 turnips
3-4 carrots

Grate all the ingredients together and toss with a vinaigrette.

Spring Salade Composé

This is the generic term for what we often call a Salade Niçoise. It literally means a salad that is composed or put together. The basic idea is that you put a bunch of different things together, with the idea that some of these go beyond the super basic lettuce tomato cucumber carrot combo. It’s generally a meal to itself. My spring favorite includes:
3 small roasted beets. Cut the tops and bottoms off the beets, place them on a foil-covered cookie sheet and roast at 400 for about 30 minutes or until tender through. Remove and put into a bowl tightly covered with the foil. Let sit another 30 minutes, then slip off the skin and cut into 1-inch squares.

2 potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch squares, and steamed until just tender
6 cups mixed greens, mesclun, and baby spinach
3-4 hard-boiled eggs
2 carrotts
3-4 radishes
1 bunch cherry tomatoes
1 cucumber
1 red pepper
1 cup diced cheddar cheese

Cook the beets and potatoes, then put them into separate containers each with a ½ cup of the same vinaigrette. Let sit in vinaigrette for at least 30 minutes and up to all day. Then cut the rest of the ingredients as you prefer, and lay over lettuce, keeping each one in its own little pile. Dribble the rest of the dressing from the beets and potatoes over the top of the salad. Serve with thick pieces of home-made sourdough bread.

Basic Vinaigrette

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (if you can find first press, use it!)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 T red wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp mustard
1/4 tsp water