Written by Drew Hansen
Wednesday, 12 August 2009 16:38
It’s high summer, which means it’s salad time. All the local farmers have beautiful lettuces, and what better way than a salad for dinner to support local produce, eat healthy, and keep the oven off?
Here’s the salad “recipe” we use at our house. (You’ll see that it doesn’t really deserve the name “recipe”—it’s just some easy principles.) It basically follows Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.
First, figure out how much lettuce you think you need for just that meal. (There’s no sense making extra salad, the greens get slimy from cooking in the vinegar overnight.) If we’re having a salad as a main course we generally need one big head for two people; if it’s a side dish then it’s usually 1/3 head. (In fairness, we are big eaters—our heads of lettuce come from Farmhouse Organics, which means they’re about the size of basketballs—so you might want to drop the quantity a little bit.)
Second, wash it and—this is the important part—get it really dry. We do a few rounds in the salad spinner, followed by wrapping the greens up in a kitchen towel as if you’re folding a present, putting another kitchen towel on top, then grabbing the ends and whirling the whole package around Step outside to do this, otherwise you’ll spatter cold water all over your kitchen. (Yes, you’ll spatter some water on yourself when you do it, even if it’s outside, but hey, it’s summer, so who cares.) Then unwrap your package, pat the lettuce dry with another kitchen towel, and if it still looks wet do the whole package wrap/spin cycle again. I don’t know why dry lettuce matters so much, but it does. The dressing coats it better and there’s no dilution of flavor from residual water.
Third, chop the lettuce. Not an essential step but sort of nice, especially if you’re eating with someone who doesn’t want lettuce leaves the size of handkerchiefs.
Fourth, cut up a shallot. I will confess I have never understood if “a shallot” means “two or more of those big onion-looking sections that are stuck together when you buy them” or simply one of the big onion-looking sections, so I just cut up a lot and throw it all in. It’s hard to have too much shallot.
Fifth, salt the greens with kosher salt. Toss with your hands. Salt again.
Sixth, drizzle on some good olive oil. Toss with hands. Drizzle again. Toss again. And so on, until you have a nice, light sheen on all the greens. (This is not a bad point to taste, just to see if you have the salt and oil right—the greens should be so tasty now that you wouldn’t be unhappy just eating the salad right away and skipping the next step.)
Seventh, add a few drops of red wine vinegar. Toss. Add a few more drops, toss; taste, and so on. Just keep adding vinegar and tasting leaves until the salad tastes right to you. I find that I tend to under-vinegar my salads, out of fear of making them taste like Paas Easter egg dye, so frequent tasting is a reminder that I don’t need to be so cautious.
Enjoy, and be grateful you live in a place where you can get such great produce!