Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Salad Days

It's time to talk about salad. Or really-- salad dressing.

I admit it. I'm a salad snob. Growing up my brother and I would go to our father's house on the weekend and he always made his own dressing. There was a jar of it on the counter, redolent of mustard. Salad seemed naked without it.

I soon learned to make my own, measuring olive oil and red wine vinegar (2/3 oil to 1/3 vinegar), and adding mustard, salt, and pepper.

In college, my tastes evolved. I read Marcella Hazan and was persuaded to buy really good olive oil (frantoia) and even better balsamic. I changed from mustard to honey mustard, liking the subtle sweetness. I added garlic. And I no longer measured, preferring to eyeball it in a small jar and shake it, then taste and retaste until it was right, adding oil or vinegar as needed.

The perfect taste is neither oily nor vinegary, but somewhere in between.

One day everything changed. I read in a cookbook about layered dressings, the true italian way. First you wash and dry the greens. Then you add a dribble of olive oil, mix to coat. Rock salt. And finally a splash of vinegar. Be generous with the olive oil, and frugal with the vinegar.

This was a revelation to me. So simple, and yet so different. The flavors are layered on top of the leaves.

In the past few years I've digressed even more. I no longer use vinegar, just lemon. Sometimes I make other dressings, miso-rice vinegar, or the trusty balsamic, but I make this 90% of the time. And Cobe says it is the best.

Simple Lemon Salad Dressing

Good quality olive oil (frantoia is my favorite, it should be rich and green, extra virgin)
Rock salt
1/2 Lemon
fresh cracked pepper

1. Wash the leaves and dry very well. Do NOT underestimate this step. Dirt in the leaves will completely ruin your salad, I have done it believe me. I usually wash the leaves in 3 rinses. And the drying is doubly important. Water and oil do not mix, the oil will not coat the leaves if they are wet. Even after spinning the leaves I still use paper towels.

2. Coat with olive oil. Use a little splash. You can put your thumb over the spout to slow the stream. You need less than you think. Mix with your hands or two spoons.

3. Sprinkle rock salt. You can use regular salt but the thick chunky rock salt adds a nice texture.

4. Squeeze on half a lemon. Mix with hands or spoons again. Taste after mixing and decide if you want more lemon.

5. Sprinkle on fresh cracked pepper.

Other additions
- parmigiano reggiano in thick shreds
- lemon rind shredded on a rasp (the flavor is beautiful)
- thinly sliced pear or green apple (coated with lemon to keep from turning brown)
- toasted nuts
- bits of creamy cheese, such as goat or feta or mascarpone
- dried fruits, such as apricots or dried cherries
- sliced persimmon
- pomegrante
- shredded bacon

the list is endless.

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