Making a salad is a daily ritual in our house. Time can almost stand still while I stand over my sink washing the leaves in ice-cold water. Each leaf is unfolded tenderly, thoughtfully inspected for anything that doesn’t belong. The leaves crisp slightly if the water is cold enough. It perks them up as it would us. They are then dried in a spinner, then piled into the salad bowl on top of a puddle of dressing. If it’s just me in the kitchen I love to gently toss the salad with my hands, lightly coating each leaf with dressing.
I feel slightly uncomfortable without a lettuce in the fridge, in much the same way I do without a lemon or wedge of craggy-edged Parmesan. I think of lettuce as either blousy and soft; crisp; crunchy long-leaf; or loose oakleaf-shape that have a soft texture like a silk camisole. My ideal lettuce, the salad of a summer’s afternoon dream, is a hearted variety, the stems crisp and the leaves firm enough to stand on their backs like an open shell. Each type of leaf has its own virtues. Sometimes I want a simple plate of soft, buttery leaves; other times something crisp and icy. On a hot day a crisp, cool salad made with romaine is perhaps my favorite. This long-leaved, tight-hearted lettuce has a crunch that is invigorating, even eaten without dressing. It will take anything you care to throw at it, but one thick with lemon and extra-virgin olive oil is in my opinion hard to beat. Sometimes a spoonful of Dijon or a handful of some fresh herbs will find their way into the dressing to add a little punch if I’m feeling so inclined.
Dressing your salad is about balance and harmony. A squeeze of lemon, a good vinegar such as a champagne or balsamic is often all you need along with a drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil. Salt of course cannot be overrated here, I find adding a pinch of salt to the acid and letting them sit to get know one another allows the acidity of the liquid to mellow. I rarely measure the ingredients for a salad dressing. It is more about ratio, and tasting as you go. For me one-part acid to three-parts oil is pleasing to my palette. It should have a balance of acid and oil without one dominating over another. Use a fork or whisk to the dressing until it turns a thick creamy consistency, this is satisfying in its own right.
There is much pleasure to be had in a bowl of leaves, each leaf dressed lightly and barely present. It is simplicity at its most generous. More than rolling out pastry dough, or baking bread, I am at my happiest in the kitchen when I’m putting a salad together. Whether it is a single variety of leaf or a more complex arrangement that builds-up one another, the making of a salad is where kitchen craft crosses over into artistry. -Shannon
1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
3 Tbsp. Olive Oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Butter lettuce (or any other favorite)
6-8 anchovy fillets pack in oil, patted dry
½ loaf crusty baguette
Pour lemon juice into a small bowl or a jar with a tight fitting lid. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir to dissolve salt, taste, adjust if needed. Use a fork or small whisk and add olive oil a little at a time; whisk until completely emulsified.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Slice the baguette into 1-inch diagonal slices. Brush both sides of the slices of the bread with olive oil. Place onto a rimmed baking sheet. When oven is ready place the baking sheet with the baguette slices on a rack in the middle of the oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden. Turn half-way through baking.
For the salad, wash and dry the butter lettuce and tear into bite sized pieces. Place in a large serving bowl and when ready to serve toss with dressing. Use only a little at a time, until all the leaves are just coated, but not drenched in the dressing. Top with shavings of Parmesan. The croutons can be served on the side with the anchovies either for topping the croutons or for each salad, depending on preference.
Add a little pureed garlic or diced shallot or both to the vinegar.
White wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, or red wine vinegar can replace some or all of the lemon juice.
Beat in a little mustard before you start adding the oil.
For part of the olive oil, substitute a very fresh nut oil, such as walnut or hazelnut.
Heavy cream or crème fraiche can replace some or all of the olive oil.
Chop some fresh herbs and stir them into the finished vinaigrette.