When I was growing up, my mom often asked me to make salad for our family dinner. Invariably, it was iceberg lettuce or romaine, tomatoes and maybe one other thing, such as cucumbers. Usually I tossed it with an orangish Wishbone dressing.
Hey, it was the 50s. That’s how we rolled. Our supermarket’s selection of ingredients was limited and in the part of Texas where we lived, making an Italian-style dressing with extra virgin olive oil was as yet unheard of.
I was bored with that salad even then and I’m sure my mother was, too (which might have been why she assigned the task to me).
What a difference now! With our plenitude of ingredients, we could make exciting and unique salads every night. But the inspiration for those creations doesn’t always strike. So I’ve been stockpiling ideas, and maybe one will strike your fancy.
Like the warm asparagus and shallot salad with mustard dressing shown above. With poached eggs and prosciutto, it’s substantial enough for a meal, and sparkles with the flavor of toasted mustard seeds (see recipe).
Baby kale with marinated anchovies get their protein boost from hard-cooked eggs and white anchovies found in supermarket and Italian deli departments. Put a little garlic in your vinaigrette for this salad and, if you have it, a shot of anchovy-based colatura.
Caesar salad with oven “fried” chicken takes a classic beyond cliche. Or maybe it doesn’t, but the chicken is so delicious you won’t care. This salad could be made with leftover oven fried chicken. If you’ve never made that, here’s how: Season boneless, skinless chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Dust with flour. Dip in beaten egg and coat with dried bread crumbs or panko mixed with grated parmesan and enough olive oil to moisten. Bake at 400F until browned and cooked through. Cool a few minutes and cut in bite-sized pieces.
There’s a bonus sardine in the photo–feel free to leave it out, but consider adding a few jarred anchovies to the mix (or, once again, a spritz of colatura to the dressing).
I ate this trio of perfect ingredients–burrata, zucchini and tomato–in a Pugliese resort called Masseria Torricella. It’s a Caprese salad tweak, of course, one that’s pretty irresistible. If you have a spiralizer (I don’t), you can make the zucchini noodles with ease. Or use the julienne setting on your mandoline. Or buy the packaged julienned zucchini available in some markets. Salt the zucchini and set in a colander to drain for an hour or two. Gently squeeze dry and dress all three ingredients with your best olive oil, along with a drizzle of your best balsamic.
Chickpea and tuna salad is one of my go-to meals when the larder is nearly bare. Usually I have cans of chickpeas and tuna on hand to combine with whatever crunchy vegetables and savory things might be in the fridge–for instance, green onions, bell pepper, fennel and olives. I drizzle olive oil and squeeze lemon juice right into the bowl, ending with salt and lots of cracked red pepper. I can make this salad in 10 minutes flat, and be assured I’ll love every bite.
Writing this post reminded me of an amazing Winter White Salad I once had at Al di La, in Brooklyn. On a frigid day, I ate lunch alone, with plenty of time to marvel over the snowy landscape outside and the equally wondrous whiteness of Jerusalem artichokes, cauliflower, turnip, parsnip, fennel, Belgian endive and salsify on my plate.
As you can see in the linked recipe, the vegetables are cut lace-thin on a mandoline and dressed in a champagne vinaigrette. Not the easiest salad to shop for or to make, but it means something that, years later, I’m still thinking about that salad.
- 4 shallots peeled and quartered (do not cut off root ends)
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil divided
- Sea salt
- 8 ounces asparagus cut in 2-inch pieces
- 2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
- 2 teaspoons grainy Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
- 4 large eggs
- 6 ounces frisee torn in pieces, or other microgreens
- 8 slices prosciutto di Parma or San Daniele
- Freshly ground black pepper
In a medium skillet, sauté shallots in 1 tablespoon olive oil over high heat until they begin to sizzle and turn brown in spots. Sprinkle with salt. Reduce heat, cover and continue to cook until just tender, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer shallots to a small bowl.
Heat another tablespoon of olive oil over high heat in same pan. Cook asparagus, stirring, until lightly browned and barely tender. Return shallots to pan and warm over low heat.
Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Toast mustard seeds for about 30 seconds until aromatic. Remove from heat and add a little water to prevent further browning. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the grainy mustard and vinegar.
Fill a deep skillet two-thirds full of salted water and bring to a simmer. One by one, crack eggs into skillet and nudge whites closer to yolks. Turn off heat and spoon hot water over eggs until whites are cooked.
Meanwhile, place frisee in a bowl, toss well with dressing and tong onto 4 plates. Arrange warm asparagus and shallots on top.
When eggs are cooked, lift each one with a slotted spoon and nestle on one side of plate. Drape prosciutto on the other side. Finish with a little black pepper.