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3 Sumptuous Salads for Summer

08/03/2011 04:39AM ● Published by Style

Courtesy of Chronicle Books

Chef’s Salad

The Commonsense Kitchen by Tom Hudgens

(Chronicle Books, 2010, $35)

Traveling through Wyoming one rainy spring, I ate in a classic American, pretense-free restaurant and ordered a chef’s salad and chicken soup with rice. Though the salad was made with ordinary ingredients—iceberg lettuce and perhaps not the freshest crinklecut carrot sticks—it hit the spot, and I quickly introduced my version into the Deep Springs lunch repertoire. The community loved it so much that for a time it became our special-occasion lunch — huge, fresh, colorful trays of chef’s salad welcomed Deep Springs trustees, alumni gatherings, visiting scholars, and families for graduation. The particular components specified below are classic and familiar to everyone, but you may vary the suggested lettuces, vegetables, toppings, and dressings to suit any circumstance.

In warm weather, serve chef’s salad alone with freshly baked bread or biscuits; in cold weather, include a hot vegetable soup as well. Serves 6 abundantly

Greens

  • 1 small head red-leaf lettuce
  • 1 small head butter lettuce
  • 1 small bunch spinach
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded red cabbage

Toppings

  • 1/2 small red onion, shaved thin
  • 4 slices turkey breast, cut into bite-sized ribbons
  • 4 slices ham, cut into bite-sized ribbons
  • 4 slices sharp Cheddar cheese, cut into bite-sized ribbons
  • 4 slices provolone cheese, cut into bite-sized ribbons
  • 1/2 English cucumber, sliced into rounds
  • 4 large red radishes, thinly sliced
  • 2 small, tender stalks celery, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 1/2 cup white or brown mushrooms, wiped clean, trimmed, halved, and sliced
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and shaved into strips with a vegetable peeler
  • 1 1/2 cups Croutons
  • 24 cherry tomatoes, halved with a serrated knife
  • 4 Hard-Boiled Eggs, cut into quarters

For serving

  • Lemon Vinaigrette
  • Ranch Dressing
  • Blue Cheese Dressing

Wash and spin the greens dry, and cut into bite-sized pieces. Chill while preparing the other ingredients. Lay out 6 large plates. In your large salad bowl, toss the greens with a little of the lemon vinaigrette, and mound in the center of the plates. Evenly scatter all the other toppings, in the order listed, on and around the greens, letting things fall as they will, with no fussy arranging. Serve the salads immediately, passing bowls of creamy dressings and lemon vinaigrette, letting your guests drizzle their dressing of choice over their salad.

 

Marinated Beets

The Commonsense Kitchen by Tom Hudgens

(Chronicle Books, 2010, $35)

Beets are maybe not universally loved, but we beet lovers love beet salads with especial zeal, to which this recipe attests.
I almost never prepare beets any other way, and over the years, I’ve won over many a beet hater—those who insist beets taste like dirt or recall bad childhood experiences with canned or overcooked beets. Well-cooked beets are appealingly sweet and yet, well, earthy tasting. (Of course, they taste particularly good if they are grown in good earth.) To keep the earthiness in check, I always include at least a little orange, and often a fennelly thing as well: shaved fennel, or a bit of tarragon or chervil. Somehow, beets taste more broad and substantial than many other vegetables. Grown year-round, they are especially welcome in the fall, winter, and spring.

Serve a pile of these beets atop a green salad, or on a bed of shaved fennel tossed with lemon juice. Or topped with a few slices of peeled fresh orange and strewn with crushed toasted walnuts. Or sprinkled with fresh chervil sprigs (or chopped Tarragon) and draped with prosciutto. Sliced beets can be layered with rounds of goat cheese, or simmered in beef stew to make Russian Borscht. Possibilities abound.

If not only red beets but Chioggia (pink striped) beets or golden beets are available, cook, peel, slice, and dress all three varieties separately and keep them in separate bowls until serving time — a salad or composed dish with all three colors (the Chioggia sliced horizontally to show off the bull’s-eye pattern) is one of the most spectacularly colorful sights of cool-weather cookery. Although the yellow and Chioggia varieties taste very good, plain old red beets, awash in pigment, are still my favorite. Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 1/2 pounds beets (if possible, choose beets of even size)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon, chervil, or wild fennel flowers (optional)

Heat the oven to 400°F. Cut off all but 1/2 inch of the beet greens and, if fresh and leafy, save for another use. Scrub the beets well under running water. Toss them with the olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and arrange them in a baking dish in which they will fit comfortably in one layer. Pour ¼ cup water into the dish and cover with aluminum foil (shiny side down), lightly—otherwise the water will evaporate and the beets will burn. Bake for 40 minutes (for golf ball–sized beets), or until the biggest beet offers no resistance when pierced to the center with a small knife. In my experience, large beets might take as long as 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the foil very carefully—the steam can burn your hand. Let the beets cool in the dish for about 20 minutes, then cut off the tops and tails and slip off the skins. Wipe any remaining bits of skin off with your hand — do not rinse the beets in running water. Sometimes the skin is stubborn and must be cut off with a paring knife. Slice the beets lengthwise into wedges and place in a medium bowl. Add the orange zest and juice, red wine vinegar, additional salt, and pepper to taste. Toss well, and taste for balanced sweet, acidic, and salt flavors. Toss the beets again in their dressing just before serving.

 

Shaved Fennel

The Commonsense Kitchen by Tom Hudgens

(Chronicle Books, 2010, $35)

Raw shaved fennel, seasoned only with a little lemon juice, is an excellent base for many salads, or served by itself with pork, chicken, or fish. Fennel is best in cool weather; hot weather dulls its flavor and appeal. Try it with a sandwich, instead of chips; it may be successfully eaten with your fingers. Fennel is best freshly cut but will hold in an airtight container or bag, refrigerated, for a few hours. It pairs well with beets, pears, nuts, citrus, and shellfish.

Fennel bulbs that are flatter tend to have a more pronounced fennel flavor than ones that are more bulbous. Trim the outer layer and dark green stalks from a large bulb of fennel. Reserve a small bunch of fronds from the top, preferably the feathery inner fronds. Using a mandoline slicer, shave the fennel bulb across the grain in paper-thin slices. If you don’t have a mandoline, use a knife to first cut the fennel bulb in half lengthwise, then slice crosswise on the diagonal as thinly as possible, being patient but decisive. Chop the reserved fronds coarsely. Toss the fennel and fronds with a squeeze (about 1/2 teaspoon per fennel bulb) of lemon juice.

Shaved Fennel with Pears and Parmesan

Gently toss a big handful of shaved fennel with 2 sliced sweet, ripe pears (peeled or not), a squeeze of lemon juice, ample shavings of Parmesan, a pinch of salt, a twist of pepper, and a good drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Slices of prosciutto are great with this salad.

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