Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Homegrown Winter Salad

I am so grateful to have a garden. Yes, it's small but I've managed to fit in a pomegranate tree, a couple of dwarf Meyer lemon trees, a dwarf mandarin orange, a variety of herbs, and plenty of succulents. This winter I picked up a treasure trove of hard-necked garlic varieties that grow well in moderate climates, like mine in San Diego. Each clove has put out shoots but summer is a long time coming. So I also planted some greens. Tatsoi, escarole, broccoli spigarello, Swiss chard, endive, and others are going gangbusters now, especially since the rains have ceased and the sun has been out.

Now, these aren't planted in the ground. They're in a large pot on my patio where I get more sun this time of year. It's also a little insurance that my cat won't dig them up. So, in fact, this is something apartment or condo dwellers with a sunny balcony can easily do. I picked up these as seedlings from Whole Earth Acre Nursery's stand at the Hillcrest Farmers Market. They're a favorite vendor of mine because they sell healthy and hard-to-find plants. I've bought epazote and mojito mint from them, as well as French tarragon and a variety of unusual basils. 

Today was warm enough that I was in the mood for a salad and that all I had to do was just step outside my kitchen with a pair of scissors and cut some greens for lunch. I kept it simple, just adding a few sliced heirloom cherry tomatoes, pepperoncini, and feta.

The dressing? An easy vinaigrette using olio nuovo I buy every fall from  California Olive Ranch and sherry vinegar. Olio nuovo is the first press of the season. The olives are young and so you get a very spicy, fruity, and enjoyably bitter flavor compared to more mellow flavors from olives harvested later in the season.

Truly, there's no reason to buy bottled dressing when it take so little effort to make something delicious yourself. For a traditional vinaigrette all you need to remember is the ratio of oil (3) to vinegar (1). Add a minced clove of garlic, a bit of mustard to help emulsify the components, and a little salt and pepper to taste, and you're good to go. In fact, most of the time, I put all the ingredients in a small glass jar, screw on the lid and shake it until it comes together. You don't need any fancy kitchen tools, although I also make it using a mortar and pestle to completely grind the garlic and salt into a paste before adding the other ingredients. The result is a very smooth garlicky sauce.

Of course, there are many variations on vinaigrettes that can help change up the flavors to match your mood or meal. I've added minced preserved lemon, various herbs--basil, dill, tarragon, and oregano come to mind--chopped and powdered peppers to add punch and flavor, and fruit juices to add sweetness.

Another favorite dressing is from a recipe my dad gave me. It's odd but delicious, using anchovies and both Parmesan and feta for a creamy, salty experience. If a salad dressing or dip can be hearty, this would be it.

Hearts of Romaine Salad

1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard or to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 to 8 anchovy fillets, minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh lemon or lime to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor fitted with a metal blade or in a blender. Process until the mixture comes together. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Use as a salad dressing or dip for Romaine leaves.

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