Thursday, August 16, 2012

an elegant salad and descriptive faux pases

I usually prefer to buy salads in restaurants or at the one grocery store in town with a really great salad bar (the Molly Stone's in Pacific Heights), because it feels to me that homemade salads are usually not so good.  It's too expensive and too much trouble to buy and prepare so many fresh vegetables at home, whereas a restaurant enjoys the economy of scale.  Simpler salads usually are unsatisfying to me.  I want my salad to be complex.

There have been a few exceptions to this, interesting simple salads that I've made and enjoyed, but nothing that really made me think, "Here it is!  This is the salad of my heart, that I can make here at home."  But!  Then this week I finally made the salad that made me stop and say, "Oh my God, I have to say this myself, this is really fucking good... and it's so simple.  It's as good as something from a restaurant."

"It's better than something from a restaurant", said the Sober Husband, who sometimes rises to the occasion verbally.  He did not stay at that level of conversational grace, however, when it was time to clear the table.  In the kitchen, when he was putting away the food, he said loudly, "Hey!  There's more of this green glop left!"  I winced.  The "green glop" was pistou for the entree, soupe au pistou, made lovingly by me from organic fresh basil and really expensive Sicilian olive oil, and it tasted to me like one of the best things I'd ever made (I am completely over pesto; I'm all about its French version, pistou, which seems infinitely better to me).  

Iris paid the salad the compliment of having many servings, and it was basically demolished.  Lola, however, eyed it with distrust and was not interested in it.

Just two days later we had friends over for a small dinner party, and I made the salad again, but changing it up a bit, featuring asparagus instead of zucchini.  Once again it was loved and devoured, but before then, having a bit of trouble with the crowded table, the Sober Husband asked, "Can everyone just pass that stuff around", indicating the beautiful salad in a lovely, large, hand-made bowl.  I balked.  

"Please don't describe something I made as 'stuff'," I said.  "Can you call it a salad?"  I brought up the "green glop" remark which still stung.  "I work hard to make good food, and please don't call it 'glop' or 'stuff.'  If you can't think of the category word, like 'salad' or 'sauce', just call it 'food.'  'Food' works.  Say, 'Pass that food around.'"

The guests were bemused at this little contretemps and set forth on a discussion of whether "stuff" is dismissive or not.  But soon they began to eat, and instead the conversation moved to how good the food is and then to the fascinating topic of what does Mitt Romney really believe in his heart, and the dinner was on.

Hours later, as our guests were leaving, our friend said loudly, for the Sober Husband's benefit, "And thanks for that GREEN STUFF, it was really great!"

The Green Stuff Salad

large amount of fresh baby spinach, arugula, or other very pleasing fresh green
a vegetable to contrast (zucchini and asparagus are the two I have used)
1/2 cup or more fresh basil
1/4 cup pine nuts
olive oil  (must be very good, flavorful olive oil -- pick the murkiest cold pressed, extra virgin one on the shelf at the store)
a few lemons
a little sea salt (optional)
good Parmesan cheese

Steam the vegetable until it is soft but not mushy.  Set aside to cool.  (If you use a zucchini, slice it in half lengthwise to steam, steam about 5 minutes, and after it has cooled, cut it in as paper-thin slices as you can.  For asparagus, snap the hard end of the stem off by hand, steam the remaining stalks 5-8 minutes but do not overcook, then slice in short, diagonal pieces).

Toast the pine nuts in a little pan over a burner, frequently stirring.

Squeeze the lemons and measure the juice.  You want a ratio of 1:2 lemon juice to olive oil.  If you are making a small salad, whisk 1 T lemon juice with 2 T olive oil.  I made a big salad last night, with  1/4 C olive oil and 1/8 C lemon juice.  Pour any leftover lemon juice into a glass of water and drink it.

Toss the greens and basil leaves with the dressing.  Spread the steamed vegetable on top.  Sprinkle with the pine nuts. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt on top, if you like.  Take the good Parmesan and, with a vegetable peeler, peel off some nice curls of Parmesan.  Decorate the top of the salad with those.  Bon appetit! 


Carroll said...

Sounds delish, and I've got a good one I can trade you for this, Carole. Next time I pass through the kitchen I'll grab it to copy in for you here.

sonia m. said...

i read your post just now, and realized i ate a variation on your salad at a barbecue today: the barely steamed zucchini was cut in chunks rather than thin slices, and it was dressed with balsamic/olive oil rather than lemon. i remember thinking 'this would be great with pinenuts'. someone there must be reading your blog.