Lately, I find myself staring at creamy white, firm heads of cauliflower in the market and then pass them by for lack of inspiration. Well, not this week. Enough is enough. I boldly pounce on the most beautiful head of cauliflower in the stack and set it my cart.
True confession. This is my first real encounter with romanesco. Tempted by it many times over the years at the Portland Farmers Market, this past weekend, I succumbed. I bought two heads without a clue what to do with them. A member of the brassica oleracea family, romanesco has an exotic, almost alien beauty and can be a little formidable to the uninitiated.
Like most of the baby boom generation, I grew up on the ubiquitous American iceberg lettuce salad with the usual assortment of dreary bottled dressings. It was only in adulthood that I discovered that fruit could be used to good effect in a salad—beyond those ghastly sweet coconut and marshmallow concoctions that sat high and proud on every family buffet of my youth.
Suddenly, Green Goddess Dressing is showing up everywhere. I’ve encountered it on four menus in the past month. And I can’t stop ordering it, even though restaurant versions pale by comparison to what you can make in your own kitchen. Restaurants invariably hold back on the herbs, perhaps to control cost or to appeal to the less adventurous diner. This is a mistake, because this dressing is supposed to be all about the herbs and bold rather than timid.
Every year about this time, I start craving salads. And by craving, I mean intense, must have it, primal longing. It’s as if my body, as well as my mind, knows that fresh local produce will soon be a fading memory. I find myself at the farmers markets overloading my trusty, ever ready Metro Kart with bell peppers, celery, sweet onions, corn, lettuce, fennel, chiles, and tomatoes. Plus whatever else looks amazing that day.
I used to make ratatouille (an aromatic vegetable mélange of eggplant, zucchini, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and herbs) the classic way (AKA the Julia Child way), sautéing each vegetable separately in copious amounts of olive oil. Julia says that her recipe is the only one she knows in which each vegetable retains its own shape and character.
This salad is the happy result of a recent early morning meander through the Portland Farmers Market. In mid-August, the market is full to bursting and the choices are almost overwhelming.
A huge variety of sweet and chile peppers overflow baskets onto large bunches of just picked basil and mint. Plump sweet onions nestle next to mountains of green and purple beans. Tomatoes are either as small as a marble or as large as your fist and range in color from green, to yellow, to orange, to red. Blackberries, yellow raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries all vie for attention.
This past Saturday, I walked through the Seattle University District Farmers Market with–gasp–no goal. I let the season’s bounty and the culinary muses set the agenda. The muses, aroused by my atypical lack of planning, whispered sweet nothings in my ear: “cherries, cherries, cherries.”
Luckily, several growers’ tables were piled high with sweet cherries (Bings, Rainiers, and Chelans) and one grower had oh-so-hard-to-find Montmorency pie cherries as well. But at $10 a pound, I will plan what to make with these, perhaps next week.
I think of myself as a component kind of cook. Just as I prefer a wardrobe full of separates that I can mix and match as fancy strikes, I also like to mix and match culinary components. What I learn from one dish always has ramifications to another dish later.
Take this new salad for instance. I am in the lingering thrall of the Lemon & Thyme Marinated Artichokes posted last week. They were so good that I can’t get them out of my mind. We had barely finished the first batch of artichokes, and I had another batch marinating in the fig.
We were at the Portland Saturday Market yesterday, and I couldn’t resist buying a bag of what may be the last of the season’s heirloom tomatoes. They come in such a variety of beautiful colors, shapes and sizes, and their flavor is incomparable. Nothing like the grocery store tomatoes that we grudgingly subsist on over the long winter.
Over the past year, restaurant menus everywhere were featuring heirloom tomato salads, and I sampled my fair share.
One fine day, as the song goes, I got a note from Colette Becker of Saucy Mama (@SaucyMamaCafe on Twitter). She invited me to participate in this year’s Saucy Mama food blogger contest. Well, it’s hard to say no when an invitation is extended so graciously and a promise of a heap of Saucy Mama products is part of the gig. So of course I said, “Count me in.”
When the package arrived a couple of weeks later, I ripped into all the bottles and tasted each one. I especially loved the Chipotle Mustard and the humongous Garlic Stuffed Olives, so decided to use them together in some sort of easy summer main course. This flavor packed Italian Panzanella is the result.
THE BIG DAY–July 4th—is almost here, and I’m scurrying to post this wonderful and oh so easy salad so that you will have time to add it to your picnic spread or buffet table. It’s different enough from traditional Old-Fashioned Creamy Macaroni Salad that I often present it as a spicy alternative or adjunct.
There is something about this salad that keeps folks coming back for second, third, and yes, even fourth servings. I love having it on hand during intense work weeks (like this past week), as I seem never to tire of it. I have been known to eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but don’t spread that around.
America has been having a love affair with pasta salad since at least 1920, when early recipes began appearing in American cookbooks. At first, the salads were mainly side dishes in diners and delis, but eventually they achieved much higher status to become rock stars of the picnic buffet table. To give these salads “gourmet’ allure, the standard elbow macaroni was replaced with more “exotic” pasta shapes, such as penne, farfalle, cavatappi, fusilli, radiator, gemili, and conchiglie. And the simple mayonnaise or vinaigrette dressing took on bold new flavor profiles.
was surprised and thrilled last Saturday at the Seattle University District Farmers Market at how much fresh produce is available this early in the season. Wow!
This particular farmers market is one of the few in the region that is open all winter. This past week there were sparkling bundles of tender chickweed, plump sunflower seed sprouts, tiny yellow flowering bok choy, sorrel, baby arugula, dandelion greens, and mint. I bought way too much and then had to quickly devise a few salads to use the bounty.
We are in love with full-meal salads in the OtherWorldly Kitchen, and I scramble every week to come up with a couple of new and memorable offerings. However, it’s challenging to make a salad an entire meal if seafood, poultry, or meat is not included.
Enter the indispensible log of mild goat cheese. It’s always on hand in my kitchen, because it lends itself to so many dishes. I wouldn’t want to be without it.
Pears have a flavor affinity with creamy blue cheeses, such as Cambozola, Gorgonzola, Stilton, and Roquefort, as well as with balsamic vinegar, red wine, oranges, toasted walnuts, and the caramelization technique. I’m exploring these marvelous affinities this fall as new-season local pears fill the farmers markets.
If you are interested likewise in exploring the wide range of possible flavor affinities with pears as the star, I highly recommend The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. I use the lists in this book constantly to push myself into new directions.
September is perhaps the most rewarding and enticing month of the year for Northwest cooks. Much of summer’s fruit and produce is still available, while the first of the apples, pears, and winter squash are arriving at farmers markets. Days are still delectably warm, but evenings have begun to cool. I am rustling through leaves on my evening walks through the lovely neighborhoods of Northwest Portland.
I created a version of this salad for Cooking Light magazine many moons ago. I remember being so relieved to have salads to work on for awhile, as the editors too often threw me the dessert assignments. Trying to craft hundreds of memorable and satisfying desserts (over a few years), each with such a low calorie ceiling was making me crazy.
This past spring, I had a salad at Ten01 in Portland, Oregon that rocked my world. It featured micro salad greens, roasted yellow beets, a tangy vinaigrette and a creamy mixture underneath the salad that the kitchen billed as panna cotta. Every time my fork got a bit of that creamy mixture, my palate did a little dance.