Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hearts of Romaine with Bacon, Tomatoes(!) & Blue Cheese Dressing

A few weeks ago, while having lunch out with a friend, I ordered a classic Iceberg lettuce wedge salad. This is not the kind of salad that I would ordinarily order...most of the time, I wouldn't even order a separate salad course for lunch...but here in Kansas City we were in the middle of Restaurant Week. During Restaurant Week, participating restaurants offer limited choice, multi-course, prix fixe lunch and dinner menus. For this one week, the prix fixe price is much lower than it would normally be. Restaurant week gives the participating establishments a great opportunity to draw in new clients for whom they can hopefully really strut their stuff.

For my lunch on this particular occasion, when faced with my first course options, the lettuce wedge salad seemed to be the more appealing choice (which honestly doesn't say much for the other was so memorable I have forgotten what it was). Imagine my surprise when I found the salad to be downright delicious. The crisp and refreshing lettuce combined with the creamy tang of the blue cheese dressing and the salty-crunchy bacon hit all my taste buttons. Even the out-of-season tomatoes were shown off to advantage. It was so good I could have eaten another one right then and there. As always, when I sample a well-made classic, I understand why it became a classic in the first place.

One evening last week—when I wasn't really very hungry...and didn't feel much like cooking—I was standing in front of the open refrigerator, trying to decide what to prepare for dinner. Uncharacteristically, there wasn't a lot of selection in the vegetable drawer....a few Brussels sprouts...some cabbage....and a couple of hearts of Romaine. I rejected the sprouts and the cabbage (just too heavy...and too much work for my state of mind) and eyed the Romaine. When I discovered the wedge of Roquefort in the cheese bin, I remembered the lettuce wedge salad. I thought that Romaine would make a salad that was just as good (if not better) than the Iceberg. Since there is always bacon in my refrigerator, my salad was immediately three-quarters of the way there. Then, as good fortune would have it, there happened to be a couple of tomatoes on the counter.

Before I go any further, I feel I must point out that the tomatoes were not purchased by me. I really do try to eat seasonally, and tomatoes are high on my list of the things I pretty much avoid outside of their season. But, there they were...and they didn't look horrible....and I would hate to waste food... (and, now that I think about it, there is photographic record of another time when tomatoes in March proved to be just the thing).

For our dinner that night I made a large chopped salad of hearts of romaine, tomatoes, bacon and blue cheese. I am including my recipe for the dressing at the end of the post (a loose adaptation of the one in Joy of Cooking). Unfortunately, I don't have an exact recipe for the salad. What follows is a rough estimate of what I made that night. Actually, I'm glad I don't have exact amounts—in general, salads should be exuberant, "to-taste" affairs—and this one is no exception.

For two large salads, I used three big handfuls of romaine (cut cross-wise in 1/2-inch ribbons), a large-ish ripe tomato (6 to 7 ounces?—more would have been even better), and 5 strips of bacon. Core and dice the tomato into 1/2-inch pieces. Cut the bacon thinly cross-wise and cook until crisp (drain on paper towels). Place the lettuce, tomatoes and most of the bacon in a large bowl.

Add a couple of spoonfuls of dressing, some salt and some freshly ground pepper and toss with your hands. Add more dressing if necessary to coat everything to your liking. Taste and correct the seasoning. Divide between two plates and top with crumbled blue cheese (to taste) and the reserved bacon.

This salad really hit the spot on a dreary, late winter evening. I can only assume it will taste even better when tomato season is in full swing.

Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing

2 t. red wine vinegar
1/2 of a small clove of garlic (just a small amount), smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1/4 c. mayonnaise (60 g.)
1/4 c. sour cream (60 g.)
1 oz. blue cheese (I like Roquefort)
1 t. minced flat-leaf parsley (optional)
Salt & freshly ground pepper

Place the red wine vinegar in a small bowl. Whisk in the garlic. Whisk in the mayonnaise and sour cream until smooth.

Add the cheese, placing it at the side of the bowl, and begin to mash it with the back of a spoon or a fork,

gradually incorporating the mayonnaise-sour cream mixture into it:

Continue to mix until the dressing is homogenous.  Your goal is to incorporate the blue cheese in such a way that the dressing is smooth and creamy.  

If you make a larger batch, you could do this more efficiently in the food processor, but this small batch wouldn't work very well in a large food processor.

Add the parsley and season to taste with salt & pepper. Makes a generous 2/3 cup dressing.

Printable Recipe

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