Saturday, December 31, 2016

A simple salad from the pantry—and a versatile vinaigrette

As the year draws to a close, I thought I would share the simple salad that we had for dinner last night....and in so doing, revisit some of the reasons that I write For Love of the Table.  The salad wasn't fancy....or "chef-y"...  It was just good food that I made at home with what I had on hand.  In the early days of my blog, I posted a lot more things like this...maybe I should do a little more of that in the coming year.  My goal with For Love of the Table has always been to encourage people to cook at home.  Among other things, I want to post simple ideas along with technique driven posts (see "basic techniques") that will help people add to their basic cooking skills so that on a busy night before making the decision to go out, they can look in their pantry and say, "I've got this". 

If you have salad greens...and a basic vinaigrette in your fridge (or the makings in your pantry) probably have everything on hand to make a satisfying main course salad.  Our salad was a mix of arugula (what was left after I made a batch of arugula pesto) and baby lettuces (a good item to keep on hand).  Any fresh greens you have on hand will do.   

I roasted a few fingerling potatoes (about 4 oz. per person) because I like the substance of something starchy.  But if I hadn't had these I would have toasted some nice fat slices of a hearty bread (something I always keep in my freezer). 

Blanched or roasted vegetables are a good addition.  You could roast carrots (another basic pantry item)...or blanch a few florets of broccoli...or a handful of green beans.  Roasted beets can be a refrigerator staple and are wonderful in salads.  We happened to have the remains of one of those bags of the little haricot verts that have become so popular in recent I blanched a few of these (2 1/2 to 3 oz. per person is about right). 

For some protein, add a wedge of cheese...a hard cooked or poached egg...maybe some sausage or bacon...or the remains of a roast, steak or chop of some kind.  Even canned tuna...dressed with olive oil, a few dried herbs and some salt and pepper is nice.  I always have sausage in my freezer...usually Italian, but more recently I have also been keeping Aidells Smoked Chicken Sausage (I like the roasted garlic and Gruyère cheese) I added that.  The Aidells is nice in that it is already cooked and only needs to be heated through.  I must have been extra hungry, because I added a hard cooked egg along with the sausage.

If you follow my blog regularly, you know I like nuts of all all kinds of food it won't be a surprise to hear that I added some toasted walnuts to my salad.  Pistachios or pecans (or another favorite nut) would have been good too.  Other nice additions can include olives and dried fruits.

You can throw all the ingredients in a bowl and toss them in your vinaigrette for a true tossed salad...or dress everything separately and arrange each thing on individual plates or a big platter for more of a composed salad.  For our salad I spread the warm roasted potatoes on the plates, tossed the greens with the haricots verts (cooled just slightly), walnuts and vinaigrette and piled this on top of the potatoes.   I then tucked the wedges of egg and chunks of sausage in and around the salad.

Any vinaigrette you like is fine for an impromptu salad like this.  You don't even need to make a vinaigrette:  instead, you could add some shaved shallots or minced scallions to the salad and then dress with a drizzle of olive oil and some vinegar (or lemon) to taste.  The most important thing is to make sure that each item is well seasoned...including the greens.  Salt gets a bad rap, but as I know I have said before, you probably aren't getting too much if you are salting fresh/unprocessed ingredients in foods that you have cooked yourself. 

In the fall and winter months I like to keep a tangy Dijon vinaigrette on hand.  I am including the recipe at the end of the post because it is so basic and versatile, but you don't really need a recipe.  Just mince a small to medium sized shallot and place it in a small bowl.  Add enough red wine vinegar to just cover the shallot along with a good pinch of salt and let sit for a few minutes (the vinegar will soften the harshness of the shallot). Add a blob of Dijon mustard (depending on how much you like mustard, anywhere from half to equal the amount of vinegar you used).  Whisk until smooth.  Add olive oil to balance the taste to your liking (add in a thin stream while whisking constantly).  An amount of olive oil equal to about four times the amount of vinegar you used will be about right.  The exact amount will depend on how much Dijon you used and on how tangy you like your vinaigrette.  Taste it on a lettuce leaf or on another element of your salad to make sure that you have the balance where you like it.  Homemade vinaigrettes like this one keep just fine in the refrigerator for several weeks.  Just pull it out of the fridge when you start getting dinner ready so that it will warm up a bit.  Shake well or re-whisk before using.

I had a few of the elements leftover...
They made a nice lunch salad with some cheese and bread...
I hope everyone has a safe and festive New Years Eve celebration....and a peaceful start to 2017.    If you like to cook...or if you want to cook more for yourself and your family and friends...I hope you will visit For Love of the Table often and that when you do that you find all kinds of delicious things here that bring satisfaction to you as a cook...and pleasure to those who gather around your table.   

Happy New Year.

Basic Dijon Vinaigrette

2 T. red wine vinegar
1 large shallot, finely diced (about 3 to 4 T.)
1/2 to 2/3 c. olive oil
2 T. Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper, to taste

Place the vinegar and shallots in a small bowl and set aside for a few minutes.  Season the vinegar and shallots with a good pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper.  Add the mustard and whisk until smooth.  Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup of the olive oil in a thin stream.  Taste and correct the seasoning, adding more olive oil if the vinaigrette is too sharp for your taste.

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