Monday, August 6, 2018

Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado & Tomato Salad…with Judy Rodgers' Torn Croutons… and Roasted Corn

Last fall…towards the end of tomato season…I made a Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado & Tomato (BLAT) Salad.  It was so good.  I had already shared several salads over the course of the latter part of the summer…and tomato season was winding down…so I decided not to post the recipe.  Then, a couple of weeks ago when tomato season really hit its stride (as in—they are so beautiful and abundant that I buy way too many at the market…), I remembered that salad.  I ate it twice this past week.  I’m sure I will make it a few more times before the end of tomato season.  Now seemed like a good time to share the “recipe.”

The “recipe” is truly simple…little more than a deconstructed BLT with avocado.  It is actually a bit like Panzanella in that there is much more bread than one finds in a typical salad.  I wanted to keep the ratios of the ingredients like what one would find in the classic sandwich.  Besides lots of toasty bread, this translates into loads of bacon and tomato…and just a little bit of lettuce.  The result is sort of like a BLAT sandwich that exploded artfully on your plate…and since eating a good BLT/BLAT sandwich involves dripping juices and a stack of napkins, the salad is frankly much easier to eat. 

I am particularly enamored with the croutons in this salad.  Rather than uniform cubes of crunchy bread, these croutons are randomly sized and present the eater with a variety of textures—from crunchy to chewy...with even a few soft bits.  I have borrowed the method for making them from Judy Rodgers’ famous Roast Chicken Salad.  I don’t think she calls them anything in the recipe, so I’m calling them “Torn Croutons.”  To make them, remove the crusts from a chunk of day-old baguette or peasant bread.  Cut the crust-less bread into largish chunks, brush them all over with olive oil, 

place them on a sheet pan and run them under the broiler.  Watch the bread carefully and turn it as it colors until all the surfaces are by and large a light golden brown.  There will probably be a few charred bits which may be scraped off—or left on, if that’s how you like it.  

Tear the now golden and toasty bread into bite-sized chunks.  You may have some larger pieces…and some “fat crumbs” (to quote Rodgers)…but this will just add more texture and variety to your salad.  A half pound chunk of bread (weighed before removing the crusts) should produce about 4 cups of croutons.

I have never made these ahead, but Rodgers mentions that they may be made a few hours ahead.  (If I made them too far ahead there probably wouldn’t be any left by the time dinner rolled around…they are quite snackable…).   I think they will be delicious anyplace you like to use croutons (salads, soups, pilafs, pastas, etc).  In a salad they are particularly delicious when dressed with some of your vinaigrette—which not only adds flavor, but will soften them slightly. 

One note:  You can control the ratio of crunchy bits to softer/chewier bits by altering the size of the chunks of bread to be broiled.  If the chunks you begin with are large, you will have lots of softer/chewy interior.  If they are smaller, you will have mostly crunch…with just a bit of chew.  For this salad, I like them somewhere in the middle.  (In her chicken salad, Rodgers leaves them larger…and softens them further by adding pan drippings from the roast chicken.)  After you make them a time or two, you will get the hang of it and find how you like them best.

The only addition to my BLAT salad that might seem surprising is the roasted corn.  Corn is—to me at least—an obvious partner for tomatoes…  and bacon…  and avocado….   (If you follow me on Instagram, you will know I eat corn, tomato and avocado salads all summer long.)  I have made this salad without it, but much prefer it with.  Good, fresh, summer corn adds texture, pops of sweetness and moisture…and turns this salad into something out of the ordinary. 

As I said, you don’t really need a recipe for this salad.  In fact, I hope you will just gather your ingredients they way you would if you were making a sandwich:  in quantities to suit your taste.  But since I know many people like to have a recipe for a starting point, I’m including a recipe for the vinaigrette and crouton… as well as estimates of how much of each ingredient I used for each person.  Enjoy!

Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado & Tomato Salad with Sweet Corn

For two salads you will need:
1 medium ear of corn, roasted in the husk
3/4 lb. mixed tomatoes (vine ripes, multi-colored heirlooms, cherry, etc.—anything you like as long as they are deliciously ripe)
Salt & Pepper
1 ripe avocado
A handful (about an ounce) of arugula (or any favorite salad green—tear large leaves into bite-sized pieces)
3 or 4 T. Red wine-shallot vinaigrette
2 to 2 1/2 cups Torn Croutons
6 to 8 slices of bacon, cooked until crisp and each slice broken into 2 or 3 pieces

Cut the corn away from the cob.  You can put as much as you like on each salad, but I think a third cup per person is about right.  Most local corn in my region yields at least a cup of kernels per ear during the height of corn season.  Any corn you don’t use in your salad may be stored in the fridge for several days (for salads, pilafs, etc.).  Place the corn to be used in the salad in a small bowl

Cut the tomatoes:  Halve any cherry tomatoes.  Large tomatoes should be cored and then cut in a variety of shapes—fat slices (half moon or round) and wedges.  Spread the tomatoes on a platter, the cutting board or a sheet pan and season with salt and pepper.

Halve and pit the avocado (but don’t peel).  Season the cut surfaces with salt & pepper

Place the greens in a small bowl (if you want to use fewer bowls, add the arugula to the bowl with the corn).  Season and dress the corn and the arugula with a small amount of vinaigrette (don’t use too much—you can always drizzle more over the salad at the end).

Dress the croutons with some of the vinaigrette (a tablespoon of vinaigrette for a cup of croutons is about right).  Taste and season with salt & pepper if necessary.

Build the salad in layers:
Arrange half of each of the tomatoes, bacon, croutons and corn on a platter or two individual plates.  Take an avocado half and using a spoon, scoop bite-sized portions of avocado, arranging them in and among the ingredients already on the plate(s) as you scoop.

Scatter all but a few leaves of the greens over all (see note).  Repeat the first layer with the remaining ingredients and top with any remaining greens.  Drizzle with more vinaigrette (and/or pass more separately).  Finish the salad with a good grinding of black pepper and serve.

Note:  If you dress the corn and arugula together, you will obviously be adding the corn to the salad in one layer…when you add the majority of the greens.   

Red Wine-Shallot Vinaigrette:
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 medium shallot (about an ounce), peeled and finely diced
1/4 t. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil

Place the vinegar, shallot and salt in a small bowl and let macerate for 5 or 10 minutes.   Add a few grindings of pepper.  Add the olive oil in a thin stream while whisking constantly.   Taste and correct the seasoning.  Set aside.  Store covered, in the refrigerator.  Bring to room temperature and rewhisk before using.  Makes a half cup of vinaigrette

Torn Croutons:
Cut the crusts away from a chunk of day old baguette (or peasant bread...but nothing too grainy or hearty).  Cut the bread into large chunks.  Brush the chunks of bread all over with olive oil and place on a small sheet pan.  Place the pan under the broiler.  Watch carefully, turning the bread as it browns.  Your goal is surfaces that are crisp and as uniformly golden as possible.  When done, scrape away any bits that are too charred for your taste.  Tear the toasted chunks of bread into bite-sized pieces—you will have larger pieces as well as big crumbs.  Set aside until ready to use.

A half pound of bread (weighed prior to trimming away the crusts) should produce about 4 cups of torn croutons.

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