by Nancy Caivano
April showers bring May flowers, or so the saying goes. In our case, I think the April showers brought May vegetables! We are almost at the end of our "Tour of Courses" and it has been a wonderful ride so far. I timed this series of articles much better than I thought, because the month of May is a perfect month to discuss vegetable dishes. Spring produce is beginning to show up in all its splendor and will make your salads beautiful as well as delicious.
There are two schools of thought on the salad course. The European tradition is to have the salad at the end of the meal, which is the practice that my family has always followed. My grandmother once told me that salad helped you digest the entrée that came before it. I'm not sure if that is a medical fact, but we always believed it. Also, and I'm not sure if this was particular to our family or not, we always had the bread with the salad course, instead of with the entrée.
There are many different kinds of salads available to us. Some salads are terrific for a multi-coursed meal; but some are not. For example, you wouldn't want to use a Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad for the salad course of a meal, because it is a main course on its own. There are different types of salads that are great for using during a meal. The composed salad or salade composee, is a salad in which the ingredients are arranged, rather than tossed together. The dressing for a composed salad is usually drizzled over the top of the ingredients. A regular tossed salad doesn't have to be a bowl of iceberg lettuce with a couple of tomatoes on top. Be creative in your use of greens and vegetables. You might not want to use greens at all—my older brother's usual salad consists of tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, and olives in a balsamic vinaigrette. You can also try using combinations of fruits and vegetables. Spinach happens to pair perfectly with oranges, while pears and apples do well with peppery greens like arugula.
This is the only course on our tour of courses that does not contain any pasta or risotto. There are hundreds of pasta salad recipes out there. I have given you my recipes for Pesto Pasta Salad and Risotto Salad in past editions of this column, and you can find them in the archives. But you normally wouldn't have a starchy salad like these after having so many other courses. Dishes like pasta and risotto actually benefit from having a vegetable or fruit salad in the meal, as it provides balance and can cut the richness of some of the previous courses. For example, after having a creamy Potato Soup as a first course, and then having a rich Roast Beef entrée accompanied by a Potato Gratin and Braised Leeks, a cold, crisp, vinegar based salad would be an excellent contrast of flavor and texture, especially if your next course is rich as well.
I have three marvelous salads for you to try. All three contain fruit as well as vegetables, but that is where the similarities stop. One has a creamy dressing, one has butter toasted nuts, and the last has cheese as an ingredient. The first, Asparagus, Fennel and Red Onion and Orange Salad is a wonderful, green-less salad. Tender spears of asparagus are combined with crunchy, fragrant fennel, red onions and sweet oranges, and combined into creamy buttermilk dressing. I like making this salad ahead of time, so that the flavors have time to combine.
Spinach and Apple Salad with Butter Toasted Almonds is a very simple, but rather special salad. Fresh spinach and tart Granny Smith apples are combined into an apple cider and white vinegar vinaigrette, giving the entire salad a fresh, sweet/tart taste. The addition of slivered almonds, toasted in butter and sugar provides great crunch as well as a sweet, nutty note.
Our last salad, Endive, Roasted Pear and Stilton Salad is a magnificent, regal salad—and a composed salad. It contains a combination of baby greens or mesclun, Bosc pears, Belgian endive and Stilton cheese in an interesting orange vinaigrette flavored with shallots, star anise and port wine. The combination of flavors in this salad is absolutely amazing.
Well my friends, that is the end of our salad course. The last course coming up in June, is of course, the dessert course. You will be amazed to see desserts that contain pasta and risotto—but they are there, and they are fabulous. I will see you again in June when we can discuss them, and the entire dessert course school of thought.
Happy Easter and Passover to you and your family!
Copyright © 2001, Nancy Caivano. All rights reserved.
This page created May 2001
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