By JeanMarie Brownson, Dinner at Home
May 29, 2013
Is anybody else excited by the lettuce options out there these days? My local supermarket offers bagged and boxed salads in more than a dozen combinations. However, it's the clamshell boxes of miniature heads of artisanal lettuces (often with their roots still attached) that really thrill my inner rabbit.
I am super-fond of the small red-tipped lettuce heads and small whole romaines by Tanimura & Antle, a California company that uses sustainable growing practices. Some markets even carry trendy restaurant favorite Little Gem head lettuce, which makes fantastic salads. I guarantee switching up lettuces eliminates salad boredom.
Good news since I eat a salad at least once a day. I never tire of crisp lettuces, crunchy vegetables and great vinegar and oil. I love to find interesting add-ins such as roasted and salted sunflower seeds, toasted corn bread crumbles, crispy nuts and dried fruit.
Truthfully, I eat my salads in restaurants often because someone else did all the rinsing and chopping. Good restaurants also serve the salad chilled and the dressing at room temperature, which puts all the ingredients in their best light.
I dream about the Italian-inspired chopped salads I've enjoyed at two of my favorite pizza joints — Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles and Napolese in Indianapolis. Both restaurants use a variety of cured meats and cheese to make a superhearty salad. Both serve their chopped salads tossed with just the right amount of dressing. (Nothing kills a salad faster than globs of dressing.)
On a recent Sunday night for dinner at home, we made our own version, choosing the readily available Italian cured meats found at the local supermarket. I crisped the pancetta in a dry skillet for a crispy topping and cut the already-thinly sliced prosciutto and capocollo into thin strips.
I love Castelvetrano olives from the Italian deli, so I don't mind slicing the flesh off the pits for a salty note in salads. Pitted Kalamata or manzanillo olives need no prep. The hearty meats call for sturdy greens, such as romaine (red-tipped is gorgeous here) and a little escarole or frisee.
Ever since I can remember, I've been a huge fan of Asian chopped salads — even pedestrian versions with tinned mandarin oranges and chow mein noodles. My version features updates with mango and crunchy roasted coconut chips. A fresh ginger and lime dressing perks up romaine and cabbage with minimal fat.
No matter what salad you build, choose the type of lettuce that best complements the add-ins and the dressing. Creamy dressings welcome robust greens such as romaine, leaf lettuces and spinach. Lighter vinaigrettes pair well with spring greens and baby lettuces. A bit of finely shredded savoy or napa cabbage adds fat-free crunch, as does torn radicchio or sliced Belgian endive.
Homemade dressing rules. So take the time to make some — especially when the rest of the salad contains such nice ingredients. Use good olive oil and vinegars and fresh garlic. Most homemade dressings will keep in the refrigerator a week or more.
Don't be squeamish about the anchovies in the creamy Italian salad dressing here. The salt and texture pair great with the meats, cheese and olives in the salad. If you opt out, substitute a few tablespoons of good Parmesan cheese.
Chopped salads are usually presented with all their ingredients in neat rows. I like to arrange everything in a shallow dish or deep platter and then present it to guests. To serve, I transfer everything to a large bowl so I have plenty of room to toss the ingredients with just the right amount of dressing. The best rabbit food ever!
Chopped antipasto salad
Prep: 40 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes
Note: I use bottled roasted red and yellow bell peppers to save time; rinse before cutting.
Creamy Italian dressing:
3 to 4 anchovy fillets
(or grated Parmesan)
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons mascarpone or heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt, optional
3 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch strips
8 to 10 loosely packed cups torn assorted hearty lettuces, such as red-tipped romaine, escarole, frisee or butter lettuce
4 ounces fontina or provolone cheese, shredded
4 ounces thinly sliced spicy capocollo (or peppered salami), cut into 1/4-inch strips
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 1/4-inch strips
1 small each roasted red and yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup cooked shelled edamame or rinsed canned chickpeas
¼ cup sliced or halved pitted olives, such as Castelvetrano, manzanillo or Kalamata
1. For dressing, put anchovies, garlic and vinegar into blender or small food processor. Process until smooth. Add oil and mascarpone. Blend smooth. Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Stir in basil, pepper and salt to taste. Shake well. (Dressing can be refrigerated up to several days; let come to room temperature before using.)
2. Cook the pancetta, stirring, in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Cool.
3. If desired for presentation, arrange the lettuces over a deep platter or in wide shallow bowl. Arrange the cheese, capocollo, prosciutto, roasted peppers, edamame and olives in rows over the lettuces.
4.To serve, transfer the contents of the platter to a very large bowl. Add just enough of the dressing while tossing to coat lightly. Serve sprinkled with the crispy pancetta.
Per serving (for 6 servings): 413 calories, 28 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 25 g carbohydrates, 18 g protein, 606 mg sodium, 7 g fiber.
Chopped shrimp salad with ginger-lime dressing
Prep: 40 minutes
Cook: 3 minutes
Note: You can substitute shredded cooked chicken, duck or turkey breast for the shrimp. Grilled tofu tastes great here too. You can substitute toasted almonds or crispy wonton strips for the coconut chips. For the ginger and lemon grass, look for the refrigerated puree sold in tubes at some supermarkets. Otherwise, use finely minced fresh ginger.
Ginger lime dressing:
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
6 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
3 tablespoons safflower oil
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 ½ teaspoons honey or sugar
1 ½ teaspoons ginger puree
1 ½ teaspoons lemon grass puree or use more ginger puree
1 pound medium peeled, deveined raw shrimp
Vegetable oil in a spritzer
1 medium head romaine lettuce
½ small head Savoy cabbage, very thinly sliced or shredded
¼ cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
½ cup drained bamboo shoots
½ seedless cucumber, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced
¼ of a medium red onion, very thinly sliced, soaked in ice water, drained
1 large ripe mango, peeled, cubed, about 1 cup
¼ cup dry roasted, lightly salted peanuts, roughly chopped
¼ cup roasted coconut chips
1. For the dressing, mix lime zest, lime juice, oil, soy, honey, and ginger lemon grass purees in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well. Taste and season with salt if needed. (Dressing can be made up to one day in advance and refrigerated. Use at room temperature.)
2. Pat shrimp dry. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spray with oil; add the shrimp in a single layer. Cook until golden, about 1 minute. Flip; cook second side until golden, about 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl; toss with 2 tablespoons dressing.
3. Stack the romaine leaves on top of each other; slice them thinly. Mix with the shredded cabbage, cilantro and basil.
4. If desired, for presentation, arrange the lettuce mixture over a deep platter or in wide shallow bowl. Arrange the cooked shrimp, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, cucumber, drained onion and mango in rows over the lettuce mix.
5. To serve, transfer the contents of the platter to a very large bowl. Add about half of the dressing; toss lightly to coat. Add more dressing if desired; toss again. Serve sprinkled with peanuts and coconut chips.
Per serving (for 6 servings): 209 calories, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 112 mg cholesterol, 18 g carbohydrates, 17 g protein, 344 mg sodium, 4 g fiber.
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