What's In Season: Winter Salads
My friend Pat used to say that if you eliminated the salad from a meal it would cut in half the time it takes to make dinner. She was right, but I noticed it didn't seem to stop her from including a salad at almost every meal I ever saw her make. Her signature salad was romaine lettuce, slim pieces of red pepper, oil cured black olives, and an olive oil vinaigrette that always began with her rubbing pieces of cut garlic against the bottom of a well worn wooden salad bowl.
Pat's point was that a salad requires so much chopping and washing that you can almost make the rest of the meal in same amount of time you need to make just the salad. But I think it's time well spent. My husband is convinced that salads are an alternative to eating more potatoes or pasta. But I love salads because they're raw or mostly raw: there's something about uncooked ingredients sharing the plate with cooked ones that together makes the meal even more satisfying.
It's a no-brainer to make a great salad during the summer and early fall when local produce is prime. As the first lettuces come to market, all that's needed is a bowl of tender greens, some paper-thin slices of little kirbies or scallions, a pinch of salt, and the lightest sprinkling of oil and vinegar. As the weeks pass and we gain the choice of garlicky ramps, baby arugula with its peppery bite, and the miracle known as the New Jersey tomato, the produce almost puts itself together into the salad bowl.
But by January we're mostly left with cellophane bags of hearts of romaine, cherry tomatoes, and seedless English cucumbers wrapped in their protective sleeves, making it a challenge to be creative and not bored.
On a winter trip to Rome I was introduced to a popular salad with a big personality called puntarella alla salsa. It's made with a local chicory that grows wild in Lazio, the region of Italy where Rome is located, its celery-like stalks first soaked in cold water until they curl. Puntarella's almost wet taste -- wet in the way that celery is wet -- makes it demand its aggressive anchovy and garlic dressing.
If you do not like anchovies this is not for you. But if you are a fan of the salty, complex taste of these little fish, this salad may become, as it has for me, a sense memory that you'll almost never stop craving. So every time I've had the joy of returning to Rome, as others may be off in search of a Gucci bag or an apricot gelato, my first errand must be this puntarella salad.
It's been frustrating to never be able to make it here. I'd read of farmers in California that have started to grow puntarella but it's rare to find, costly, and a fuss to clean and prep. So instead I've come close to that Roman salad by substituting radicchio or escarole, plus paper thin slices of red onion, and the same anchovy vinaigrette. We've added the recipe (see our link). We've also created other winter salads, some requiring pre-cooking, such as roasting beets or cubes of butternut squash to become tender "croutons." But with a little planning, such as slow roasting plum tomatoes the night before, winter salads can be almost as easy as chopping up a head of lettuce in August.
Here are some salads that are well suited to winter ingredients and we've added links to each of them:
- Roasted Tomato, Artichoke and Mozzarella Salad
- Cobb Salad
- Roasted Beet and Arugula Salad With Goat Cheese
- Caesar Salad
- Red Cabbage Salad
- Blood Orange and Arugula Salad
- Grapefruit and Avocado Salad
- Winter Salad With Butternut Squash Croutons and Crispy Pancetta and mustard vinaigrette
- Carrot and Chickpea Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette