What with the price of lettuce being out of sight as of late, perhaps it is best to look at some other salad combinations this summer. Without resorting to gelatin molds, there are some creative alternatives in two cookbooks written by authors not immediately identified with greens.
"Salad Days: Main Course Salads for a First-Class Meal," by Marcel Desaulniers (Simon & Schuster, $27.50), features the work of a chef who is best known for his culinary skill with chocolate and other indulgences.
In many of his entree salads, Desaulniers uses greens to create the bed on which the remainder of the salad rests. Consequently, it is possible to achieve much the same result without using greens while they are so expensive. For example, his Sliced Beets With Curly Endive, Red Bliss Potato Salad, Honey Mustard Roasted Walnuts and Meaux Mustard Vinaigrette will still taste as good if the endive is missing.
The chef is meticulous in his details, providing for each recipe a list of equipment, from measuring spoons to paper towels. Throughout are "The Chef's Touch" vignettes, detailing ingredients and techniques, as well as two or three variations on each recipe.
With "Salad Days," Desaulniers proves that he has much more in him than veins of chocolate.
"Lettuce in Your Kitchen," by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby (Morrow, $10 paperback), published in hardcover two years ago (Morrow), has two authors more closely identified with outdoor grilling. Like Desaulniers, the authors have concentrated on main-dish salads and on lettuce and other greens. As a result, the recipes would appear to be less complete if the greens are omitted for cost considerations. Chili-rubbed flank steak, grilled scallops or salmon, ginger-rubbed chicken, pepper-crusted quail and poached shrimp are but a few of the main ingredients in these creative salads, but still, greens are king.
Schlesinger and Willoughby also provide a handy substitutions illustration. It depicts which green will substitute for another without substantial loss in flavor. Among the lettuces the choices are bibb, red or green leaf, romaine and oak leaf, all of which are pricey these days. Iceberg lettuce has no substitute, the authors say.
This salad, from "Salad Days" by Marcel Desaulniers, does not demand the red leaf lettuce; it is primarily window dressing.
OLIVE OIL DRESSING:
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 large red onions (about 1 pound), peeled and sliced 3/8-inch thick
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound bow-tie pasta
4 tangerines, peeled, segmented, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces (mandarin oranges are a suitable substitute should tangerines not be available)
48 Mediterranean black olives, pitted and chopped
SALAD GREENS AND GARNISH:
3/4 pound red leaf lettuce, cored, separated into leaves, washed and dried
3/4 pound flat-leaf spinach, stems removed, washed and dried
4 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
Make the olive oil dressing: Whisk together in a 3-quart stainless steel bowl the red wine vinegar, mustard and lemon juice. Add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream while whisking until incorporated. Add the parsley, tarragon, salt and pepper, and whisk to combine. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature.
Prepare the pasta: Brush the red onion with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Grill the onion slices over a medium wood or charcoal fire about 6 minutes on each side, until nicely charred and tender. (The onions may also be cooked by broiling in the oven on a baking sheet until brown and tender.) Transfer the onions to a baking sheet and cool to room temperature. When the onions are cool enough to handle, cut each slice into 1/2-inch pieces. Set aside until needed.
Bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil in a 5-quart saucepan over high heat. When boiling, add the bow-tie pasta and cook, stirring frequently, about 12 minutes, until tender but firm to the bite. Drain the pasta in a colander, then cool with cold water. Drain thoroughly. Transfer the pasta to a 7-quart stainless steel bowl and add the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss to coat the pasta. Season with salt and pepper. Add the grilled onions, tangerine pieces and olives. Use a rubber spatula to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and keep at room temperature for up to 2 hours before serving.
Assemble the salad: Divide and arrange the red leaf lettuce leaves on four 10- to 12-inch room-temperature plates. Divide and arrange the spinach leaves on top of the red leaf lettuce. Vigorously whisk the olive oil dressing. Drizzle each portion of greens with 2 to 3 tablespoons of dressing. Place an equal amount of pasta on each plate of greens. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of chopped tarragon on each salad. Serve immediately.
Pub Date: 5/20/98