Saturday, April 17, 2010

Grilled salad

Well, spring sprang and then sprang back again. In the past month, it's been 80 degrees and it has frozen. Today there were white, wet, yucky blobs falling on us as we tried to shop for a new refrigerator, prompting Darling Husband and I to decide that "sleet" should be a swear word.

On a side note, those of you who don't know me probably would be shocked to hear I have a terribly unladylike habit of swearing like a sailor. I take full ownership of it, and credit it to having a sister who is 9 years older, friends who similarly swear, a boss who swears, parents (well, parent) who swear, and a love of British comedians who pepper their language liberally with the F-word. It's cathartic and about as second nature to me as breathing. It's also a terrible burden for my poor mother, who thinks women swearing is particularly crude and tasteless. Sorry, Mom.

But it is for Baby Girl's sake (and not my mother's) that my language has taken a turn away from the purple. We now use the same swear words as Sponge Bob; mostly, that's "barnacles." Barnacles, fish paste, tartar sauce... it makes for some interesting phrases. I added my own, "mother of pearl," to the list. Unfortunately, I still say "bugger" which is quite a naughty word but doesn't flash the same color in my head and so I don't edit it out the same way. Ever hear a 21 month old in pigtails and butterfly festooned bib overalls say "bugger?"

Now that spring is trying to raise her head, our cooking is venturing away from hearty winter fare and towards brighter dishes. A new one we made was grilled salad. We didn't invent it; this technique is all over food network. Still, it's an interesting departure.

I split a heart of romaine in two, preserving as much of the core as I could without being gross so as to hold the thing together. Then I smeared about a teaspoon of olive oil on the cut edges (using my hand. I couldn't think of a better way) and pressed the oiled lettuce into freshly shredded parmasan to coat it. This immediately went on a very hot grill pan, cheese down. I don't know how long it took, but it certainly wasn't more than a couple of minutes. In that time, the cheese browned and toasted and the lettuce wilted somewhat. We served immediately, dressing the salad by splashing the whole with olive oil and white balsamic, then microplaning lemon zest and sprinkling with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper. It was a wonderful mix of crunchy and soft, brittle and flexible, bright and bitter. I think it would make a great ceasar salad or a nicoise, as a fancy lunch item. I particularly enjoyed the greens that wilted, as they tasted wholly unlike lettuce and more like, well, "greens" that you use to cook. What is lettuce, but a green of course. But a wilted salad doesn't sound nearly as appetizing as it really is.

The drawback to making this salad is it leaves you with quite a bit of hearts of romaine left over, since the smallest package we could find was a 4 pack, and we used one out of it. I chopped up the rest and made stir fried salad, with pork. Darling Husband wasn't nearly as sold on this one. He said it was a little strange. Personally, I think it was just the fact that he knew it was romaine that was the problem. Escarole is a salad, too, and he wouldn't have blinked if I had used it. When stir fried, the romaine ribs keep their crunch much in the way bok choy does. In fact, it's quite a bit like bok choy. I do encourage you to think outside the box with romaine. You just might like it better than raw. I found that I do.

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