May is National Salad Month.It is also National Barbecue Month, National Hamburger Month, and National Strawberry Month. It is going to be a good month for eating. I hope our quarantine condition lessens it constraints soon, but in the meantime, we have lots of garden planning and digging to do.
Now is a good time to get a jump on cool-season vegetables. You can start the annual competition with the deer and rabbits for the finest lettuces, broccoli and spinach. We are going to try some mixed, loose-leaf, heat tolerant lettuces this year. I want to enjoy the practical concepts of growing our own lettuce, with an eye to the enviable.
That is always the best part of gardening, seeing everything in your mind’s eye in the gauzy Instagram future. Somehow there I am always wearing a float-y white outfit as I drop my bountiful harvest into my antique garden basket. I love the way I am always in total denial about mosquitoes and fiery ant bites.
This morning I snuck out of our quarantine shutdown and ran, carefully masked, to the grocery store where I was appalled to see that this price – $4.09 for a single puny bag of pre-washed mixed spring greens! Holy smokes! We are fighting back. Last weekend we shopped locally, and we bought some lettuce plants at our charming independent hardware store (along with some very attractive tomato plants) and we spent the quarantined weekend elbow deep in the dirt in the garden.
We are watching the new garden with the anxiety level of people in search of a new binge-worthy Netflix show. When Mr. Friday wanders out of his home office (the kitchen table) around 6, we amble outside with glasses of cheap white wine, tossing the ball for Luke the wonder dog, and then we circle the newly rabbit-proof-fenced garden. The first blossoms on a tomato plants were duly noted on Wednesday. Right now the lettuces are scarcely large enough to interest the neighborhood bunnies. But still, we dream.
We dream about lettuce wraps, and salads. Deelish medleys of chopped and sautéed vegetables and tender meats wrapped in brilliant green lettuce leaves, grown in our own back yard. Or a bowl heaped with crisp fresh lettuce leaves, peppers and tomatoes, topped with sizzling slices of steak. It has been a very long winter, hasn’t it, that now we are dreaming in these lengthy days of social distancing of the golden glories of summer harvests and parties with friends? The weeding hasn’t even begun and we are hurling ourselves into the future, with delusional projections of bumper crops. It will be the best vegetable garden ever, our eight foot by 4 foot allotment of expensive, perfect, bug-free, pesticide-free veggies.
Is there anything more boring than an iceberg lettuce salad? It is nothing but tasteless, crunchy water, slathered in oleaginous dressings, dotted with hot house tomatoes, sprinkled with stale croutons. Do you remember Bac’n Bits – those leathery maroon soy flakes that purportedly tasted like bacon? I am much happier now that I fry my croutons in bacon fat, and then crunch that real bacon up and scatter it on my salad, not overlooking a smackeral for my constant, dogging companion. How about orange French dressing? Now we can hurl a garlic clove into a bowl, douse it with good oil and vinegar and salt, and there we have it, the best salad dressing ever. Holy smokes, the times have changed, and everything salad-wise keeps getting better.
Personally I could never understand the appeal of the wedge salad. Whack a wedge out of a head of iceberg lettuce, dribble it in bottled blue cheese dressing, serve it on a minimalistic square plate and charge $9 for it. I could do that at home, except that I wouldn’t. I would rather eat something a little more flavorful and deelicious. How about you?
Our Caesar Salad
1 head of Romaine lettuce, washed and torn (not cut) into bite-size pieces
1 cup cubed, tasty, firm bread
¼ cup bacon fat
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
¼ cup excellent extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 lemon, halved, with the seeds removed
1 splash Worcestershire sauce
½ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon thyme
Heat the bacon fat in a small frying pan, add the crushed garlic clove and toss the bread cubes in the hot fat until bread is brown and crunchy. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and thyme.
Put the lettuce in a bowl (we like to use a large, shallow wooden bowl), and drizzle with some olive oil. Toss the lettuce well, in a bold, jolly fashion, adding squirts of lemon juice and a dash or two of Worcestershire and coat the leaves well. Add the Parmesan cheese and toss briskly. Put on plates, or in shallow bowls, add the crouton if there are any left. (Generally our kitchen help tests the crouton and we have very few to add to the salads. Thus the serving for two.)
Enjoy! Any wine will do.
Here are a couple of helpful salad dressing links from Martha and Food52:
Martha’s Bleu Cheese Dressing: https://www.marthastewart.com/355217/blue-cheese-salad-dressing
Heart health be damned! Try this Bacon Vinaigrette Salad Dressing from Food52: https://food52.com/recipes/218-bacon-vinaigrette
“…so even if spring continues to disappoint
we can say at least the lettuce loved the rain.”
― Lisa Olstein