By Barbara Beltrami
As warm weather becomes the rule rather than the exception in this weird spring we’ve been having, our appetites and menus turn more and more to salads and their refreshing effect on our palates.
Salads can be the main attraction of a meal if they contain lots of different ingredients including protein and are artfully arranged in a bowl or on a platter. These one-dish meals are called composed salads after the French “salade composee” and you’ve probably seen them on restaurant menus.
One well known composed salad is Salade Nicoise (also after the French and meaning salad as it’s done in Nice). It’s a savory combination of potatoes, marinated in olive oil and vinegar; fresh or canned tuna; green beans; hard boiled eggs; anchovies; black olives; tomatoes and cucumbers all dressed with extra virgin olive oil and wine vinegar.
Another is the traditional Cobb Salad. Chock full of bacon, egg, tomatoes, roasted chicken breast, avacado, and Roquefort cheese, it is thought to have been invented back in the early 20th century by Robert Cobb, owner of the Brown Derby Restaurant in Hollywood.
And finally there is a composed seafood salad that I’ve recreated from one I remember at a tiny seaside restaurant on Cape Cod many years ago. As you might expect, it features cooked lobster, scallops, shrimp and cod plus fresh peas, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, cannellini beans, chorizo sausage, boiled potatoes and fresh corn scraped off the cob. And of course, all three of these recipes call for underpinnings of tender seasonal lettuces.
As with so many recipes I share with you, the real fun is not in duplicating these, but in using them as guidelines to create your own versions of these salads or even to invent your own completely original composed salad.
YIELD: Makes 4 servings
1 head Bibb or romaine lettuce, leaves, washed, dried and separated
1 split chicken breast, roasted or poached and torn into large chunks
2 to 3 hard boiled eggs, quartered
2 cups cherry tomatoes, each sliced into halves
1 ripe avocado, peeled and cut into wedges
Juice of one lemon
6 slices bacon, fried and crumbled
1 cup crumbled Roquefort cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Line a serving bowl or platter with lettuce. Arrange chicken, hard-boiled eggs and tomatoes in a line or circle on top of lettuce. Brush avocado with lemon juice and add to arrangement. Add bacon on the side and crumble Roquefort cheese over everything. Serve with Roquefort or ranch dressing, rolls and butter and iced tea or coffee.
YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 head Bibb lettuce, leaves washed, dried and separated
4 to 6 small new potatoes
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
One tablespoon or more wine vinegar
Half pound fresh green beans, washed and trimmed
Two 7-ounce cans tuna
4 hardboiled eggs, quartered
2 medium tomatoes, quartered
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into one-inch cubes
4 to 6 anchovy filets
1 cup Greek or Italian black olives
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup wine vinegar
Line bottom of large bowl or medium platter with lettuce leaves. Scrub potatoes and boil until just tender. Cut in halves or quarters; dress with olive oil and vinegar and set aside to cool, then pile in center of bowl or platter. Steam green beans until tender but still bright green. Immerse in ice water, let sit 5 minutes, drain and set aside. Drain tuna, separate into chunks and arrange over or around potatoes,
Add green beans, eggs, tomatoes and cucumbers, then anchovies and finally olives. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper; dress with extra virgin oil and vinegar right before serving. Serve with French baguette slices, unsalted butter and a cold, crisp, dry white wine.
Cape Cod Salad
YIELD: Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 head iceberg, romaine or red leaf lettuce, washed, drained and dried
3 cups cooked lobster meat, cut into large chunks
1 pound cooked sea scallops
1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined and cooked
1 pound cooked cod or salmon, broken into large chunks
One 10-ounce package frozen peas, thawed
2 cups cherry tomatoes
2 cups frozen artichoke hearts, cooked and cooled
1/2 pound cooked chorizo sausage, sliced
Fresh corn, scraped off 2 cobs
6 to 12 small new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
One 14-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
3 to 4 lemons, cut into wedges
1 cup snipped fresh chives
Line a very large platter with the lettuce. Arrange the remaining ingredients, except for the chives, in circles around the platter in whatever order you desire. Sprinkle chives on top. Serve chilled with a variety of dressings such as mayonnaise, green goddess, vinaigrette, Russian and cocktail sauce and a well-chilled Chablis.