If ever I were to write my a cookbook it would be about salads. This may come as a surprise to some of you. After all, the sweet realm is really the place of my heart and soul and certainly my specialty. But putting together interesting salads is something that seems natural to me, which I'm sure is largely based on my absolute passion for vegetables. Considering a salad is part of our dinner almost daily, I've had a lot of chance to perfect my skills. My favourite executions often involve combining whatever bare bone ingredients I can scrounge in the fridge. These exercises in creativity give me a challenge I relish more in more. Making a memorable dish out of what appears to be nothing is the greatest satisfaction there is in cooking.
My approach to the perfect salad has evolved over the years and what I tend to create more often these days are simple combinations of fewer ingredients, served in shallow bowl, Chez Panisse style. Balance is key to a great salad and once you learn that it becomes easier to create new and interesting mixes. Most of the year you are more likely to find me making salads where the greens are used in a supporting role, with cooked or raw, shaved, grated or sliced vegetables taking centre stage. Salad greens or "leaves" are sought after in spring when they are new and fresh and hearkening the growing season ahead. This is the only time of year I'm giddy about greens. With its constant presence, we forget that even lettuce has a season, spring being the best one. You can eat lettuce all year and not notice it, but then you have some in April or May straight from the garden and you sit up and notice it for the first time because it tastes of something beyond water.
I've made this salad multiple times for the last 3 weeks, since I first spotted my beloved French Breakfast Radishes (I do so love them) and bags of the tenderest (and cleanest!) Arugula at the market a couple weeks ago. On market days like these a salad announces itself, I simply allow them a place to come together. The elements are the simplest, and so is the application. Peppery arugula plays well with the mild crunchy radishes which is then brought to life with lemon zest and balanced out with salty, pleasingly textured parmesan cheese. It all comes together by olive oil which coats rather than drenches the tender spring greens which really are young and soft without the strong stems they will begin to form throughout summer. Then of course there's the visual beauty of that bright spring green alongside the fushia and white tinged radishes, echoing the very same colour combination in my vase of tulips on the table. This salad is my love letter to spring, and a salad I'll be happy to eat too much of.
serves 4, printable version
This salad cries out for the best market or garden greens you can get. If you are washing your arugula, do yourself a favour and wash it the day before and wrap in paper towel in the fridge so that it is completely dry once you are ready to toss which will help the olive oil to coat the arugula and avoid a watery dressing. While Meyer lemons are beautifully highlighted here, they are absolutely optional and can be replaced by more common place Eureka Lemons. If you have a special occasion olive oil, by all means, this is THE place to use it!
1/2 meyer lemon
1 Tbsp + 2 tsp Olive oil
Arugula, washed, spun and dried completely
Fresh Ground pepper
4 pinches Course salt, such as fleur de sel,
12-16 French Breakfast Radishes, quartered lengthwise
Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese, to taste
Grate the zest of the lemon into a large serving bowl. Pour olive oil over top. If possible, leave to sit about 15 minutes or up to 2 hours, perhaps while you are making dinner. This will give time for the lemon zest to infuse into the oil. Juice 1/2 the lemon and set aside.
Just before serving toss arugula into the oil and zest mixture and toss gently with your hands. Allow each leaf to become coated with the oil. Add more oil if necessary, with a light hand, being sure not to over dress. A coating is all that's needed. Sprinkle on the lemon juice, gently tossing. Grind pepper over top and sprinkle with salt. Give another toss and then pick up a leaf and taste. Add more lemon juice it needs it, salt additionally if it seems bland, keeping in mind that the cheese will add seasoning as well.
When you are satisfied with the taste, scatter over the radishes and then using a vegetable peeler scatter on curls of parmigiano liberally over the top of the salad. Serve at once.