My radicchio, escarole and frisee are on their way to the salad bowl. The young plants are flourishing in the garden, and I can see the thin red veining that promises radicchio. The escarole leaves are broadening and those of frisee are deeply notched and curling. I can hardly wait until I can start harvesting.
Their strong and hearty leaves will support a garlicky dressing, one I’ll make with garlic I dug in summer and hung in the basement to serve me until the next harvest. To the salads I’ll add walnuts gathered from the orchards that surround me, persimmons from my trees, and best of all, crispy pancetta or Jambon cru we’ve made ourselves here at home, topped with a poached egg.
Next week, I’ll plant heirloom French lettuces, now that the evenings are cool. The lettuce leaves are more delicate than the those of the chicories, so these will get a lighter dressing in the salad bowl, and maybe a handful or two of fresh green herbs, like parsley, tarragon, and chervil.
I love growing my own food, whenever possible. The experience of going out in the morning or late afternoon and gathering what I will prepare for dinner is one of the happiest and rewarding of my daily life. I highly recommend it.
And, you can shop at my on-line store, www.lavierustic.com for special French lettuce and chicory seeds, and also for a Homemade Roulade (Pancetta) to get you started or to give the gift of going from seed to salad.
Here are two of my favorite recipes in anticipation.
Garden Lettuce and Spinach Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced shallot
2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 handfuls mixed young lettuce leaves
3 to 4 handfuls young spinach leaves, stems removed
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves
½ cup fresh chives, about ½ inch long
In the bottom of a salad bowl, combine the olive oil, shallots, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Mix well with a fork or whisk. Add the remaining ingredients. Just before serving, toss.
Warm Escarole, Egg, and Pancetta Salad
4 slices thick-cut pancetta (roulade), chopped to make lardons
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, bruised
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar plus 1 teaspoon
4 large eggs
2 heads escarole or frisee, large dark green outer leaves discarded
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a saucepan over medium low heat, heat the olive oil, and add the garlic and pancetta, stirring until the pancetta is crisp, about 3 minutes. Be careful not to let the garlic burn. Remove from the heat and discard the garlic. Stir in the mustard and 2 tablespoons of the vinegar.
In a large frying pan bring a generous amount of water to a boil over high heat, along with 1 teaspoon of vinegar.
Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, then crack the eggs one by one in a small bowl and slide into the water. Reduce the heat to a simmer and poach the eggs until the whites are set and the yolks are still a little bit soft, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Tear the pale green leaves of the escarole into bite-size pieces and put them in a large bowl.
Bring the vinegar mixture to a boil. Pour it over the escarole and toss immediately to wilt the escarole slightly. Season to taste with the salt and pepper, toss again and arrange on individual plates. Remove each poach egg with a slotted spoon. Blot the bottom dry before sliding one atop each salad. Sprinkle the eggs with a little salt and pepper and serve.
Adapted from Salad of the Day by Georgeanne Brennan, Williams-Sonoma