It’s Not Easy Being Green in Winter

Once spring and summer return (soon!), you will be able to read ES’ odes to fresh produce, farmer’s markets and the like, but right now we are still stuck in limbo. Not to knock all the delicious winter vegetables available this time of year, but I am more than ready for the days of walking onto my deck and picking some fresh lettuce for a salad. But even the 12 inches of snow we got last week in Pennsylvania couldn’t dull my appetite for a fresh simple salad, and I immediately thought of a book I have been reading by David Tanis, Chez Panisse’s well known executive co-chef.

While I seldom follow cookbooks too closely, this one is different. Not quite a diary and not quite a cookbook, this is more of a love letter to the beauty of cooking with care. Starting with stories of his personal kitchen rituals, Heart of the Artichoke has quickly turned into a very engrossing read for me.

The book is arranged by season and I had recently come across a winter meal that included a romaine hearts salad, which I thought would be a perfect fix for my leafy longing. Now this is not a book that will blow your mind with avant garde technique and gastronomic excess and neither is the recipe. It is more a distillation of fairly standard methods that let the ingredients shine through, so feel free to try any variations you can think of.

Romaine Hearts with Shaved Parmigiano and Lemon Dressing

Excerpted from Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis (Artisan Books). Copyright 2010

4 romaine hearts, 1/4 c olive oil, 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 1 garlic clove smashed to paste, salt, pepper, chunk of parmigiano for shaving

First prepare the romaine hearts: Cut off the bottoms and discard a few of the outer leaves of each head. Gently separate the inner leaves and refresh in a deep basin of cold water for just a minute. Drain well, wrap in  kitchen towels, and refrigerate. The whole idea is that they should look fresh and crisp.

Now make the dressing: In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice, mustard, and garlic. Whisk in the olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning for a rather tart dressing. Put the leaves in a large salad bowl. Sprinkle lightly with salt, pour the dressing over the lettuce and gently coat the leaves, tossing with your hands. Shave large curls of Parmigiano over the salad.

Below are two variations the book also suggested, followed by one of my own.

Variation with Blue Cheese

Replace the Parmigiano with shards of Roquefort or other blue cheese.

Variation with Anchovy Dressing

Rinse 2 anchovy fillets in a bowl of warm water, then soak in 1/4 c milk for 15 minutes to mellow. Remove the anchovies and blot on paper towels. Mash 2 garlic cloves with the anchovies in a mortar and add some kosher salt to help create a paste. Add a little finely chopped lemon zest, the juice of half a lemon and a splash of champagne vinegar. Stir in 2 tsp Dijon mustard and gradually 1/3 c olive oil.

Variation with Ginger-Lime Dressing

The effervescence of a champagne dressing but with a kick of southwest.

1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce, 2 tablespoons minced garlic,1/2 c ginger beer,  1 teaspoons sesame oil,  1 teaspoon chili oil,  1/3 cup fresh lime juice, 1/4 cup white vinegar 1/2 shallot minced, honey to taste

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