You know what is funny? My original plan was to do this post because I needed something fast to blog about this week. I know, I know, phoning it in… Times have been rather busy in the Wrightfood household – work is a bit nuts right now, so I wanted something fast.
This post has quite possibly taken longer than almost any other to photograph and write! Almost as long as the food photography post I did a week or two ago.
So yeah… a week and a half with no post, and all I give you is some green stuff on a plate and dressing. No fish. No cured meat. Just rabbit food.
Well, I should explain. I have for a rather long time now been trying to perfect my perfect green salad. I’m not talking about a salad with a kazillion ingredients in. Nor a salad that consists entirely of iceberg lettuce core. This is the kind of salad you eat with dinner. You pack it into a box to go along with your cheese and charcuterie for lunch. I can honestly say I most likely eat this salad four or five times a week, and have yet to get bored with with it. Want to know the best thing? Most of the ingredients for this have come from our garden.
Yep, like almost everyone else here in Seattle, we have started a small vegetable garden. Some of you might remember my twitterings (I still cannot bring myself to say “tweets”, that is just too social media for me..) about wanting to offload a bunch of vegetable garden soil we had left over… Yes we 3x over-ordered on the amount of soil we needed. OPPS.
Seattle has just exploded with small vegetable gardens this year. Course, you wouldn’t think it given the amount of time it took to offload the soil onto our neighbors and friends.. but yes – everywhere you look people are building raised beds and planting their greens. It is truly an inspirational thing to see.
I remember seeing a lot of the old (beautifully designed) WW1 and WW2 posters in England convincing everyone to “dig for victory” and so forth, and somewhat wishing I could have seen those times where almost everyone in the country dug up ornamental beds and planted veggies. Course, that is about all from that time I would have wanted to see… oh, that and Winston Churchill.
So yes, we decided to plant a vegetable garden this year. The idea was to start small, with one raised bed, and see how we go. The delivery of soil pretty much ended that. Pretty soon we went out and bought some animal feed troughs and barrels, drilled holes in them, and filled them with soil. We then took our list of stuff we wanted to grow to the local nursery and showed it to one of the gardeners there. We got the “yeah, you are pretty much smoking crack” look from her, so we scaled it down.
Then, when she walked away, we scaled it back up.
My parents have had a vegetable and fruit garden for as long as I can remember back in England, but either Danika or myself don’t have a green thumb. We have just one rule when trying to grow anything: “don’t name anything. If we name it, it will die“. We have lost way too many “Bob the houseplant”, and didn’t want the same thing to happen to our vegetables.
So out came the ornamental flowers. Out came the stuff that looked like you really wouldn’t want to eat it. It all got transplanted to either neighbors, or our front yard – which is now looking a bit pikey to say the least. Up went some raised beds, some pots, some cool feeding troughs being used as planters, and a long weekend of moving soil and gravel around. In went some starts and some seeds, and we watered like mad.
Did I mention we have no idea at all what we are doing? Well, we don’t. None. We just stuck stuff in the ground, water it, and check on it most likely far too often. Our two year old son has become addicted to going out and seeing the garden. His friends come over, and he HAS to go out and point out the carrots, the beans and the tomatoes to them. He walks around, rubs his hands on the herbs and sniffs. Sniffs, and then says “ohh lemon verbena”, every herb to him right now is lemon verbena, even if it is thyme.
He helped sow seed. He helped plant, he helps water, and he helps dig stuff up. He loves it. We love it, and we wish we had done this years ago.
So what are we growing? Well, we wanted to do small amounts of a variety of stuff – to see what grows well in our garden, what we want to grow to save money, and what is fun for the lad…
I can tell you know, we are doing FAR too many beets and leeks. But that is OK, they are our favorite vegetables. So, here is the list:
FRUITS: Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, tomatoes
HERBS: Lovage (out of control right now), lemon verbena, thyme, chives, tarragon, dill, summer savory, rosemary, sage. I wanted parsley and basil, but honestly I use so much of both that we just wouldn’t have the space to plant all we need.
VEG: Red leaf lettuce, frisee, bibb (butter) lettuce, broccoli rabe (rapinni), carrots, golden beets, red beets, bok choy, fennel. The rapinni and bok choy are going to flower.. Apprently that is bad, but it sure looks great!
BACK TO THE SALAD.
As mentioned, this is a small salad to either start a meal with, or serve along side. It is a lovely blend of textures, flavors and color. The most wonderful soft butter lettuce forms the basis of the salad. This is jazzed up with the texturally rich and bitter frisee leaves. A little punch is added from some finely sliced shallot. Roasted hazelnuts go in for a little crunch and density. Then come the herbs….
I am a huge fan of the french herb mix called Fines Herbs. This can vary a bit, but is really just a lovely fragrant, delicate mix of soft herbs. The kind of herb that it is a joy to chew through, even when the leaves are big. I vary a bit every time I make it – it really depends what I can cut up in the garden, and what I have in the fridge. Parsley and chervil form a great base to the mix. Flat leaf parsley should always be used here – curly parsley is a little more bitter, and the texture is way to prickly for the fines herbs mix. Now come the accent herbs. Tarragon, dill and chives form lovely accents in it. A light hand should be used with tarragon though, its pungency can easily overpower this delicate mix.
When making fines herbs I use a very coarse chop. Sometimes I just pick off the leaves and soft stalks, and just tear them up a little bit. Small leaves go in whole. We don’t want a fine chop here – you want to see the herbs, get excited about them – you want to feel their different textures. I love being able to see different herbs sticking off my fork – creates a basic level of culinary and taste excitement with each bite.
The next thing is seasoning. This might not be PC in a “salt is evil” world, but a good green salad needs good seasoning. Freshly ground black pepper is a must. The coarser the better. Break out that great sea salt you have too. You know, the stuff that is harvested by a 1000 year old man on the Brittany coast, and dried in the hands a fair French maiden. A good helping of great salt adds 500% to a green salad.
Finally there is the dressing. My personal preference is to go with a basic dijon mustard, olive oil and red wine vinegar vinaigrette. I love the sharpness in the dressing, I love the spice from the mustard, and creaminess from the olive oil. I do find a little dressing goes a long way here though, another light hand is needed.. It is easy to add more, but a pain in the arse to try and take some out!
There we are. My favorite salad, and our little vegetable garden.
Just gonna end this one on a request… Any keen gardeners out there that want to offer advice or suggestions? go ahead. When I say we don’t know what we are doing, I honestly mean it. I had to look up what “bolting lettuce” meant the other day. Yep, its new to us, and incredibly exciting.
Wrightfood Green Salad Recipe
1 head of bibb lettuce
1 small head of frisee lettuce
1 handful of fresh flat leaf parsley – coarse stems removed
1 small handful of chervil – coarse stems removed
any leaves of the following: chives, tarragon, dill
salt and pepper
1 large shallot, finely sliced
2 handfuls of roasted (and cooled) hazelnuts
1 tablespoon of dijon mustard
3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
9 tablespoons of olive oil
Slice any large leaves of the lettuce. Remove any tough stalks that don’t look good eats. I find that the smaller shoots of frisee have a better texture. If you have larger, remove any tough looking core, and just use the softer outer sections of the leaves. Roughly chop the herbs if you wish, otherwise just use whole with the soft stalks.
In a large bowl gently toss together the bibb, frisee, parsley, chervil, chives, tarragon, dill, salt and pepper, shallot and hazelnuts.
In a small bowl mix together the mustard and vinegar. Slowly add in the olive oil, and whisk briskly to combine. Keep whisking until the mixture forms a smooth well combined vinaigrette. Pour a little of the vinaigrette around the edges of the salad bowl, and gently toss to combine. You want each leaf to have a light coating. Taste, and adjust seasoning at your will.