What could be more appealing at this time of year, than some fresh greens tossed with a tangy dressing and garnished with seasonal produce and savory additions? Marsha and I have a salad for lunch almost every day while the markets are filled with the good stuff.
At the Westport Farmer’s market last week, Fort Hill Farm from New Milford was offering a whole table in varying shades from dark kale, to pale green leaf and mottled red butterhead. They even had a salad mix all washed and bagged up, ready to use. Field grown, organic, and fresh picked, the greens are irresistible. I’d have one of each, but I’m sure, that I couldn’t eat them all while they’re at their peak.
Two Guys from Woodbridge bring their pristine, hydroponically-grown, organic lettuces to the Westport market, too. Unusual varieties like Oak Leaf, Scarlet Frills mustard greens, and baby romaine add to the salad possibilities. Their micro mix of tender young greens even includes edible flowers.
But a salad is much more that just greens. Tomatoes are the obvious first pick at this time of year. Big, fat, red ones are what we all know and love, but the tomato world is much wider that that. Heirloom varieties in a rainbow of colors – yellow, purple, dark red, and pink – have distinctive flavors. Cherry tomatoes come in a range of colors, too. Any tomato, vine ripened and juicy, is a great addition to a summer salad.
Vegetables, cooked or raw, are a must. Fat radishes, sliced thin, add color and zing to the mix. Cool cucumbers can be sliced into rounds or cut lengthwise into long curls. Carrots – yellow, orange, or purple – can be sliced or diced and tossed in. I was tempted by the just-harvested Sweet Candy onions at the market. Tender green or yellow beans can add some crunch. Avocado, even though not local, is a favorite salad addition.
We always try to make enough for leftovers when cooking vegetables. Cut the kernels off of a boiled or grilled ear of corn and sprinkle them on. Grilled zucchini or portobello mushrooms add a lot. Roasted beets, grilled asparagus, just about anything on hand, will enhance your salad.
Our salads are not always vegetarian. Some sliced chicken breast, crumbled bacon, leftover salmon, or sliced london broil adds some heft and flavor. If you have some leftover salami or charcuterie, that works, too. Cheese is always good: crumbled blue or feta for a salty note, thin shavings of parmesan, or the old favorites – cheddar or swiss.
We prefer a lighter vinaigrette dressing in summer. Our current favorite is adapted from Penzey’s Country French Vinaigrette base. It calls for more fruity wine vinegar than usual. I add some dijon mustard and use olive oil. Mix up a batch, and keep it in a shaker on the counter. It’s handy for salads, marinating, and flavoring all manner of things.
The Westport Farmers Market makes a point of connecting restaurants with farmers. Chef/owner Bill Taibe of the award-winning Whelk restaurant in Westport is on the board and leading the effort to get restaurants involved. Market shoppers include Bar Sugo, The Spread, Sugar and Olives, The Whelk, and The Cottage to name a few. Any one of them might be showcasing farm-fresh produce on their salad menus.
Matt Storch, chef/owner of Match in SoNo is a big fan of the Westport Farmers Market. At lunch last week he suggested several farm to table dishes. Sweet and sour braised eggplant with tomato and basil is a warm salad right out of the garden. Grilled local corn off the cob, gussied up with chili butter, roasted onions, cilantro and garnished with popcorn, makes a fun salad. A summer tostada includes sublime creamed corn, pearl mozzarella, and salsa verde. A great lunch of local ingredients. No wonder Match has been an anchor restaurant on Washington St. for 18 years!
I spoke with Anthony Kostelis, Chef de Cuisine at The Whelk in Westport. He and owner Bill Taibe work closely with lots of local farms. Greens from Millstone farm paired with cukes and radishes are the basis of his green salad. Fragrant field-ripened cantaloupe is paired with garlic-pickled Nardello peppers, dressed with good olive oil, and topped with Liuzzi Burrita from Hamden for a non-traditional salad. Swiss Chard stems are pickled and served with Bagna Cauda (warm garlic and anchovy dipping sauce) for a room temperature salad. I want some now!
A salad can include almost any combination of greens and veggies. Don’t miss your chance to load up during these peak summer salad days!