I made this salad the night of my epic battle with the irrigation ditch to show off the cutting ability of the Super Bread knife after shredding with the willow roots. This is also probably my favorite thing there is to eat. Especially in the spring after a LONG winter in Jackson Hole of eating store bought vegetables. (Spring Jackson Hole is that time in June when we get a few days of warm weather. Often we just skip spring all together and go from winter right to summer, which you can always count on starting on the 4th of July. Unless it snows.) Fortunately, lettuce loves cold weather. Jackson Hole, which I normally think of as one of the least hospitable places in the US to grow stuff, is great for lettuces.
The recipe for this salad is very simple. Take whatever looks good from the garden and eat it. The point of the recipe is to encourage you to plant a garden. I guarantee that this very simple salad that was picked and served in less than a half hour will taste better than any salad the you can buy in a restaurant anywhere. Besides the incredible flavor the joy growing and preparing your own food can’t be beat.
1. Mixed lettuces. I eat all my lettuce when it is a baby (about 6 inches or smaller). It is oh so tender and lovely. Fresh out of the garden it is still crisp and delicious not flaccid and half rotten like store bought baby greens. This salad was a mix of arugula, baby mustard greens and several romaine varieties with fancy French names that I got from Seeds of Change. http://www.seedsofchange.com/ I like the appearance, texture and flavor of romaine very much so I plant a lot of it. In this salad I also thinly cut a couple of aspargus spears that had shot up in the garden. I thought they added a nice crunch. My wife didn't like the uncooked flavor
2. A big three-finger pinch to small handful of garlic, chive and shallot greens coarsely chopped. These are also popping up in the garden. Everything is still small this time of year so I just cut green stems off a few different plants.
3. A generous dollop of olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, solid pinch of salt and course ground pepper.
Mix it together right before serving before you add the croutons.
Hand Cut Pan Fried Croutons
These are fast, simple way to use up old bread and add a delicious crunch to any salad. You can use any kind hardish bread. French baguette, ciabatta, whole wheat, dinner rolls, anything but wonder bread seems to work. I actually like to use bagels best of all. I didn’t have any around the house when I made this so I used a small baguette.
The standard for making croutons is to roast them in the oven. I find using the oven method often dries the bread out to much and you end up with a crouton that is to crunchy and almost cuts the roof of your mouth. With the pan fry you get a crisp, crunchy outside but still little chewy inside that can’t be beat.
Here’s how you make them.
Slice bread into thin slices. Depending on the size of the bread, I may stack the slices up and then slice them again into some nice, bite size shape. You need a sharp, long serrated knife to get a nice thin cut. If don’t have one, I know where you can get a good one.
This the Super Bread I used in the battle with the irrigation ditch as of yet unsharpened. Though it cut the bread well. I did hone it on my DMT diamond steel for about 30 seconds after this. I like to keep it really sharp.
Bread sliced under the watchful eye of Sous Chef Bucky
Throw the slices into a cast iron skillet or French steel pan.
Then turn the burner on high.
Pour a generous amount of olive oil on top.
A nice pinch of salt and a couple twists of pepper.
Stir or flip the contents until nicely mixed. Spread the croutons out evenly. I like to us a pan large enough for one layer of croutons. Don’t worry too much about them being neatly spread out and all having perfect contact with the pan.
Your first time you can stir them occasionally or, if you have the skill, flip them using the pan. Until they have a nice toasting on the outside. They can be very lightly toasted but still crisp or dark brown almost burnt. I prefer them all of the above which is what you get when you don’t worry about them being to evenly spread out in the pan and you use the advanced technique.
The advanced technique: What I do now having made them many of times is put them in the pan then turn it on. By the time the pan has gotten nice and hot and they are golden brown on one side. I give them a quick flip in the pan, turn it off and forget about it. When everything else in the meal is prepared. I pour them on top of the salad; toss them in still a little warm. Delicious!
( Here’s where the picture of the salad with the croutons mixed in goes. Unfortunately, being as this is the first New West recipe blog attempt and there may have been too much PBR and wine used in the filming of this recipe. You will have to use your imagination in what it all looks like together.)
YOU SHOULD PLANT A GARDEN. Our family’s grocery bill goes down 60% in the summer due to gardening. If you do the math, on what I save in grocery bills I make $50-$100 per hour in the time I spend in the garden. It is so easy. Besides sharpening implements (link to sharpening page) and building a fire this one of the first things mankind figured out how to do. People spend way more time on their lawns and landscaping than I do on my garden. MOST IMPORTANTLY: The freshy, freshy food from my garden, simply prepared, tastes better than anything I have ever had in a restaurant and I’ve eaten at some good restaurants.
Tips on Planting Lettuce
1. Plant early and often. I plant fresh lettuce seeds every week or two. That way there is a fresh supply of baby lettuce all the time. Arugula grows really fast and bolts quickly. June 10th I’ve already planted it 4 different times. No big deal 5-10 minutes once every couple weeks.
2. I seed lettuce very heavily spread evenly through out an area. No rows. I find it keeps down weeds, stays moist and doesn’t need watered as much. Most importantly, the lettuce grows really tightly and compactly together. When you pull one out the others quickly fill in any open space. A small space turns into the lettuce version of the Horn of Plenty.
3. Corey’s planting technique. Lettuce seeds like to be basically on top of the soil. Most seed packs say 1/8-inch depth. Spreading an 1/8 of soil on top of seeds is not very easy. What I do is sprinkle the seeds heavily (think like planting grass seed) in a well-tilled mostly flat area. With my fingertips just lightly scratch the surface. Visualize lightly scratching someone’s back. Be careful not to push the seeds all together into one spot while you are doing this. I then give the surface a firm pat down with the flat of my hand. (Play the bongos). Add water. Nice light spray not a fire hose or the seeds will get washed all into one place.
3. I like to mix two varieties together. Lots of the time a green and a red variety. That way if one variety doesn’t feel like growing for any of the myriad of mysteries of why plants do what they do, you are bound to get one variety to go off.
4. Try to keep the seeds wet for the first week. This is the only thing that takes some diligence. It will work to some degree no matter what but you want the lettuce to really come up densely this is the key. In the spring this is easy if you live somewhere where it rains a lot.