Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Perfect Spring Salad

I'd been craving spring greens and I got lucky at the farmers' market when I spotted arugula at Nash's Organic Produce.

I love arugula's zippy peppery tones. It wakes up salads and transforms pasta dishes, plus it’s available almost year-round in the Pacific Northwest. But the thing about this exotic green is that you have to use it within a few days or it wilts. There’s nothing good about wilted arugula. That's $3.50 down the drain. You can wrap it in a paper towel and store it for a few days, but it’s a risk. Who wants to feed $3.50 to the compost heap? I've got better things to do with my food money. I say enjoy arugula the day you get it.

I grabbed a red cabbage for color but across the aisle from the arugula, beets called my name. Pickled beets are the winter equivalent of summer tomatoes in salads at our house now. You need that tang, so just steam the beets and marinate then with a little balsamic vinegar. But only use the good stuff for this or you’ll be sorry. Fini is my favorite brand and I always get at least two jars for my pantry for a year's supply.

The carrots also looked good, but local carrots can be deceptive this time of year. It’s the very end of the season so they don’t have as much flavor and though they can pass in looks, they might be rubbery or taste like wood. You could always ask to sample carrots before you buy. I’ll buy them now, but I’d rather roast them than eat them raw. My Kitchen Assistant, Finn, thinks they're good no matter what.

I also picked up dried basil at Rock Island, Jerry Pipitone’s farm booth. Jerry sells a great selection of herbs and dried fruits during the winter. I’d add a pinch of basil to the marinated beets.

Right before I left the market, I spotted Comice pears at Booth Canyon Orchards. These are creamy white fleshed and delicately sweet pears. I picked out three and as I bought them I imagined the flavors of greens, beets and pears.

There was just one thing missing from my salad daydream--Rogue Creamery Smoky Blue. This is the best cheese ever. The only problem is that it's from Oregon, but since I’d just finished my biannual grocery food buy, I had a hunk of this incredible cheese. It was just waiting for the right salad to come along.

Finn takes his ingredient inspection duty seriously but I'm sure he's a little disappointed I didn't put my blue cheese in the bowl. I may trust him with red cabbage, but I'm not a fool. Smoky Blue Cheese is way too tempting and the hounds have snatched from me before.

I had a bit of Holmquist Orchards hazelnut oil in my refrigerator so I made this dressing from The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook to top the salad:

Orange-Hazelnut Dressing
Makes 1/4 cup
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon finely chopped orange zest
Pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper

Whisk together the oil, orange juice, and zest in a small bowl. Add the salt and pepper. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Pretty as a picture, here it is. What's in your spring salad?

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