Friday, 5 June 2009

Salad Season!

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
My daily Garden Journal, started seven years ago, shows that we've had a freeze the first week of June half the time. A section in our local newspaper lists stories from 130, 100, 50, 20 and 10 years ago. Today's paper says ten years ago, a five-inch June snowfall knocked out power to 9,000 homes. I know lots of places have gardens up and going full-speed, but around here cold-season crops are the only thing ready to harvest.

So that means it's salad season! The earliest spinach and arugula, seeded last fall to winter over and sprout in February, started to bolt so I pulled those plants and gave them to some very happy chickens. But with my spring-seeded spinach, under a net to protect it from foraging quail, my harvest continues.

With this dressing, I like a salad of just spinach leaves, some very thin slices of a mild red onion, and sliced fresh button mushrooms. The egg yolks dissolve when shaken to emulsify the dressing, and the whites will sink to the bottom if the dressing sits for a while. If you're making an individual salad, store the extra dressing in the refrigerator, use within 3 days, and spoon the dressing on to distribute the whites of the eggs equally.

Egg Dressing for Spinach Salad (makes enough for one family-size salad, or 3-4 individual salads)

½ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon seasoned salt (I use Lawry's)
2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped into ½" dice

Put everything into a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake well. It's best to use one with a plastic or enameled lid, to avoid any interaction between the acidic vinegar and a metallic lid. Toss with salad just before serving.

I scatter seeds from lots of different lettuces, using them to shade the roots of my peas, using the pea plants to shade the lettuces. The first couple of lettuce harvests are cut and come again - snipping along the row an inch above the ground. Then I'll start thinning plants, eating the ones pulled and leaving others to grow bigger. As the lettuces get bigger, I'll pull or cut every other one. By the time they're starting to bolt, there will only be a couple of plants of each variety left. Harvesting those seeds gives me my seeds for next year - either separated by variety or tossed together to make a greens mix.

For mixed greens salads, I'll usually dress them right in the bowl - first tossing with a drizzle of olive oil, then adding some raisins or dried cherries, maybe some feta or blue cheese, some chopped nuts, and then a drizzle of some kind of vinegar.

When the romaine lettuce gets bigger, it's time for Caesar salads. I'll cut any kind of bread into cubes, spray with non-stick spray (or you can toss with a drizzle of oil), and put them on a cookie sheet in a 400ยบ oven for 10 minutes to toast. Classic Caesar dressing uses a raw egg (and some now use Egg Beaters), but I've found mayonnaise (either home-made or store-bought) makes for an easy shortcut. While the croutons cool, shred some Parmesan cheese, prepare your lettuce (chopped celery makes a nice addition), and whip up the dressing.

Shortcut Caesar Dressing (makes enough for one family-size salad, or 3-4 individual salads)

1 clove garlic, peeled
¼ cup mayonnaise (if you use non-fat mayo, it makes this a great low-fat dressing)
1 tablespoon vinegar (white, red, balsamic, whatever)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ teaspoon anchovy paste (I buy it in a little tube - lasts a couple of seasons)
⅛ teaspoon salt

Finely mince garlic (in a mini food processor if you use one - I don't, so I just smash and mince the garlic and then mix everything else in with a fork). Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until smooth. Can be stored covered in the refrigerator 4-5 days. Toss with lettuce just before serving, add cheese and croutons, and toss again.