“We are beginning to wonder whether a servant girl hasn't the best of it after all. She knows how the salad tastes without the dressing, and she knows how life's lived before it gets to the parlor door.”Djuna Barnes
Two bacon-containing dishes two weeks in a row....sigh. What's a (non-bacon-eating) girl to do? Improvise, that's what. Although you'll be relieved to know that for this week's FFWD, I actually went with the meat part and used beef bacon. It's as fat-laden as actual bacon and was just perfect. End of fret session.
Next, the half-boiled eggs. I wasn't keen on having a runny yolk in my salad, so I set the timer to do my eggs 3/4-boiled. I know exactly how I like my eggs done, know what I mean? The yolk was still shiny and bright yellow (as opposed to being dull and matt) but it didn't ooze all over the place when I cut into it. What can I say, I just like a clean plate.
In Dorie's book, the vinaigrette contained nearly as many ingredients as the salad part itself, so I decided to simplify it. I took the flavors of mustard, vinegar and walnut oil out of the vinaigrette and placed them elsewhere on the dish. I remember eating a lively salad somewhere once, and I also remember it was on a beach with a view of shimmering waters the color of pale blue sapphires. Digression aside, the salad was served upright in a rather amazing crusty, edible vase made of baked Parmesan. Every since that day, I'd wanted to recreate that crisp vessel. Here, finally was my chance.
Beef bacon, asparagus, Parmesan and mustard strip
Here's how I did it: I searched for a cylindrical object such as a bottle, wiped it clean and measured a strip of rectangular parchment paper long enough to wrap around the cylinder, the short ends overlapping by about an inch. I sprinkled 1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan on the paper but since I didn't have enough, added 1/4 cup grated Parmesan on top of that (stick with shredded if you can). Mustard seeds took the place of Dijon mustard in the vinaigrette and these I sprinkled all over the Parmesan. I baked the strip at 180C for about 5 minutes until it turned a golden brown color, then wrapped it around the cylindrical mold (I used a thermos), tying around with a string to keep it in place. I left it to cool in a horizontal position and once set, I carefully removed the string and parchment paper.
Parmesan and mustard basket, baked and wrapped around a heat-proof thermos
The vessel ended up being quite high (about 4.5 inches) so instead of a vase, I decided to turn it into a basket. Yes, cooks improvise all the time, so why not? To serve the salad, I just stuffed everything into the Parmesan basket - the asparagus, beef bacon cut into long strips, red cabbage ribbons and salad greens. A squeeze of lime replaced the vinegar, and a sprinkle of chopped, toasted walnuts eliminated the need for walnut oil. A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil over the salad, meanwhile, completed the dish.
So what do you think of this salad basket filled to the brim with the season's bounty? Était très, très bon, non?
Look out for other variations of this salad by FFWD members, our online cooking group. This week's recipe is on page 130 of Around My French Table. Get it, cook out of it, and eat better because of it!