Pairings: Salad Days
Summer is the time for salads, and that can mean anything from lettuce and tomato to a fruit medley spiked with whiskey.
Summer is the time for salads, and that can mean anything from lettuce and tomato to a fruit medley spiked with whiskey
Among the many pleasures of summer are salads, especially served al fresco on a warm night, the full moon rising and a huge bowl of stars overhead. Yet even without an idyllic setting, salads keep life simple and delicious when the weather makes us disinclined to turn on the stove.
But what counts as a salad? you might ask. These days, the answer is, almost anything. From a few hand-picked leaves kissed by artisan olive oil to beef cheek terrine on shredded sorrel and nettle pasta, a myriad of raw and cooked foods fits under the "salad" umbrella.
The more unusual combinations appear on restaurant menus, of course. At home, we still rely on familiar lettuces, tomatoes, avocados, fresh fruit and the ever-popular potato to make most of our salads, and with good reason. Most of these ingredients are available year 'round at farmers' markets and supermarkets, and their quality has never been better.
When it comes to pairing wines with salads, a myth persists that it is difficult to do. It isn't and really never has been. All you need to do is understand a few basic concepts and you'll select wines for these salads, and others, with confidence. The first thing to consider when selecting a wine is the dressing. Begin by making sure it is balanced, as an overly tart vinaigrette will fight with most wines and tends to be rather unpleasant on its own, too. When a dressing is too tart, you can balance it in two ways: By adding a bit more oil or by adding a generous pinch or two of salt, as salt balances acid. Some tart dressings need both. Salt engages acid in wines, too, so selecting a crisp white wine with a good acid structure (a French Chardonnay, unoaked Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris) is your best bet. A rich, buttery white wine may end up tasting bitter. For a vinaigrette sweetened with fruit vinegar or honey, choose a dry rosé, a Viognier or a lighter-style red. Champagne flatters either style of vinaigrette.
When a dressing is creamy—a vinaigrette with blue cheese, cream, or buttermilk, for example—you have a few more options. A Chardonnay, provided that it's not too oaky, will work, as will a light-bodied Pinot Noir. With composed salads, base your selection on both the dressing and on the primary ingredients. Classic mayonnaise-based sauces such as Crab Louis dressing and its sibling, Thousand Island dressing, are best with richer-bodied whites, such as California Chardonnays, and medium-bodied red wines.
In this quartet of salads, I use the classics—green salad, tomato salad, fruit salad and potato salad—as inspirations for contemporary versions that are easy to make at home.
|Mediterranean Green Salad with Herbs and Fennel|
In 1980, the Chez Panisse Cafe in Berkeley introduced its signature salad of garden greens, croutons and goat cheese. Ever since, such greens—alternately called baby greens, field greens, spring salad mix, fall salad mix and mesclun—have become the default salad in restaurants and homes nationwide. Made with fresh greens, the salad is satisfying and easy to make, but its ubiquity has made us forget the delight of other green salads, such as this one, inspired by salads from Sicily and the Greek Isles. You may shock your friends by putting a knife to lettuce ("Isn't that illegal in California?" a student once asked me) but the results can be dazzling.
3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 head romaine lettuce, leaves separated, rinsed and dried
1 head red leaf or butter lettuce, leaves separated, rinsed and dried
1 medium fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
3 scallions, trimmed and very
3 tablespoons fresh mint leaves,
3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chives
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
Kosher salt, to taste
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar and plenty of pepper. Set aside.
Stack about a third of the lettuce leaves and roll them lengthwise. Cut them crosswise into thin (about 3/8-inch) slices. Put the cut lettuce into a large salad bowl and continue cutting until all of the lettuce has been sliced.
Add the fennel, scallions and all of the herbs to the bowl of lettuce, sprinkle with several generous pinches of salt and toss gently. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and gently toss to coat. Scatter the pine nuts over the top and serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.
Wine recommendations: Any light white wine or sparkler works with this salad; I'd select a wine based on other elements of the meal and trust that it is very likely to work with this salad, as long as it is not too full-bodied or too oaky.
Summer Tomato Salad
Remove and discard the stem and blossom ends of the slicing tomatoes and cut the tomatoes into 3Â¼8-inch thick slices. Set aside. Cut the small tomatoes (through the poles, not the equator) into wedges and set aside. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half, cutting pear-shaped tomatoes through the poles and round tomatoes through the equator; set them aside.
Wine recommendations: Bandol rosé is a gorgeous match with this salad, as is any dry rosé without too much forward fruit. Alternatively, the herbaceous, grassy flavors of a Sauvignon Blanc or Sicilian white wine will complement the tomato and basil flavors in the salad.
Summer Melon Salad with Prosciutto
Potato Salad with Grilled Steak and Warm Bacon-Shallot Vinaigrette
8 large garlic cloves, minced