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For great salads, just-picked is best

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

(Photo)
An heirloom and cherry tomato salad is shown Aug. 1 in Concord, N.H.
(Matthew Mead ~ Associated Press)
When constructing a great salad, Alice Waters wants it to be fresh. Really fresh.

"I want salad that has just been picked, that has a feeling of aliveness to it," Waters said in a recent email interview. "I like a mix of colors and textures of lettuces and herbs -- bibb, young romaine, frisee, oak leaf, mint. The quality of the oil, vinegar, fresh garlic and salt is vital!"

And Waters -- the woman behind the iconic Berkeley, Calif., restaurant Chez Panisse -- doesn't hesitate to eat salad whenever the mood strikes.

"I eat salad with every meal, as a first course, or in a little pile along with the main dish, or before dessert," she said. "And I eat it for lunch -- and breakfast!"

For the AP's 20 Salads of Summer series, Waters offered a simple but stunning heirloom and cherry tomato salad.

"I am always thinking a number of questions when I set out to make this," she said. "First, what month is it? Are the tomatoes dead ripe? Which varietals are the ripest? Is the garlic fresh? What sort of fruity olive oil do I have to use?"

The recipe is delicious as written, but Waters also likes to dress it with freshly made aioli, a recipe for which follows the salad recipe.

"I make my aioli in a mortar. I smash the garlic clove to a paste first, then take a little out to add back in later, if it needs it. Then I slice the tomatoes, season with salt, thin the aioli with a little water and drizzle it over, and sprinkle with chopped parsley."

Heirloom and Cherry Tomato Salad

When we made this delicious salad, we didn't have the optional lemon cucumbers or torpedo onions. But we found half of a medium red onion and three baby cucumbers, peeled and seeded, were fine substitutes. It's a very forgiving recipe. So long as you use fresh ingredients, you can't go wrong.

Start to finish: 25 minutes

Servings: 4

1/2 pint assorted cherry tomatoes, halved

2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, different colors and sizes, cored and cut into wedges or slices

1 shallot, finely diced

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 clove garlic, smashed

Salt

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Ground black pepper

Green and purple basil leaves, chopped

Lemon cucumbers and torpedo onions (optional)

Arrange the tomatoes in a shallow bowl or on a platter. Set aside.

To make the vinaigrette, in a small bowl macerate the shallot in the vinegar with the garlic and a little salt for 15 minutes. Whisk in the oil. Taste and adjust the acidity and the salt as necessary.

Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper, then sprinkle on the chopped basil leaves. Carefully dress with the vinaigrette.

Thin slices of peeled lemon cucumber and torpedo onion are wonderful additions to the salad.

Aioli

Start to finish: 5 minutes

Makes 1 1/4 cups

2 or 3 small garlic cloves

Pinch of salt

1 egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon water

1 cup olive oil

Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and salt until smooth.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, half of the garlic paste and the water.

Whisking constantly, slowly dribble the oil into the egg yolk mixture. As the egg yolk absorbs the oil, the sauce will thicken, lighten in color and become opaque. This will happen rather quickly. Then you can add the oil a little faster, whisking all the while. If the sauce is thicker than you like, thin it with a few drops of water. Taste and add more salt and garlic as desired.


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