A Salad, Medium Rare

Grilling season is finally upon us here in Pittsburgh. Come six o'clock, the smell of burgers drifts from the backyard of one neighbor or another. I ask Patrick to fire up the old grill. It's then that a certain twinkle appears in his eye and he begins rummaging around in the fridge for a celebratory Dogfish Head IPA. Then I hand him a platter full of romaine lettuce. He looks momentarily confused, and then it dawns on him. Sigh. Another night of grilling leaves. "Medium rare, I guess," he says to no one in particular as he heads out into the burger-perfumed air.

During our vacation to Atlantic Beach, we stayed in a room equipped with a TV (!), a TV which broadcast the Food Channel (!!). While Patrick trudged through a thick social history on the deck, I watched Giada De Larentiis grill up some heads of lettuce, and I don't think anything other than romaine has touched our grill since then.

It may be grilling season, but it is also the season of salads, hearty salads that can pass for more than a side dish. This salad's smoky greens and pungent dressing do the job. The romaine wilts slightly, but becomes crunchy around its charred edges. The sun dried tomatoes and toasted pine nuts lend an Italian twist to the traditional Caesar salad formula: romaine lettuce, garlicky anchovy dressing, Parmesan cheese. Giada's recipe includes fried polenta croutons, an addition that fully Italianizes this salad, but extends its prep-time beyond the five minutes to which I am now accustomed. Generally, I dispense with croutons altogether so that Patrick and I can round out this healthy meal with an entire loaf of (curse you, no-knead) bread.

Grilled Romaine Salad with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Pine Nuts
Serves 4-6. Adapted from this Giada De Laurentiis recipe.

For dressing:
2 garlic cloves
4 anchovy fillets, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For salad:
3 small heads (or 2 large heads) romaine lettuce, halved lengthwise
a bit of olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, cut into thin strips
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 1/2 ounces Parmesan, thinly shaved with vegetable peeler

To make the dressing:
Finely chop the garlic and anchovies in a food processor. Blend in the lemon juice and mustard. With the machine running, gradually blend in the oil. Season the dressing, to taste, with salt and pepper.

To make the salad:
Prepare a grill (outdoor or grill pan) for high heat. Lightly brush the cut sides of romaine with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the lettuce until lightly charred, about 2 minutes per side. Cut the lettuce into bite-size pieces.
On a serving platter, mound the grilled chopped lettuce. Scatter over the sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts. Drizzle with enough dressing to evenly coat. Add Parmesan and serve immediately. Pass around extra dressing.


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