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The Minimalist Cooks at Home: Recipes That Give You More Flavor from Fewer Ingredients in Less Timeby Mark Bittman
Grilled Bread Salad
Work Time 20 minutes Prep Time 45 minutes Can be easily multiplied Makes 4 servings
Bread salad is a way of making good use of stale bread. The bread is softened, usually with water, olive oil, lemon juice, or a combination, then tossed with tomatoes and a variety of seasonings. Like many old-fashioned preparations created as a way to salvage food before it goes bad (count pickles and jam among these), bread salad has an appeal of its own. This is especially true in the summer, when good tomatoes are plentiful and may lead to the rather unusual problem of waiting around for bread to become stale.
Or, of course, making it stale. I'd always solved this problem by drying bread in the oven until I realized that using the grill or broiler would not only dry the bread more quickly but, by charring the edges slightly, add another dimension of flavor to the salad. This procedure is really the same as making toast--exposing the bread to direct heat (rather than the indirect heat of the oven) to brown it as well as dry it. There's another benefit to grilling the bread in order to dry it out: The added flavor makes it possible to strip the salad to its bare minimum.
This is a substantial salad, but it's still a side dish unless you're in the mood for a very light meal. (See "With Minimal Effort" for a couple of simple ideas for changing that.) Because it's juicy, almost saucy, and pleasantly acidic, this salad makes a nice accompaniment to simple grilled meat or poultry, and has a special affinity for dark fish such as tuna and swordfish.
The only tricks here involve timing. You must watch the bread care- fully as you grill or broil it; a slight char is good, but it's a short step from there to burned bread. And the time you allow the bread to soften after tossing it with the seasonings varies some; keep tasting until the texture pleases you. If your tomatoes are on the dry side, you might add a little extra liquid, in the form of more olive oil and lemon juice, or a light sprinkling of water.
1 small baguette (about 8 ounces) or other crusty bread 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (good vinegar also works well) 2 tablespoons diced shallot, scallion, or red onion 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic, optional 1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, chopped Salt and freshly ground black pepper 1/4 cup or more roughly chopped basil or parsley
1 Start a gas or charcoal grill or preheat the broiler; the rack should be 4 to 6 inches from the heat source. Cut the bread lengthwise into quarters. Grill or broil the bread, watching carefully and turning as each side browns and chars slightly; total time will be less than 10 minutes.
2 While the bread cools, mix together the next five ingredients in a large bowl. Mash the tomatoes with the back of a fork to release all of their juices. Season to taste with salt and pepper to taste. Cut the bread into 1/2- to 1-inch cubes (no larger) and toss it with the dressing.
3 Let the bread sit for 20 to 30 minutes, tossing occasionally and tasting a piece every now and then. The salad is at its peak when the bread is fairly soft but some edges remain crisp, but you can serve it before or after it reaches that state. When it's ready, stir in the herb and serve.
With MINIMAL Effort
Before grilling rub the bread, with a cut clove of garlic and/or brush it with some olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.
Add to the salad 1/4 cup chopped olives, 1 tablespoon capers, and/or 2 minced anchovy fillets.
For a one-dish meal, grill or broil some shrimp or boneless chicken alongside the bread, then add the chunks to the salad. Or add some leftover or canned tuna (the Italian kind, packed in olive oil) to the mix.
Pear and Gorgonzola Green Salad
Work Time 15 minutes Prep Time 15 minutes Can be prepared in advance; easily multiplied Makes 4 servings
This salad is a far cry from iceberg lettuce and bottled dressing, but it isn't much more work. And it's a magical combination of powerful flavors made without cooking or any major challenges. No wonder it's become a turn-of-the-century classic.
Simple as it is, without top-quality ingredients this salad won't amount to much. I love a good Basic Vinaigrette (page 000) made with either sherry vinegar or good balsamic vinegar. The pears must be tender and very juicy, so sample one before making the salad--it should not be crunchy, mushy, or dry. The Gorgonzola should be creamy; ask for a taste before buying it.
2 large pears, about 1 pound 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 4 ounces Gorgonzola or other creamy blue cheese 6 cups mixed greens, washed, dried, and torn into bite-sized pieces About 1/2 cup Basic Vinaigrette (page 000) made with sherry or balsamic vinegar
1 Peel and core the pears; cut them into 1/2-inch chunks and toss with the lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate until needed, up to 2 hours.
2 Crumble the Gorgonzola into small bits; cover and refrigerate until needed.
3 When you're ready to serve, toss the pears, cheese, and greens to-gether with as much of the dressing as you like. Serve immediately.
With MINIMAL Effort
Pear and Gorgonzola Salad with Walnuts: To add another dimension-crunchiness--place 1 cup walnuts in a dry skillet with the heat on medium, and toast them, shaking the pan frequently until they are aromatic and beginning to darken in color, 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside to cool while you prepare the other ingredients, then crumble them into bits over the salad. Try hazelnuts, too.
Substitute spinach, arugula, or any other strong-flavored salad green for the mesclun.
Add about a cup of diced cucumber or bell pepper (preferably red or yellow) to the greens when you toss them.
Crumble about 1/2 cup of crisp-cooked bacon over the salad in place of or along with the walnuts.
Omit the pears; just make a salad of greens and cheese. Nuts are great here too.
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