One of the greatest things about the time of year when the weather warms up and fresh local produce begins to arrive at the farmer’s markets. Nothing compares to fresh vegetables harvest hours to no longer than a day before.
One of the aspects of being a trained chef that I enjoy most is the ability to take these top quality ingredients and turn them into a dish that is simply perfect for the season. As it warms up outside and even more in the kitchen I often find myself reaching for some local greens and an assortment of vegetables as my meal before service begins. A simple salad paired with a variety of simple light and fresh salad dressings can go a long way.
Basic fruit based vinaigrette is one of my favorite options for the most simple of salad. Fresh local greens with some shaved fresh vegetables such as carrots, radishes, and heirloom tomatoes pairs extremely well. I would recommend sweet vinegar such as rice wine vinegar or champagne vinegar when using fruit in a dressing. Also remember the ideal ratio of oil to vinegar is 3:1. Sauteing fresh garlic and shallots before blending will also give your vinaigrette added depth. The use of strawberries or raspberries for fruit vinaigrette is also recommended.
For those who are not a fan of a sweeter dressing but prefer a citrus taste consider the same salad type and the same 3:1 ratio but use a white balsamic instead. Use the same concept of sauteed garlic and shallots, salt and pepper, and the juice of a citrus fruit such as standard lemons, Meyer lemons, or blood oranges. Fresh dill is also a nice touch to lemon vinaigrette.
A salad I recently added to the menu utilizing the fresh ingredients available to me was local greens, fresh strawberries, goat cheese, candied pecans, and a balsamic reduction. Two common variations for the use of balsamic vinegar are balsamic vinaigrette and reduced balsamic vinegar. When making a balsamic vinaigrette use the same 3:1 oil to vinegar ratio, sauteed garlic and shallots, and salt & pepper before blending.
A balsamic reduction is simply reducing balsamic vinegar until it turns into sweet thick syrup. I prefer using a reduction over vinaigrette when any dairy product is involved.
The best part about cooking in general is the ability to experiment with flavors. As long as you remember the 3:1 ratio play with various oil and vinegar combinations. Add herbs and other flavors you enjoy. While food is nourishment at its core, it should be enjoyed.
Paul Rados is a trained chef living and working in Cleveland, Ohio. If you have any comments or questions regarding food or cooking contact him on Twitter @PSRados