Get ready! Those hot summer days are just ahead of us! I enjoy keeping my crisper filled with fresh salad making vegetables, so I don’t have to cook when it gets too hot!
My readers know what a food history nut I am, and now my cooking class students know that about me, too. We enjoy discussing the origins of recipes and foodways and today’s column features some of those stories. My new students are delighted when I tell them about themed dinner parties I’ve hosted over the years that focus on the history of foods and recipes.
Today’s column begins with one of those stories! Several years ago, I hosted a girlfriends’ luncheon for a dozen women, and I wanted a theme that allowed them to get all dressed up with a little glitz and glamour. My theme evolved from my love of old Hollywood and black and white movies, so I chose a luncheon menu of delicious Cobb Salad. The Cobb Salad originated in Hollywood at the Brown Derby Restaurant, so I created invitations showing an old picture of the original restaurant. My table was set with brown dinnerware and my centerpiece was composed of old black and white movie photos that I printed in brown and 3 cute derby hats. Only one of my hats, which I bought at local thrift stores, was actually brown, so I embellished the other two with brown satin bands and a few bronze sequins! Yes, that’s the way I entertain!
None of my guests knew the story of the Cobb Salad. It was created quite by accident, when the owner of the Brown Derby Restaurant, Robert Howard Cobb, went into the kitchen and gathered up a bunch of left overs to make a salad. He had the cook fry some bacon to throw in with all the other good things and it was so good, he put on the menu! That story dates to 1937 and the recipe for Cobb Salad has never changed.
The Italian Panzanella salad is another of my favorites because it uses stale bread. I first had this salad in 1981 in San Francisco, and I still make it with sourdough bread, the same way that Alioto’s Restaurant made it. Alioto’s was founded in 1925 and was originally a food stall that sold wholesome Sicilian food to the laborers that worked on Fisherman’s Wharf. After the Golden Gate and Bay bridges opened in the 1930s, the family opened a restaurant, but still made wholesome food using family recipes that had been passed down for generations. Panzanella in its original form was praised by a 16th century artist and poet who sang praises of onions and oil and vinegar served with toast. In another stanza, he added praise for lettuce and cucumbers. That was the popular recipe for Panzanella and in the 20th century, we began adding lots of other ingredients including tomatoes, basil and cheese. The purpose of the bread is to soak up the tasty dressing.
My most favorite summer salad is the 1970s Seven Layer Salad that many believe originated in the Deep South! I’ve never known exactly where the Deep South is, so I’m just claiming it as a Deep Southern Illinois family reunion and church supper invention, although I doubt that is true! I associate this salad with Watergate, because I remember seeing it in a women’s magazine featured alongside the popular Watergate Cake and Watergate Salad, both of which were made with instant pistachio pudding. That’s a story for another day’s column!
Normally the layered salad is made in a big clear glass bowl, so you can see the layers, but I’ve made mine in canning jars. The canning jar salad craze is upon us and smart brown bag lunch takers have learned that they can make 5 salads on Sunday afternoon for each day of the upcoming week. There’s just something about the jar and the tight sealing lid that makes the salads stay perfectly fresh for a week. Any salad works, but I’ve made my favorite, which has more than seven layers!
The Good Food: Local cooking classes are going beautifully. My team members love working with the children who seem to be soaking up their lessons about nutrition. Our adult students are having a good time, too. We’ve made all kinds of unique recipes including Cream of Radish Soup and Cabbage Fritters. I’ll share those recipes later in a book we plan to compile that will feature our most popular classroom recipes.
Hope you’ll try at least one of these summertime salad favorites. With exception of the eggs, meat and avocado in this variety of salad recipes, all the ingredients came from the Farmers’ Market. Everything is local and good!
Here are the Recipes!
You can use any salad greens you’d like, but a combination of iceberg lettuce and Romaine lettuce offers perfect crunch. Top a layer of greens with chopped tomatoes, crumbled fried bacon, chunks of boiled chicken breast, a hard-boiled egg, slices of avocado, mild onions, green pepper chunks and Roquefort or Bleu cheese chunks. I’ve substituted deli style roast turkey breast in my salad. The original salad had a big sprinkling of chives, but my recipe puts the chives in the homemade dressing. The proper way to assemble the salad is to put the greens on a shallow bowl or platter and arrange rows of the ingredients, covering all the lettuce. Toss the salad with the dressing when you are ready to serve it.
Top your salad with a good drizzle of Red Wine Vinaigrette. Make the dressing by whisking together ¼ cup red wine vinegar, 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 3 Tablespoons honey, 2 Tablespoons chopped chives, several grinds of black pepper and ½ cup of olive oil.
Panzanella, Debbie’s Style
4 cups quartered red tomatoes
2 cups cucumber chunks
2 cups thin slices of a sweet onion
1 cup sweet bell pepper chunks
1 cup Kalamata olives
1 heaping Tablespoon capers
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
4 cups of big chunks of sourdough bread
The trick to making this salad really good is to use old bread, and if you bread isn’t at least 3 days old, it will turn to mush! You can dry it out in the oven by baking it at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or you can grill your chunks of bread after you drizzle it with oil.
Make the salad dressing by combining 1 teaspoon minced garlic with ½ cup Kalamata olive oil with 2 Tablespoons of white wine vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste, but you can add as much as a teaspoon of artisan’s salt and several grinds of black pepper. Pour the dressing on the salad and let all of it sit out and come to room temperature.
Some recipes suggest soaking the bread in water, then squeezing it out before you add it to the salad. I skip that step, but I drizzle my bread crumbs with additional olive oil and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Sometimes I drizzle it with the oil from sundried tomatoes or from roasted red peppers. I also like to grill my bread chunks and add them just before serving the salad. Letting the salad sit to come to room temperature will also allow the vegetables to generate juices that will mix beautifully with the salad dressing. The purpose of the bread is to soak up all that savory liquid.
Seven Layer Salad Plus
Yes, there are more than seven layers in this salad! In order to make certain that the onion and bacon flavors flow through the whole salad, layer your ingredients from the bottom in this order:
Chopped iceberg lettuce
Thinly sliced radishes
Chopped green pepper
Chopped red tomatoes
Frozen green peas
Thinly sliced peeled cucumber
Sliced hard boiled eggs
Chopped green onions
Crumbled fried bacon
Shredded cheddar cheese
Before using, thaw the peas by rinsing them under cold water. When you fry the bacon, save the bacon grease to make the mayonnaise topping. Make the mayonnaise topping by combining 2 cups of mayonnaise, ½ cup of sugar and the drippings from frying 6 to 8 strips of bacon. Layer the salad following this list; spread the topping all over it; and top it all with cheddar cheese. Cover the salad and refrigerate overnight for the best flavors. The mayonnaise will drip down into the first few layers of salad and makes a flavorful combination of summertime vegetables.
See a series of my cooking columns at The Murphysboro American.
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