Singing of spring: Bright, beautiful salad embraces flavors of new season
FARGO — Even though it's snowing as I write this, April has arrived and with it, the season for springtime salads. This week's Symphony Salad was thus named because it is a beautifully composed salad, which means that it is built and dressed in layers, rather than tossed.
When creating a salad, we focus first on the style of the salad and consider how it will be served. Will it be tossed, composed or bound (like a chicken or egg salad)? Will it be served chilled, at room temperature or warm, at the beginning of the meal, with the main course, on a buffet, or as a digestive at the end of the meal? For this occasion, a bridal shower, I chose to make a composed salad as they are typically more elegant in presentation and ideal for large groups.
Once the purpose of the salad is clear, focus on one or two ingredients as inspiration, and work around those to build the salad. For this salad, I wanted to create a showcase of spring ingredients using orange and mint as the main flavors in the dressing, so I focused on foods that complement these flavors, like baby arugula, asparagus, almonds and fennel.
I chose the remaining components based on the balance of flavor, color and texture that they would bring to the salad, like scallions (also called green or spring onions), chickpeas and crispy prosciutto strips.
The dressing is a blend of freshly squeezed orange juice, orange zest and a heap of fresh mint, rounded out with a bit of Dijon mustard, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and seasoning. It can be refrigerated for up to one week and is best when made several hours, or even a day or two, in advance, which gives the flavors enough time to brighten and meld together.
A mason jar is ideal for this simple vinaigrette — just put all the ingredients inside, cover and shake well before using. Composed salads are dressed in layers to highlight the components and ensure an even distribution of dressing, so I tossed the arugula, asparagus slices, onion, chickpeas and shaved fennel, separately, in the dressing before assembling.
When assembling a composed salad, consider how you want it to appear before starting. On my first go with this dish, I placed the grilled asparagus pieces right on top of the bed of arugula, and they completely disappeared into the verdant green. I removed the pieces and then scattered the shaved fennel and sliced onion atop the arugula first, which provided a lovely white background that better showcased the asparagus.
To garnish the salad, crispy strips of fried prosciutto are sprinkled down the center of the salad, bringing a striking contrast of color, crunch and saltiness to this dish.
This Symphony Salad was perfect for a bridal shower and would also be great at brunch, luncheons and even dinner parties. A true symphony of flavors, this April composition positively sings of spring. Enjoy!
Symphony Salad with Minty Orange Dressing
Serves: 6 to 8
For the dressing:
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoon fresh mint, finely chopped
Place all ingredients in a mason jar, cover and shake vigorously until well combined. Taste and add kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper as desired. Refrigerate for up to one week. Best when made at least 2 hours before serving.
For the salad:
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 pieces prosciutto (as thin as possible), sliced into thin strips 2 inches long
2 tablespoons orange zest
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed, grilled, blanched or raw
1 5-ounce package of baby arugula
1 medium or 2 small fennel bulbs, thinly shaved
2 scallions, white ends only, thinly sliced on a diagonal (bias)
1 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted
Coat the bottom of a small pan with vegetable oil, then cook the prosciutto strips over medium heat for about 5 to 6 minutes, until they are deep red and crispy. Remove from pan and set aside to cool on a paper towel.
In a medium bowl, use a whisk to combine the orange zest, olive oil, salt and pepper. If grilling the asparagus, toss first in the marinade, then grill and cut into 1-inch pieces; if serving asparagus blanched, blanche first then cut into 1-inch pieces and toss in the marinade.
In a large bowl, toss the arugula in 2 tablespoons of dressing; sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss again. Place arugula on platter in an even layer.
In the same bowl, toss the shaved fennel and sliced scallions in 1 tablespoon of dressing, sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper, then scatter evenly around the arugula. Repeat for the asparagus pieces and then the chickpeas, separately.
Sprinkle the toasted almonds evenly around the salad, then drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons of dressing over the entire dish. Garnish the center width of the salad with the crispy prosciutto strips. Serve and enjoy.