When my friend Sara recommends a recipe I pay attention. She has a whole wall of cookbooks and knows all the ingredients and what to do with them and what a gram really is and she’s Canadian so if she hasn’t yet eaten a murre, she probably knows someone who has. It’s not all donuts and poutine up there. All her cooking utensils start out the day in a state of heightened anticipation. They have little cartoon legs and dance around on the counter. The girl knows her way around a kitchen, is what I’m saying.
So she was recently rhapsodizing about Nancy Silverton’s Italian Chopped Salad. I like the idea of chopped salads myself. I like having everything bite-sized so it all fits on a fork and you don’t have to pretend you can manage frilly lettuce in front of the Queen without looking like a tortoise. There’s been that whole expectation that we are never to cut salad greens lest we upset the symmetry of their little cells, but the suckers are going to be down the hatch before they get a chance to pout and turn brown, if it’s any good.
So. Nancy’s Chopped Salad. “It’s like eating an Italian sub sandwich in salad form,” they say.
The first thing you do is construct a vinaigrette. It calls for a cup and a half of oil. This is a lot of oil. Somewhere I still have the metal spout we used to jam into the motor oil cans before they all went to plastic. Further down in the recipe it says you only use a half cup of dressing so I guess the extra is what you keep in the fridge in case a stray salad happens by.
But it does look like a big salad. I set my vat of vinaigrette aside and gave it a whirl. A whole iceberg lettuce, a whole radicchio, a whole lot of salami, cheese, and peperoncinis, all chopped to beat hell. They direct you to cut your onion into 1/16th inch slices, or about the diameter of a post-menopausal facial hair. I am unclear on the proper tool for accomplishing that outside of an eye surgery clinic. Right off the bat it was obvious my biggest bowl was not going to cover the situation. I could pile things up in it but when it came to “tossing” I would be at a loss. I might be able to haul up salami strands from the bottom on an individual basis using fishing line. Then I remembered the really big bowl.
My sister-in-law gave that to me one Christmas. She thought I could use a bigger bread bowl. It wasn’t a standard item; It was handmade. And sure it’s a little thick and sure it’s a little heavy but it’s not bad at all for the Incredible Hulk’s first attempt at throwing a pot. It’s a very nice bowl. There’s only one way it can fit, in only one cabinet, and you have to move everything else out of the way first and tip it at an angle, so mostly it just stays there. We’re sort of counting on it helping to anchor our house to the foundation during the big earthquake.
I craned out the bowl, and dumped in all my ingredients. They were snug. This looked like the special meal our local zoo gives to its elephant on his birthday. I dumped in the vinaigrette and started tossing. Tossing is not the precise verb I’d use for an activity that involves diving into an oily salad up to your elbows, but whatever. Recipe says it serves 4-8, but they might mean elephants. We had company for dinner. I lowered the bowl in a wagon and wheeled it into the dining room. A lot of it did disappear.
Not into me, though. I didn’t care for it that much. That’s when I remembered: I don’t really like Italian sub sandwiches. But my elbows haven’t looked this smooth in years.