You can’t plan fate. You just have to let it happen.
When you call Chez Panisse on a Tuesday (7/20) to ask for restaurant reservations, and they tell you they can take you in at 9:15 PM on Friday, you gladly give them a $25 deposit and let them know you’ll be there. Since you just-so-happened-to-have-Friday-off-of-work, you book the hour-long flight to San Francisco, reserve a place to stay and ask your friends for a lift to the airport.
Then your mind starts to race and you wonder: is it really possible to elope to San Francisco this weekend? …because wouldn’t it be grand to have our first meal as a married couple by sharing it under the roof of a place that has given us so much inspiration? If we’re not dining at home right in our backyard with our own garden tomatoes (our original plan), wouldn’t the next best thing be Alice’s?
Yes, and yes.
There was so much of the magical evening we’d love to share with you. And maybe when we have more time, we will. In the meantime, you’ll have to fill in the blanks with the pictures we managed to take.
In summary, we couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend the evening. Perhaps it’s the kick-in-the-butt we needed to initiate the next chapter of our lives together: the early years of the Rustic Garden Bistro…
Tonight, we’re opening The Art of Simple Food to page 50, and letting Alice tell us in her own words how we should enjoy our dinner salad. We hope you enjoy it, too.
What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
For me, making a garden lettuce salad – washing beautiful fresh-picked lettuce and tossing them together with a scattering of herbs and a vinaigrette – is as much of a joy as eating one. I love the colorful variety of lettuces, bitter and sweet; the flavor ad complexity of herbs such as chervil and chives’ and the brightness of a simple vinaigrette made with red wine vinegar, olive oil, and a whisper of garlic, which highlights the lettuces and herbs without overwhelming them.
For a salad to have flavor and life, you have to start with fresh, just-picked lettuces. I’m fortunate to have a small kitchen garden in my backyard where I grow various lettuces and herbs for salad, but if you don’t have such a garden it can take some real dedication to find good greens. Farmers’ markets are the best places to start. When my garden is not producing, or when I’m away from home, I shop for head lettuces and try to create my own combinations of lettuces, arugula, chicories, and whatever tender herbs I can find. I generally avoid the salad mixes, especially the pre-bagged ones, which usually seem to include one or two kinds of greens that don’t belong with the others. If there is a lovely mixture from a local salad grower, fine, but otherwise try to buy the best lettuces you can find and make your own mix.
Wash the lettuce, gently but thoroughly, in a basin or bowl of cold water. First cull through the lettuces, pulling off and throwing into the compost bin any outer leaves that are tough, yellowed, or damaged. Then cut the stem end, separating the rest of the leaves into the water. Gently swish the leaves in the water with your open hands and lift the lettuce out of the water and into a colander. If the lettuces are very dirty, change the water, and wash again.
Dry the lettuces in a salad spinner, but don’t overfill it. It’s much more effective to spin-dry a few small batches than one or two ones. Empty the water from the spinner after each batch. Any water clinging to the leaves will dilute the vinaigrette, so check the leaves and spin them again if they’re still a little wet. I spread out each batch of leaves in a single layer on a dish towel as I go. Then I gently roll up the towel and put it in the refrigerator until it’s time to serve the salad. You can do this a few hours ahead.
When the time comes, put the lettuce in a bowl big enough to allow you to toss the salad. If you have some, add a small handful of chives or chervil, or both, either chopped quickly or snipped with scissors.
Toss everything with the vinaigrette, using just enough sauce to coat the leaves lightly, so they glisten. Beware of overdressing small, tender lettuces: they will wilt and turn soggy. I usually toss the salads with my hands. (I eat salads with my hands, too.) That way I can be gentle and precise and make sure that each leaf is evenly dressed. Taste, and if needed, finish the salad with a sprinkling of salt or brighten it with a splash of vinegar or a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste again and see what you think, then toss one last time and serve the salad right away.
– Alice Waters, from The Art of Simple Food, pp. 50-51
Garden Lettuce Salad
~ Makes 4 servings ~
~ Ingredients ~
- 4 generous handfuls of lettuce
- 1 garlic clove, pounded to a fine purée
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- Fresh-ground black pepper
- 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
~ Preparation ~
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
- Carefully wash and dry: 4 generous handfuls of lettuce.
- Mix together: 1 garlic clove, pounded to a fine puree, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, salt, fresh-ground black pepper, and 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil.
- Use a lettuce leaf to taste the vinaigrette as you add the oil. Put the lettuce in a large bowl, add about three quarters of the vinaigrette, toss, and taste. Add more dressing as needed. Serve immediately.
Source: The Art of Simple Food, Alice Waters, pp. 50-51