I’m one of those ladies who has a hard time ordering off the “girly section” of the menu, i.e., the entree salads. My gaze roams inevitably to the steak, the wild boar, or (as I am overfond of saying to my dining companions, “I’m just here for…”) the halibut.
Which makes no sense whatsoever, because entree salads are seriously delicious. And you feel virtuous while you’re eating them. And an all-steak, all-the-time diet, tempting as it may sound, is perhaps not always exactly what the body is calling for. (Though it sometimes is.)
Anyway: this is a salad that even non-salad fans, like the 11-year-old, will eat and enjoy. He even pointed out to me that “Mama, I don’t usually really care for salads, but this one was really good. ‘Cause it has a lot of ingredients in it that aren’t lettuce.”
A word of warning, though: you will probably be tempted to make this, as I was, because it is very hot outside. This is not a cooling-off kinda salad. You will need to use your oven, your stovetop and your broiler (unless you shortcut the process by using store-bought croutons, roasted chicken and jarred roasted bell peppers, which… um, OK, I guess). Fortunately, all these components can be made ahead, allowing you to assemble the final product in cool comfort at the last minute. (Or maybe, unlike me, you have Air Conditioning in your house, in which case, carry on in refrigerated splendor.)
Inspired by Italian Chicken Salad from Epicurious.com.
Nicoise-Ish Salad with Chicken
Serves four to six
For the croutons:
1/2 of a loaf of artisan bread (I used ciabatta, which was perhaps a bit too holey but looked cool), cut in 1″ cubes
2 or 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (the flavor of the olive oil is really important to this dish; don’t use that cheap chemical-tasting crap)
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 450. Toss together the bread cubes, the olive oil and the salt and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, until croutons are crispy. Set aside to cool.
For the vinaigrette (which is really just a nice multi-purpose vinaigrette all around):
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 shallot, finely minced
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
In a small bowl, beat together the vinegar, mustard and shallot with a fork until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle in the oil, beating/whisking the while, until mixture emulsifies. There you go: delicious dressing that didn’t come out of a bottle and doesn’t contain anything creepy!
For the rest of the salad:
1 red bell pepper
2 or 3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (recommended) or breasts (OK)
2 Tbsp olive oil
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, either in small ball form (hee) or cut into roughly 1/2″ pieces
1/2 pound green beans, topped/tailed and cut into relatively even lengths
1 head of romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces (or 3 hearts of romaine, treated likewise; the romaine hearts at my grocer were looking kind of pathetic so I passed them up)
1 cup pitted Nicoise (or Kalamata, if that’s all you’ve got) olives
Preheat the broiler; place the pepper on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil, turning occasionally, until all sides are blackened/blistered. Remove from broiler and put into a tightly lidded pot for several minutes so the skin loosens. Peel, cut out core/seed/ribs, and cut into bite-sized strips; set aside.
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil over medium heat; cook chicken in oil, turning once, until done, probably about 4 minutes per side for thighs. Remove from pan and set aside to cool. When cool, chop or shred coarsely. In a medium bowl, combine chicken and mozzarella with 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette; set aside to marinate for at least 15 minutes (30 would be better).
Steam green beans in a steamer basket or microwave very briefly, just until tender, 2-5 minutes. Refresh in cold water; set aside.
And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for! Put romaine in a very large bowl. Add everything else but the dressing; toss gently to combine. Drizzle with dressing; toss again to combine. There you go: salad!