Sunday, November 23, 2008

winter greens

I'm obsessed with winter greens right now. It's nothing unusual for me to be inspired by local, fresh produce. And I know I'm spoiled living in Northern California; we don't really have any months without amazing produce coming from within a 100-mile radius. But I'm always surprised at the end of summer to remember how many wonderful fruits and vegetables arrive as the weather cools down. I get crazy excited to start using wild mushrooms, winter squashes, apples & pears, citrus, and pomegranates, but I always forget they're coming. Yet somehow this year may be the first I've really discovered the lettuces that show up in the markets as the fall weather rolls in.

A friend recently brought me two smoked duck breasts and told me to make salads with them. Not being someone who often cooks with duck, I hopped on to to find a salad recipe that used smoked duck breast. The recipe I found called for a mix of winter greens that were somewhat unfamiliar to me. I was surprised to find that not only were these greens available, they were beautiful and in-season. The market I visited had a number of beautiful chicories that I blindly grabbed and decided to figure out what to do with when I got home. After turning to the bible that is Chez Panisse Vegetables, I identified my purple chicories as Rossa di Treviso and Rossa di Verona. I also picked up some Belgian endive, frisée, and watercress.

The salad was amazing! (Smoked duck breast, walnuts, pomegranates, tangerines, red onions, and a citrus-balsamic dressing). But even more wonderful was the container of mixed greens that sat in my fridge (washed and spun) for a few days without wilting or losing any of the bright, fresh flavor they had on day one. I ate leftover salad for days and each time the bowl of greens brightened my day. I'm sold. This is my new salad mix for winter months. The colors are incredible, the texture crisp and fresh, and the flavor, well...

Let me say this about winter greens: they aren't mild, unassuming vehicles for your favorite salad dressing. They have a wild bitterness that brings them center stage in a salad. I think this comes from an adaptation to ward off predators when growing conditions get rough and competition gets fierce. Many of the things we love about foods come from the co-evolution of plants and animals (predators, pollinators, seed dispersers...) and bitter winter greens are no exception. Most of my summer salads are about showcasing the ingredients on top of the greens, but in this salad the greens were the key players. Every other ingredient played some important role in balancing the crazy bitterness of the lettuces. They work will with rich dressings, meats, nuts, cheeses, eggs, name it. Rich foods go well with winter greens. And who doesn't love rich foods when the weather turns cold?

Smoked Duck Breast with Winter Greens

  • 1/3 cup fresh tangerine juice or orange juice
  • 1/4 cup walnut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 5 tangerines or 3 oranges
  • 3 heads of Belgian endive, trimmed, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 3 cups bite-size pieces frisée lettuce
  • 3 cups bite-size pieces radicchio
  • 1 bunch watercress, thick stems trimmed
  • 4 ounces smoked duck breast* or smoked turkey breast, cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced into rings
  • 2/3 cup walnut halves, toasted
  • 1/3 cup fresh pomegranate seeds

Whisk first 9 ingredients in small bowl until well blended. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature and whisk before using.)

If using tangerines, remove peel; separate into segments. If using oranges, cut off peel and white pith; cut between membranes to release segments into bowl. Toss endive, frisée, radicchio, and watercress in large bowl with enough dressing to coat.

Divide salad among 8 plates. Top each with smoked duck, onion rings, and tangerine or orange segments. Sprinkle with walnuts and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle with some of remaining dressing.


cay said...

Herman has a foodie blog!! I'm so excited!!

Harriet Toothfighter said...

I'm so excited too! And I like duck. And food.

James the Great said...

Hooray! I ate duck on Saturday, it was at the pilgrim feast I went to.