I am not, as you may have gathered, a healthy eater. I don’t count calories, buy low-fat butter, or otherwise deprive myself of much. So when Patricia Wells asked me to test-drive her new book about salad, I felt more than a little miscast. I mean, honestly – a month of eating greens?
Still I agreed (because who says no to this lady?) and took up the Salad As a Meal challenge. I was relieved when the book arrived yesterday and I read the following words from Patricia: “A salad as a meal does not need to include lettuce or greens; it can simply be a light and refreshing salad-related entity.” By the author’s own definition, SAAM could be Smoked Duck Breast with Cracklings & Chestnuts (p. 211) or Hand-Cut Beef Tartare with French Fries (p. 221). There are three whole chapters (snacks, breads, soups) devoid of any leaves at all. Best salad book ever!
Seriously, though, what this dubiously named book appears to be is a guide to healthy market-based home cooking. I haven’t seen a recipe yet, after flipping through the book’s 350+ pages, that requires more than a half an hour of effort. Perfect for spring and summer, when I don’t want to spend much time indoors and when the markets are overflowing with fresh produce.
I started last night with a salad that took all of five minutes to prepare – a rich combination of my favorite pistachio oil with avocado and zucchini ribbons. I had invited a few girls over (a sort of salad support group), and we sliced and marinated the zucchini while making our way through several bottles of Marc Ollivier Muscadet. I was nervous that the salad wouldn’t actually be enough for a meal, so I charred up a batch of baba ghanoush (p. 13) to begin and bought some stinky cheese to finish. The light and bright salad turned out to be exactly what we needed between these two poles, and it left room for us to enjoy the three desserts that turned up that night. It was indulgent without being heavy, and felt just right for the first warm night of Spring.
One note, before I share the recipe (with the author’s permission) – the Leblanc pistachio oil that Patricia recommends really makes this dish. You can find it at Leblanc’s Paris shop (6 rue Jacob) and on sale at La Grande Epicerie or Spring Boutique. You can also order it from Leblanc’s online boutique and have it shipped to the United States.
Zucchini Carpaccio with Avocado, Pistachios, and Pistachio Oil
from Salad As a Meal by Patricia Wells
Neither my students nor I ever tire of this salad. It has all the qualities one looks for in a dish: crunch, smoothness, color, aroma. Serve it with Crispy Flatbread (page 260), Tortilla Chips (page 263), or toasted bread for added crunch. Don’t omit the fresh thyme here, for it plays an essential role in the color and aroma.
EQUIPMENT: A SMALL JAR WITH A LID; A MANDOLINE OR A VERY SHARP CHEF’S KNIFE.
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon Lemon Zest Salt (page 306)
3 tablespoons best-quality pistachio oil (such as Leblanc) or extra-virgin olive oil
4 small, fresh zucchini (about 4 ounces each), rinsed and trimmed at both ends
1 large ripe avocado
1/2 cup salted pistachios
4 fresh lemon thyme sprigs, with flowers if possible
Fleur de sel
1. In the jar, combine the lemon juice and flavored salt. Cover with the lid and shake to blend. Add the oil and shake to blend.
2. With the mandoline or chef’s knife, slice the zucchini lengthwise as thin as possible. Arrange the slices on a platter and pour the dressing over them. Tilt the platter back and forth to coat the slices evenly. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes, so the zucchini absorbs the dressing and does not dry out.
3. Halve, pit, and peel the avocado, and cut it lengthwise into very thin slices. Carefully arrange the slices of marinated zucchini on individual salad plates, alternating with the avocado slices, slightly overlapping them. Sprinkle with the pistachio nuts. Garnish with the thyme sprigs and flowers and fleur de sel. Serve.
WINE SUGGESTION: Favorite wine partners for avocado include a young Pinot Grigio, a crisp-style Chardonnay, and a fragrant, well-chilled Sauvignon Blanc.