Even in the colder months, I still crave a salad with dinner, but often with warm or lightly cooked ingredients. This salad with grilled romaine hearts and rustic bread is a perfect example. With an intensely flavored vinaigrette made with olive puree and lemon zest, it scratches the itch for a fresh but substantial first course.
You can either buy the romaine hearts pre-packaged or in whole head form (reserve the outer leaves for another use). It's fine to trim the base, but leave enough intact so the head will hold together when you cut it in half, lengthwise. If you have a grill on your stove, use that. If not, a stove-top grill pan is ideal for this recipe.
For the olives, you want a variety that is fleshy, easy to pit, and not overpoweringly salty. Alphonsos are a nice choice. Whatever you do, don't use the tasteless canned "Ripe California" olives. If you only have the very salty kind, pit and soak them for ten minutes in hot water, then squeeze them out.
- 1/2 cup pitted black olives, not too salty - definitely not canned "California Ripe"
- 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1/4 cup olive oil + more for brushing
- 4 pieces rustic bread
- 4 romaine lettuce hearts, halved lengthwise
- 1 small cucumber, thinly sliced
- 1 ripe tomato, sliced
- A few thin slices of red onion or shallot
- A few shavings of parmigiano-reggiano
- Fresh ground black pepper
In a mini-food processor, thoroughly puree the olives and garlic. Add the lemon zest and juice and process for 20 seconds. Add the 1/4 cup of olive oil, 2 teaspoons at a time, processing for 15 seconds after each addition to emulsify. Let rest and then taste and adjust acid and salt before serving. You want it at room temperature for serving.
Heat a grill pan over a medium-high flame. Brush the bread with olive oil and toast on each side until nicely browned and marked by the grill. Push down a little to get nice marks.
Brush the cut side of the romaine and grill for about 30 seconds, pushing down gently.
To serve, put each piece of bread on a plate. Top with two romaine halves, some of the cucumber, tomato, red onion, and the parmigiano. Drizzle on the dressing and finish with a grind of black pepper.