Whenever people tell me they hate winter, I think of the argument about having a dark side from the opening scene of When Harry Met Sally. Most people dislike winter in a casual Sally Albright way. Then there are those of us in the Harry Burns camp who dread it constantly. I may not read the last page of a book first, but I do start complaining that the days are getting shorter on June 22. In the fall, when most people are enjoying the foliage and pumpkin-spiced-everything vibes, I am in full House Stark mode, warning anyone who will listen that winter is indeed coming. Once the fleeting joy of the holiday season comes and goes, things get very bleak, especially when it comes to cooking with fresh produce.
It's easy to get lost, staring into the invernal abyss of beets and parsnips. There are, however, a couple of winter treats that can help pull us all back from the edge: chicories and citrus. Other than late-summer tomato season, this is my favorite time of year for salad-making. I love working with varieties of bitter radicchio and endive, pairing them with bright and acidic oranges, mandarins, or clementines.
The following salad is one that I recently made at home, and while it's delicious as is, its ingredient list is adaptable rather than prescriptive. The main idea for this kind of winter salad is balancing bitter with sweet, while adding freshness, acid, a little heat, and some texture.
When shopping for produce, I think it's best to be flexible and go with whatever looks best at the market. The past couple of weeks my local supermarket has had some fantastic Trevisano in stock, so I used that. But conventional radicchio or red endive would work as well.
It's hard to beat the juiciness of satsuma mandarins, but if you can't find them, any other mandarin orange will work here. I use satsumas twice in this dish—juice goes into the vinaigrette, and whole peeled segments are tossed into the salad to give bright pops of sweetness. I take a little extra time to scrape away the white pith from the mandarin segments with a paring knife for cleaner mouthfeel and a prettier look. This is obviously optional, but I think salads should be made with care.
The only other ingredient that I went out of my way to pick up for this salad was a little ricotta salata cheese, but you could easily swap in a funky blue cheese or aged pecorino. The other ingredients I pilfered from my fridge and pantry. Adding fresh herbs to salads is a great way to use them up before they rot and liquify in the bottom of your crisper drawer. Toasted shelled pistachios bring some fat and crunch to the dish.
For the vinaigrette, I combine satsuma juice with red wine vinegar, minced shallot, and two slightly nonconventional pantry ingredients—Calabrian chilies and pomegranate molasses. Keeping your kitchen stocked with flavor-packed pantry items like these makes it easy to throw together a meal or spruce up a standard salad dressing. Whisk in some olive oil and you're good to go.
Dressing and assembling the salad is a breeze. Always dress in a much bigger bowl than you think you need. I start with just the Trevisano in a large mixing bowl, and drizzle half of the vinaigrette along the sides of the bowl, rather than dousing the leaves themselves. This makes it easier to control the coating on your salad ingredients without drowning them in dressing.
Use your hands (squeaky clean of course) to dress, toss, and coat rather than tongs or wooden salad utensils. After seasoning the radicchio with salt, I arrange half of the leaves in an even layer in a serving bowl. Push the remaining Trevisano to the side in the mixing bowl, and add the mandarin segments and parsley leaves. I lightly toss them in the residual vinaigrette at the bottom of the bowl before layering half of them on top of the radicchio in the serving bowl.
Keep the tarragon separate and undressed; it's so delicate and wilts down quickly when coated in dressing and will just get stuck to the bottom of the mixing bowl. Scatter half of the pistachios, ricotta salata, and tarragon over top, before repeating this layering process once more with the remaining ingredients. Dig in and forget about winter, even if just for a moment.
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