When Miss M. was in first or second grade, her class did a Mother’s Day project where they filled out a survey/questionnaire titled “All About Mommy” or something like that. Naturally, a lot of the answers turned out pretty humorous–it’s amazing what comes out of the mouths of first graders. They’re observant about some things, clueless about others and brutally, bitingly honest. I’m pretty sure she said that my favorite thing in the world was wine. Smart kid.
When asked about Mommy’s favorite food, she didn’t even pause to think. She just blurted out: “salad.”
This isn’t quite accurate, because my favorite food would have to be something of the Vietnamese persuasion, but salad is a damn good guess, because I eat it all the time. I love my salad, especially in the summer, when I can stuff it with all sorts of goodies like sweet corn and heirloom tomatoes. In the winter, though, salad is a bit of a harder sell. Don’t get me wrong–I still eat it–but I don’t really crave salads in the frosty months the way I do in summer.
Part of the problem is that I’m fussy and a bit of a snob when it comes to my salad. I want several types of lettuce and at least three other types of veggie things in it, and definitely some kind of quality cheese (preferably imported and stinky) and protein in there, and then what I call “interest items,” scattered on the top of the whole shebang. “Interest items” are just that–things that make the salad interesting, like toasted nuts, good olives, homemade croutons, hunks of avocado, bits of frizzled bacon.
That kind of salad is worth eating.
It’s also kind of a pain in the ass to put together, and in the winter, I’m not as motivated to do that. I’m more likely to settle for a bowl of soup or a toasted cheese sandwich in the frosty months, which is fine for a while, but by the time it’s, say, late February, I start to get restless and twitchy and need to get some salad on.
Winter veggies aren’t exactly swoon-worthy, though. That’s a problem. Sure, I could go overboard with the “interest items” in an attempt to liven things up, but then I’d have a pretty ass-busting salad, and that’s not really the point of salad, is it? Hey, let’s dig into a bowl of croutons, bleu cheese and bacon! No. Although that probably would be delicious.
In an attempt to get my salad groove back, I’ve been experimenting with homemade salad dressings. Most of the time, I make my own salad dressing anyways–the ones you buy at the store are full of sugar and weirdo additives and shitty, shitty olive oil. In a pinch, I’ll eat Brianna’s brand salad dressing or the original Newman’s vinaigrette but in general, homemade is the way to go. It’s easy to keep a jar of homemade dressing in the refrigerator, but I’ve been growing a bit tired of my usual go-to mixture of olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic, Dijon mustard and salt and pepper. I wanted something a little racier.
I saw this recipe for Warm Tomato Vinaigrette and thought it sounded interesting. Yeah, it’s a little fussy–you will spend quite a chunk of time roasting tomatoes in the oven, but that’s not really “hands-on” time in the kitchen. You can plop your tomatoes in the oven and attend to other things like folding laundry or spoiling the dog, as long as you remember to give the sheet pan a stir every 20 minutes or so. Charred tomatoes = good. Burned, incinerated tomatoes = bad. Remember to stir.
But really, if you remember to do that, the rest is easy. Plus, it’s worth it. This dressing is delicious and smoky, and there’s just a tease of garlic, and fresh basil really brings the whole business home. The recipe yields a good amount of vinaigrette and you’ll have some leftover Tomato Passata to toss with pasta or whatever pleases you.
The author of the cookbook Mad Delicious, Keith Schroeder, makes note that this recipe can be used for salad, but encourages you to use it as a topper for grilled fish or chicken. He’s right–I drizzled it over plump, grilled scallops one night and it was divine. I also tossed some into a power bowl of cooked barley, grilled veggies and leftover chicken and that made a lovely impromptu lunch one afternoon. This stuff is versatile. I like that in a recipe.
I also like that this salad dressing/sauce isn’t heavy–a generous 2 tablespoon serving will only set you back about 55 calories, which is a bargain. It gives you a little more wiggle room to add more bacon or cheese to that salad, if you’re so inclined. Go ahead. Nobody’s watching.
Warm Tomato Vinaigrette
From Mad Delicious
serves 10 (2 tablespoons per serving)
6 garlic cloves, peeled
3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Charred Tomato Passata (recipe below)–1 cup
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
Place 3/4 cup water in a small saucepan with the garlic cloves. Bring to a boil. Partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to a low simmer until the garlic is tender, about 15 minutes. You want to partially cover the pot and keep it at a slight simmer; you don’t want the water to evaporate. The goal here is to poach the garlic to remove some of its bite. Cool slightly but do not drain.
Place the garlic, the poaching water, the salt, pepper and 1 cup Charred Tomato Passata in a blender and blast until chunky. Add the sherry vinegar and the olive oil and blend again until emulsified and smooth.
Keep in a covered container in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Charred Tomato Passata
makes about 3 1/2 cups
3 pounds Roma Tomatoes (about 24) stem end trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 fresh basil leaves
Preheat the oven to 450. Wash the tomatoes and score an “X” into the pointed end of the tomatoes. Place tomatoes in a large bowl.
Drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes and toss until well coated.
Sprinkle the salt over the tomatoes and toss again.
Place the tomatoes on a baking sheet, leaving a little space between tomatoes. Bake at 450 for about an hour and 20 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes to prevent sticking and burning. They will be blistered, charred in spots, very soft and wilted.
Remove the tomatoes from the oven and cool at room temperature for about 10-15 minutes.
Peel the tomatoes, if desired. I think it works best to peel about half the skin off and leave some of the charred skin on for flavor.
Place in a food processor or blender and blend until nearly smooth.
Bruise the basil slightly by giving it a good whack with your hands. Place the whole basil leaves in the tomato mixture. Place mixture in a refrigerator-safe container and keep until you need to use it, either for the vinaigrette or as a sauce for pasta, pizza, or anywhere else you’d use tomato sauce.