Salade composee. Cobb salad. Insalata caprese. Antipasto plate. Chef salad. These are all examples of composed salads.
Picture a platter, filled with freshly prepared foods, arranged for maximum effect, tastefully, in both senses of the word. Colors, flavors, accents. A visual delight as well as a gustatory delight.
Composed salads, ones prepared ahead of the meal either on individual dishes or on platters from which one is served or serves himself, are the cook’s friend, especially when she is entertaining. They can be finished ahead of time, often well ahead of final dinner preparations. The cook has time then to play with the presentation. That is the time to experiment with “decorating” the plate, a well-placed grape tomato here, a few olives there, asparagus spears steamed to perfection, all on a bed of lettuce leaves.
Whatever the ingredients of a composed salad, whether served family style or individually, it is always an attractive counterpoint to the main attraction, meat, potato, casserole, pizza. Be careful, though, to not have the entire dinner become a beauty contest. A “fussy” composed salad will become the star if the rest of the meal is composed of more basic dishes.
One of the best known, and my personal favorite composed salad, is a Nicoise salad. It consists of steamed or boiled new potatoes, green beans, red onion silvers, tuna (preferably Italian in oil, but I often use Bumble Bee in water), Roma tomato wedges, hard boiled eggs and Nicoise olives. The Nicoise olives can be hard to find and are so small that sometimes they seem hardly worth the effort of carefully chewing around the pit which is nearly as bbig as the entire olive. All the ingredients can be served on a bed of lettuce if you’d like, and drizzled with vinaigrette. Some recipes call for anchovies, although anchovies can be incorporated in the dressing*. The individual items should be arranged in some sort of plan, either distributed evenly over the lettuce, or grouped together, i.e., all the potatoes together, the beans together, etc. I like to scatter the olives around the entire platter.
* Dressing for Nicoise salad – a simple vinaigrette
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar (or part lemon juice)
1 clove garlic—minced (crushed)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4-1/2 t. anchovy paste, optional
I hope you find time to prepare a composed salad. Try this one. Fix it early in the afternoon, refrigerate it, and at dinner time, you are ready to eat. No heating up the kitchen, no last minute fretting. Open a bottle of wine and you’re good to go.
Next time, we’ll look at some other composed salads.