I found myself staring into the salad plate today at lunch, wishing I had a silk shirt in exactly the color of that vinaigrette. Or maybe a stiff little canvas skirt with a bit of swing, perfect with tucked-in white tee-shirts and flat sandals. Better yet, a wedding bouquet made of peonies in this hue, or a little nosegay of ranunculus, my very favorites.
This winter has dragged on long enough when you start seeing your spring wardrobe in the communal salad plate, methinks. And cruelly, a few weeks ago, while New York was still digging out from under all their snow, we actually had warm winds and bright sun. It felt like spring and, leaning out of my bedroom window one morning, I saw buds on the majestic chestnut tree that lives in our courtyard and whose branches frame the morning sky for me every day. But then, in one fell swoop, Arctic winds and their accompanying temperatures befell us again.
But you know what those Arctic winds brought along with them, besides the cold wind? A whole lot of sunshine, every day this week. Which puts me in the very odd position of actually being grateful for something so cold that it sears the top layer off my skin every day.
You know what else is nice? Discovering a new salad to eat multiple times a week. I found this one the other night when we had friends over for dinner. Another dinner party, yes! But I stuck to my guns and made only what I wanted to eat, which happened to be a cauliflower soufflé (after making this one in London last weekend with one of my besties and realizing just how awesome a soufflé dinner can be) and apple strudel with softly whipped cream flavored with vanilla sugar for dessert. We needed something cleansing and astringent between those two knockouts and I found the very thing nestled in the front pages of The Canal House's third volume, Winter & Spring.
You buy a jar of hearts of palm, locavorism be damned, a few blood oranges, which - now that I live just north of Italy - I feel I can eat with aplomb, and a head of frisée. Then you marinate the hearts of palm, ivory batons quartered lengthwise, in a vinaigrette made of little else besides mustard and blood orange juice and olive oil. Mixing it together, you'll see that lush pinkness swirl into existence. You might, like me, have to restrain yourself from using this as a dye.
You cut little suprêmes from the oranges, meaning you hold a peeled orange gently in the palm of your hand and then, using a sharp knife and some care, you carefully slice the segments of the orange out from between their connective membranes. This is the fancy way of using oranges in this salad. If this seems like far too much fuss, you can also just peel the orange and cut it into slices crosswise. But there was something meditative and peaceful about the suprêming for me. I've spent all week in a fog of work and taxes and dirty sweatpants; standing over the counter cutting an orange into pretty segments was the most glamorous I got all week.
That's really the hardest work, anyway. You put the washed and dried frisée (I like to rip it into bite-sized pieces) on a plate or in a bowl and then arrange the hearts of palm, stained the palest pink, and the orange segments on the salad, before drizzling the lot with the gorgeous vinaigrette. The hearts of palm, if you've never had them, feel squeaky and velvety at the same time under your teeth and work to tame the edge of the blood oranges and the bite of the frisée. They soak up the vinaigrette, transforming into the mildest of pickles, and are simply a joy to eat.
It's such a simple little combination, but a welcome change from the usual soft lettuce-orange-avocado salad that I rely on in winter. This one's a little spunkier and a little more bitter, which I love. It's a winter salad with what I like to think of as a Caribbean soul. And will miracles never cease: I even found myself thinking, as I crunched through lunch today, that winter can stay a little longer, as long as it keeps us rich in hearts of palm and blood oranges.
Hearts of Palm and Blood Orange Salad
2 blood oranges
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, optional
1 jar (14.8 ounces) hearts of palm, drained and quartered lengthwise
Small head frisée lettuce
1. Working with one orange at a time, peel the fruit, taking care to remove most of the pith. Working over a bowl, slice the orange into segments, letting the segments and juice fall into the bowl. Squeeze any juice from the leftovers in your hand into the bowl.
2. Stir the mustard and lemon juice together in a wide bowl. Add some salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the reserved blood orange juice. Whisk in the olive oil. Taste for seasoning and add the vinegar, if using. Add the hearts of palm to the bowl and gently turn them in the vinaigrette. Set aside to marinate.
3. Arrange the frisée on a serving plate or in a bowl. Place the hearts of palm and orange segments over the frisée and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Drizzle a little more olive oil over the salad and serve.