Need I remind you where the most beautiful greens on your table might be coming from this winter? Straight from the farmer's market on Saturdays, find Brines Farms greens for your weekly quotient of Michigan sunshine plus vitamins and minerals.
Shannon Brines had an open house at his hoop house last weekend. You can see from the photos that while it's dry and brown outside, the leaves inside the hoop house are gorgeously green and plentiful. Shannon's growing about 10 or more different varieties of greens - from baby lettuces to beet greens to spinach to tatsoi to mustard greens - that he cuts for his salad mix bags each week. It's unbelievably good.
You can see some of the baffles that hold the blankets that keep the plants from freezing when the temperature drops. Shannon says on a sunny day in January, even if the temperature outside is below freezing, it can get up to 60º in the hoop house and that his mom and dad sometimes come just to enjoy the warm weather inside.
I thought about these greens while reading the 2 new Alice Waters books, her new cookbook and a new biography. In The Art of Simple Food and Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, I've learned how greens (like the Brines Farm greens) that come to the table still "alive" are an essential part of the meal for The Queen of Local Food and VP of Slow Food International. And that the best place to get wonderful food is, of course, at the farmer's market. I was not surprised that she shops without a grocery list and seeks inspiration by looking for what's loveliest at the market. According to Alice:
"The best place to look for the freshest, most seasonal ingredients, for fruits and vegetables - and for eggs and dairy products, too - is farmers' markets and markets that sell organic and locally grown foods. Go to the market with an open mind, before you decide what to cook. See what's there. Be open to what's available. The virtue of buying directly from the source is that you can learn from the producers themselves. In exchange you can influence their decisions about what to produce. Ask questions: What variety is this? How was it grown? How do you cook it? How long is in in season?"
In addition to an insistence on cooking what's freshest from the farmer's market, Alice Waters is famous for having a list of ingredients that she can't live without:
"Certain foodstuffs I think of as essential provide my cooking with a solid foundation. These are the ingredients that I want to have available more or less all the time so that I will have lots of options for cooking the very fresh ingredients I bring home. A few are such absolute necessities to me that I sometimes travel with them, in case they are hard to find at my destination: these include olive oil and sea salt, good vinegar, garlic and bread."
If Alice Waters were coming over to my house for dinner, I know that I would get some beautiful greens and then rest secure in the knowledge that she would have everything else we needed for a wonderful salad. Here's how she makes vinaigrette:
Alice Waters' Vinaigrette
Pour into a small bowl:
1 T. good red wine vinegar
Fresh-ground black pepper
Stir to dissolve the salt, taste, and adjust if needed. Use a fork or small whisk to beat in, a little at a time:
3-4 T. extra-virgin olive oil
Taste as you go and stop when it tastes right.
- Add a little pureed garlic or diced shallot, or both, to the vinegar.
- White wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, or lemon juice can replace some or all of the red wine vinegar.
- Beat in a little (French not French's) mustard before you start adding the oil.
- For part of the olive oil, substitute a very fresh nut oil, such as walnut or hazelnut.
- Heavy cream or creme fraiche can replace some or all the olive oil.
- Chop some fresh herbs and stir them into the finished vinaigrette.
You may be surprised to learn that after the greens are washed and dried Alice dresses the salad gently with her hands, just before serving, so there is exactly the right ratio of dressing to greens. She also says she often eats salad with her fingers.
I think we're going to be eating some salads this winter, so I'm planning to gather a few more vinaigrette ideas. Perhaps Vinaigrette Lulu will make an appearance. And I may even try salad as finger food.