There comes a day in every copywriter's life when the devil pulls up in a powder blue Coupe de Ville with a contract to sign. It's tempting to sign that contract, because not only will the client shower your forehead with gold stars, but you will also reap the benefits of a production trip. Expensive hotels, 400 thread count sheets, elaborate dinners every night. In turn, your peers will revile you. But the real punishment is having to watch the monitor over and over again as you edit the thing you've created, seeing what you have wrought.
The Coupe de Ville pulled up to my office door when I got the McDonald's Salad assignment. That's when I wrote a bonafide jingle. For a salad. A salad jingle. It was called "I Want More Salad in My Salad." I wasn't required to write a jingle; I chose to do it. I chose to write the lyrics, "I want a salad with lots of stuff, carrots, tomatoes I love so much." I think I even managed to get the word "crouton" in there somewhere, and then experienced one of the darkest days of my career when I had to listen to the singer try to sing it with conviction.
But now, with the humiliation behind me, there's something to be said for wanting more salad in your salad. There seem to be two major schools of thought on the subject. There's the Alice Waters School (of Chez Panisse and now the White House), which advocates fancy lettuces. Sometimes, on her menus, it just reads "Garden Lettuces." I imagine the cooks spend an inordinate amount of time in her kitchen, neurotically scrutinizing the leaves, holding them up to the light, comparing notes, and then making discrete piles of good, better, and best. People like Mikhail Baryshnikov probably get lettuce from the best pile, while I would get lettuce from the good pile. Either way, you're just getting a pile of lettuce. That's the Alice Waters School of Salad.
Then there's the Nancy Silverton School (of Mozza and a personal hero of mine). She espouses the chopped salad, which is an amalgam of strong flavors plus lettuce and a vinegar-y dressing, all chopped and tossed together. It is a perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Nancy's recipe has provolone, salami and garbanzo beans in it, in addition to lettuce, tomatoes, olives, and basil. The dressing is a garlicky red wine vinaigrette, and it's not for lovers of the bland.
While I think Alice Waters' salad has a place at the table, we're essentially talking about a salad with balls vs. a salad without. A leafy green eunuch, if you will. Suffice it to say, I'll take the former every time.
Nancy's Chopped Salad (adapted from The Food of Campanile by Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
juice of one medium lemon
1 tsp. kosher salt (to taste)
1 tsp freshly cracked or ground black pepper (to taste)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 head iceberg lettuce, chopped in 1/2" pieces
1 medium tomato, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4" dice
4 oz. provolone cheese, cut into 1/4" dice
4 oz. salami, cut into 1/4" julienne
1 cup cooked garbanzo beans
1/4 cup red onion, minced
1 bunch fresh basil, julienned
kosher salt and pepper
fresh lemon juice
About 20 Nicoise or other good olives
For the dressing, whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, oregano and garlic. Slowly whisk in the olive oil and set aside.
For the salad, combine the lettuce, tomatoes, provolone, salami, garbanzo beans, and the minced onion. Now add some of the vinaigrette and toss. You want the dressing to coat everything, but not drown it, so you'll have to taste as you go. When you have the dressing/salad proportion to your liking, add salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. The lemon juice should heighten the flavors of the salad, not overwhelm them or provide too lemony of a flavor.
To serve, sprinkle the olives and julienned basil on top.
The great thing about chopped salad is that you can add, subtract or substitute as you wish.