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A Pleasant House salad.

Art and Chelsea Jackson composed this lovely salad for us at their English pie shop, the Pleasant House Bakery in Chicago during a springtime visit. It is just as fine for the fall. Our recipe is an assay in reverse engineering; we have not had the heart to ask the busy Jacksons for their precise proportions. In reality, however, they do not matter. Different people will like different ratios of this salad’s component parts. Four servings.

Chicago-Pleasant-salad.jpg-about 4 cups bitter greens of your choice; arugula, dandelion, lambs’ tongue, mache and the like
-1 15 ½ oz can mandarin orange sections, gently but ruthlessly drained
-a handful each of thinly sliced black and green olives
-a handful of diced feta
-a dozen or so broad shavings of Parmesan
-a light vinaigrette (see the notes)

Toss together everything but the Parmesan, dress the salad with a good vinaigrette and then top it with the thinnest tiles of Parmesan.


- The Editor’s taste in vinaigrette ordinarily runs to acid but not here. All that sharp cheese lusts after olive oil to round out the flavors in this salad. The traditional ratio, as indicated by Creole Cooking in the Villa: Masters of Creole Cuisine (New Orleans 2009; anon.) runs along a range of anywhere from three to six of oil to one of acid depending on, among other things, the acidity of your chosen foil. You will, for example, want a higher proportion of lemon juice than Champagne vinegar.

- Creole Cooking is a slim (48 page) and lovely “celebration of Creole Cuisine and the chefs, housewives, domestics and African slaves who perfected the art of Creole Cooking in New Orleans.” (Creole Cooking 4) It includes a tribute to seven chefs, keepers of the Creole flame, along with some of their favorite recipes, including a guideline for our basic vinaigrette. The Editor found her copy at Crescent City Books for a buck.

- For this salad you want a simple vinaigrette; no mustard or cayenne, but then fresh (not dried, not here) herbs make a welcome addition whisked into the dressing at the last moment before splashing your salad. Basil, chives, marjoram, even thyme…. For the Pleasant House we whisk about a Tablespoon each of lemon juice and Champagne vinegar with a pinch of salt (only a pinch; all that cheese) and hint of white pepper per six Tablespoons of the best extra virgin olive oil you care to get a home equity loan to finance.

- Castello di Cafaggio Extra Virgin Olive Oil, imported direct from Tuscany by  the estimable Dick Pignataro, who prunes and otherwise tends the trees himself, is exemplary.

- The cooks who serve the Dutchess of Devonshire add a little good sugar to the vinaigrette that they use to coat the salads of bitter herbs “that,” as of 2003 at least, were “served at Chatsworth every day using whatever is available from the kitchen garden.” The amount is up to you but be relatively sparing; no more than a teaspoon at most at the proportions listed two paragraphs ago. 

- At the Pleasant House they take the time to segment and depith fresh oranges. You could too, if time is your friend.