(There is, believe it or not, a recipe at the end of this post. Thank you all for your patience with my lack of food posts lately. Thank you for your support during this uncertain time. And thank you to Dole as well for being patient while I took my time writing this post.)
I would imagine that each person who starts a blog has several hopes for it. Some people might want to make money, others might want to make friends. Others want to convey a message. I think I have four hopes for my site. I want to capture my cooking and my family life as we eat and live it. I want to share the beauty of homemade treats. I want to help people see that vegetarian cooking is not about a lack of something but instead a bounty of almost everything. And I want people to find joy in salad.
Yes. Salad. If you have spent any time here, you probably know how I feel about salad. It is not a way to shovel vegetables in you mouth and it is not a deprivation thing, as in “I will have salad instead of what I really want.” Salad is a beautiful and delicious thing unto itself. I truly believe this and perhaps that is why there are currently 53 salad recipes on this site.
So, it made sense to me that when the good people at Dole invited me to Monterey for the Dole Summit, that I should go. Each time I get offered something because of my blog, whether it is a product to try out, a new tool to use, or a trip, I carefully consider whether it makes sense for me to accept. In the case of Dole, I did pause. In the past few years, I have come to really love buying big heads of lettuce from my local farmers’ market. In my cooking classes, I encourage people to do the same. Would it be contradictory of me to say one thing and do another? And then I had to realize that, as much as I do love those big heads of local lettuce, at least half of the year they are not available. Lettuce still has not made an appearance at my market this year. So what do I do in the off-season?
Sometimes I buy whole heads of lettuce but truthfully, they are often waterlogged and tasteless. I’ve realized that I am better off either buying lettuce in a bag or buying the newer clam-shells that hold small heads of lettuce. Dole has a terrific one with one head of red leaf and one of green and, once you cut out the core, the leaves are perfectly bite size. Basically, once I got over myself, I said yes to Monterey.
And I’m so glad I did. I had been to Monterey once in my life, at a time when I was personally very unsettled. How nice to be back in such a beautiful place in a much happier (albeit a bit uncertain) time of my life. The Dole folks set us up in a beautiful hotel, The Clement Intercontinental, and planned a lovely and informative two days for me and some wonderful bloggers. Truthfully, what I like best about these trips is getting to meet new people and reconnect with old friends.
Our time together was nicely split between fun and learning. We got to visit the Dole headquarters where we learned that this company, which is the largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world, actually contracts with as many as 9,000 individual farmers around the country. We learned about the tremendous amount of research that goes into every product they take to market and about some of the science behind the bags. We got to taste several different salad blends that all tasted wonderful to this savory breakfast fan. Then they sent us to lunch in Carmel.
I can tell you, without question, that this was the best lunch I have had in a long time. Perhaps ever. The amazing people at La Bicyclette put together an incredible spread for us, using Dole’s produce, and every single thing I tasted was amazing. I happened to be sitting at a table with a number of gluten-free or vegan or gluten-free/vegan folks and the restaurant did an amazing job taking care of everyone. If you have read any account of the Dole Summit, you have probably heard about the carrot risotto. Superlatives are not enough praise. It was to die for. I had the added bonus of being able to taste the vegan version which was just as good – just different.
From Carmel, we headed to where some of the lettuce was being harvested in the incredible fertile Salinas valley between the mountains. It was mind boggling to realize that much of our country is being fed off what is harvested in that valley.
After donning our hair nets (Irvin looks particularly handsome in his, don’t you think?), we walked out to where a group of people were, one by one, picking heads of iceberg lettuce and preparing them for shipment. They worked with assembly line precision although this assembly line was out in the fresh air and sunshine. I’ve never been a big fan of iceberg lettuce, but seeing them perfectly ripe and tasting them just after picking, I think iceberg can have a place at my table.
We concluded our trip the next day with a beautiful tour of the legendary 17-mile drive, taking us along spectacular scenery of the Pebble Beach Resort. We stopped for the views, took lots of pictures, chatted about seeing each other all again at BlogHer, and contemplated what we were going to make when we got home.
One of the salads that they served us on that first morning had an intoxicating sun-dried tomato dressing. They were kind enough to share the recipe for the salad and I made it almost as soon as I got home, with some tweaks. I am the kind of crazy person who has burrata in my refrigerator (just in case!) so I used that but a good fresh mozzarella would be delicious too. This is hearty, almost main course salad, the kind that I so advocate here on my site, and I’m thankful to Dole for the inspiration and for a terrific trip.
Greens with Sun-Dried Tomato Dressing and Parmesan Cheese
Inspired by Dole
For the dressing:
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup marinated sun-dried tomatoes
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup water
1 clove of garlic
3 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
For the salad:
5 ounces bagged salad greens
½ pint cherry tomatoes
½ cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
¼ cup shaved Parmesan cheese (a carrot peeler is good for this)
4 ounces burrata cheese, pulled into small pieces (or fresh mozzarella, cut into small pieces)
Make the dressing:
Place the olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, water, garlic, and Parmesan cheese in the blender. Blend until smooth. You may need to add more water to get a thinner consistency. Set aside.
Make the salad:
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Place the cherry tomatoes on a small baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until softened and starting to brown in spots, about 15 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Place the olives in a salad bowl. Shave the Parmesan cheese into the bowl. Place the greens on top. Spoon in a bit of the dressing and toss well. Add more dressing if you wish. Place the burrata or mozzarella cheese over the surface of the salad and serve with additional dressing on the side.