Forgive me, loyal readers, as I’m about to slip something quite virtuous into your mouths. The treat I promised you yesterday will have to wait until next week. But the good news is twofold: today I will give you two recipes and they are both so quick and so easy that you’ll have time to play outside before and after dinner. That is my kind of cooking!
I’m on a green vegetable kick these days, mostly in the form of baby spinach and crisp leaves of Romaine lettuce. I love a good salad for dinner, one that’s piled high and deep with vegetables and goodies like freshly made croutons, cheese, roasted potatoes, or even some well-chosen fruit. A main-dish salad is cooking in its most primal form—simple, pure, satisfying, delicious. I imagine if I had a garden, I’d feel even more strongly about dinner salad nights because then I could start them with a stroll through the rows, checking on this lettuce plant and that set of herbs. But for now, my salad leaves come from a supermarket, and I’m willing to pedal across town for a good bunch of Romaine. It is my favorite lettuce and when it’s added to the ingredients of another favorite salad, the results are worthy of your dinner fork.
Hidden inside that jumble of Romaine lettuce are thin slices of fennel and green apple. Everything is moistened with a splash of olive oil and a good spritz of fresh lemon juice. And then—THEN!—the whole thing is topped with paper-thin peels of Parmesan cheese. It’s a salad where savory meets sweet meets sour, and everything is fresh fresh fresh for maximum crunch and juiciness. In a dish like this, all the pressure is on the ingredients, which means that as long as the grocery store pickings are good, then I’m off the hook. And that’s exactly where I want to be on a Friday night after a long week.
Wait, I’m not done yet. Before you make your salad, I must tell you about cheese on cheese bread. My neighborhood Albertson’s sells a very tasty loaf of Asiago cheese bread, which I often tuck into my bag before heading home. The cheese flavor is infused into the whole loaf, which is otherwise a white bread with a velvety soft but sturdy crumb. By itself this Asiago cheese bread is pretty good—I like a few slices alongside a big bowl of soup for lunch—but when topped with some cheddar and slices of Granny Smith apple and baked until the cheese is melted and a little bubbly, this bread becomes an irresistible toast. It goes perfectly with the salad above—the salad all cool and crunchy, the toast warm and gooey with oven-crisped edges. I always want another slice of this cheese bread toast, no matter how big a salad I’m eating alongside it. Cheese and bread goes down a little too easily, but I’m not going to let stop me from keeping a loaf of cheese bread on hand for the next dinner salad night.
Cheese on Cheese Bread: Asiago Cheese Toasts with Melted Cheddar and Green Apple Slices
As though cheese plus cheese were not incentive enough to make these toasts, I have one more thing to add. While these are baking, the apples will get a little soft and the fragrance of baked apples will waft out of the oven, reminding you of apple pie but with a tiny fraction of the work needed. And if you are a fan of apple pies with cheddar (and oh my, you should be!), then you will love these toasts.
2 slices of Asiago cheese bread bought from a bakery or a grocery store’s bakery
A generous handful of shredded cheddar cheese (I use a mild cheddar here so as not to overwhelm the other flavors)
6 thin slices of Granny Smith apple
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Place the slices of bread on a cookie sheet. Top with the shredded cheddar. Place 3 slices of Granny Smith apple on each piece of bread.
3) Bake the toasts for 5-10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the apples have softened and become fragrant. Serve immediately, preferably alongside the salad below.
Main Dish Salad with Romaine Lettuce, Fennel, and Green Apple
2-3 large, perfect leaves of Romaine lettuce
A handful of very thin slices of fresh fennel
A quarter of a large Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced (but not peeled)
Extra-virgin olive oil, to taste
Fresh lemon juice, to taste
Salt, to taste
A wedge of Parmesan cheese
1) Wash and dry the Romaine lettuce leaves, then tear them into bite-sized pieces. Place them in a small mixing bowl along with the fennel and apple slices.
2) Pour some olive oil over the Romaine mixture and toss to distribute it thoroughly. Spritz some lemon juice over the salad and a tiny bit of salt. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Finally, use a vegetable peeler to slice 3-4 pieces of Parmesan cheese over the salad. Serve. I like to eat this salad straight out of my mixing bowl, so I use this pretty yellow mixing bowl to make it. I love this bowl, a gift from my sister-in-law and her family.