Are you a fan of meal-sized “composed” salads ? I sure am. Nothing’s better at beating the haze and heat of summer in the city than not having to cook after a long scorching day, and instead, simply sitting down to a cool, smoky salad. This composed salad requires cooking vegetables, wheatberries, and pine nuts, but usually I make those parts of the recipe in the morning when our apartment is still cool from the night air.
During most of the year, David-Nicolas (my partner) and I do the obvious : we open our heavy metal shutters in the morning and close them at night to keep out the rays of light from réverbères, or obnoxiously bright street lamps. The opening and closing of shutters punctuates our days, since it happens throughout our building and down the street, producing a twice-daily banging of metal at the most precise times.
This comic cacophony always reminds me of the burlesque domesticity featured in the Jacques Tati movie Mon oncle. In the movie, Monsieur Hulot turns an impractical sofa on its side to render it comfortable. Like Tati’s character, we’re slightly off beat compared to the rest of the street’s inhabitants in summertime, since we reverse our process, leaving the shutters open all night to let the cool air in, and closing them (and the windows and curtains) against the day’s increasing heat around 11 a.m. to keep the cool air inside.
We learned this technique from our trips to the south of France, where their wooden shutters are called jalousies. Similar to Venetian blinds, the jalousie system of shutters allows you to look outside without being seen. I’ve heard from some people in the south of France that the name jalousie refers to the way these blinds prevent another man from casting an eye indoors to look at someone else’s wife, supposedly hidden inside the house.
N’importe quoi ! Whatever ! If any man tried to hide me inside the house, well, good luck to him, because I’m usually out lounging by the (tiny, bathtub-sized) pool at David-Nicolas’ dad’s home when we visit him in the Var in summertime. Whether we’re there for dinner, and the buzzing of the cicadas has ceased, and the sun has already dipped down behind the Massif des Maures mountain chain, or whether we’re just lounging in the cool darkness of our apartment in Paris, we are inspired to enjoy this meal-sized composed salad, which takes advantage of delicious smoked duck breast.
Smoked duck breast is a popular ingredient for inexpensive salads. Even though the duck itself doesn’t come cheap, I think it enhances ten-fold the flavor of the seasonal vegetables and fruit which are practically free at this time of year. The summer-sweet peaches and cilantro in the vinaigrette set off the smoked duck, and together, they create a perky cool contrast to wake up your most hot and hazy (and hopefully lazy !) summer days.
Smoked duck salad with snappy peach-cilantro vinaigrette
for the vinaigrette :
2 extra-ripe peaches (10oz. or 280g), peeled, pitted, and cubed
½ tablespoons whole grain mustard (sometimes sold as Creole mustard)
2 tablespoons chopped chives
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
freshly ground pepper
½ cup (125ml) peanut oil, or other mild vegetable oil
1½ cups (20g) moderately packed cilantro, or more to taste
for the salad :
1 medium zucchini (about 7oz. or 200g), cubed
1 cup (250g) freshly shelled green peas, or green beans (use whatever’s in season)
½ cup (70g) pine nuts
2 peaches (10oz. or 280g), pitted, halved, and each half cut into five thin slices
2 cups (360g) cooked wheatberries (about 1 cup or 180g uncooked)
2 very ripe, tasty tomatoes
3½ oz. (100g) smoked, sliced duck breast (magret de canard)
a few handfuls of green salad of your choice, washed and dried well
how to make it :
1. In a blender or using an immersion blender, combine and whirl the 2 peaches, mustard, chives, vinegar, salt, and pepper.
2. Then slowly blend in the oil, and finally the cilantro. This makes much more vinaigrette than you’ll need, but put it on the table for those who want extra on their salad.
3. Lightly steam the zucchini and peas or beans, about 8 minutes.
4. Remove the vegetables from the steamer and let cool slightly in their basket.
5. Heat the broiler to medium, if you have a heat setting. Otherwise, position the rack a little lower than you would for immediate melting purposes, for example, about 6 inches below the heat.
6. On a baking sheet, toast the pine nuts lightly, tossing them from time to time – this shouldn’t take more than 4-5 minutes.
7. Remove the pine nuts, and then place the sliced peaches on the baking sheet, and pass them under the broiler for between 5-10 minutes – the time will really depend on the strength of your heat. The peaches should begin looking crinkly and slightly brown and caramelized. Remove from heat and let cool.
8. To assemble the salad, combine in a large bowl the cooked wheatberries and still-warm zucchini and peas or beans.
9. Cut the tomatoes into cubes, and add them to the bowl with ⅓ cup of vinaigrette.
10. Add half of the pine nuts to the mix and stir well.
11. If you have a small bowl or a large ramekin (1 portion size), fill it with the salad mixture, pressing with a spoon to pack the salad into the dish.
12. On each person’s plate, lay out a bed of green salad, and unmold the wheatberry mixture in the center.
13. Sprinkle the plate with pine nuts, arrange slices of duck breast around the composed salad, and decorate the top of the composed salad with four or five broiled peach slices and a spear of chive or a few cilantro leaves if you like.
14. Pass extra vinaigrette at the table for the green salad bed.
15. Serve the salad with whole grain bread and, if you like, some fine cheeses.
makes about 1½ cups vinaigrette ; salad makes 4-6 servings