There I stood in the produce department at Whole Foods, crippled with indecision. Before me sat a shelf full of neat rows perfectly round, pale green heads of iceberg lettuce, wrapped in plastic. Although the recipe I was shopping for called for iceberg lettuce, I suddenly felt incredibly self-conscious about buying some. I was after all in the Weho location,the store filled with attractive, toned and well-dressed, hip people, their baskets filled with organic peaches, vegan ice cream, and plastic tubs of kale salad. I wasn't at the dumpy Pavilions down the street, where it would be totally acceptable to buy such a trashy vegetable. A Whole Foods shopper wouldn’t make a salad out of iceberg. They’d use frisee or mache or arugula or mixed baby greens. An iceberg salad is something you get at a crappy diner or family style restaurant. It’d be adorned with too-thick slices of cucumber, pale wedges of tomatoes and boxed croutons and come accompanied by gloopy ranch or thousand island dressing. Nothing against ranch or thousand island.I love them both, but in secret.
The idea of cooking for a chef who’s associated with one of my most important culinary influences was just too much. For several days I was a nervous wreck. Fortunately Heather requested grilled pizzas, something Annie and I have done many times and we both are confident in the reliability of the results. The flavors of the salad I knew would be a hit. I mean, good salami, little creamy balls of bocconcini and that woodsy, oregano tinged vinaigrette, how can you go wrong with that? But it was the damned iceberg that kept me feeling uneasy. Would the new boyfriend silently judge me for using iceberg?
Once Heather and Timothy arrived, Annie and I gave them a rundown on the meal. I noted that the salad came form Ms. Silverton. Timothy emphatically stated how much he loved her. I was instantly put at ease. I no longer felt insecure. I knew dinner was going to go well, after all.
(for the vinaigrette)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 heaping tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
The oregano is earthy, the basil fresh and light. The bocconcini are milky and mild, their blandness perfectly balanced by the salty, savory salami. The tapenade, while also salty, has a briney, bright flavor with an undercurrent of heat from the pepperoncini. And as much as I want to deny the appeal, icebergreally does have a great, watery crunch.The salad is a great start to a meal, such as the grilled pizzas we did or I can see it being served before a big bowl of pasta, or it can be a completely satisfying meal unto itself.