Main-course dinner salads fit for the season

Wolfgang Puck/Tribune Content Agency Originally Published October 3, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated October 2, 2013 at 4:15 p.m.
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I love making main-course salads in autumn. The choice of vegetables you can draw on is surprisingly large, considering that most people think of big salads as something to eat primarily in spring or summer. And the starring-ingredient options may also surprise those who usually think of a main-course salad as something featuring grilled meat, poultry or seafood.

In the markets right now, you’ll find hardy leaves that are full of great flavor, texture and color, ranging from pale yellow-green curly endive (also known by the French name frisee) and spear-shaped Belgian endive to deep-green baby arugula to purple radicchio. And these can be complemented with thin shavings or slices of raw bulb and root vegetables, from mild anise-scented fennel to beets to the always available carrots. Just light drizzles of good extra-virgin olive oil and syrupy aged balsamic vinegar, plus a little salt and pepper, are all you need to tie it all together.

What do you top such a salad with? When it isn’t grilling weather, I head to the stovetop. I like to pan-sear seafood fillets, or shrimp, or salmon, or thin pieces of beef, pork or lamb; or I’ll saute some boneless pieces of chicken. (Of course, there are always countertop indoor electric grills, too.) Deglazing a pan after stovetop cooking also gives you a chance to create a complementary little sauce to drizzle over the protein, its juices mingling with the greens and their dressing.

The stove also gives you the option of getting even more creative, if you like. You could make a flavorful stir-fry, for example, to scatter over or toss with the greens. Or you can prepare something a little more elaborate yet still fairly simple, like the chopped shrimp cakes in the recipe I share here — a variation on fricadella, Scandinavian-style chopped meat patties or meatballs, to present on top of the salad.

Mixed and shaped in about 30 minutes (something you can do up to several hours in advance) and then cooked in 10 minutes, the fricadella are surprisingly easy for something that tastes so good. Because they’re coated with crunchy almond meal or breadcrumbs, they don’t give up much juice to deglaze after cooking. So, instead, I like to make a traditional dill-caper sauce — which you can also make ahead and then gently reheat — to drizzle over each shrimp patty just before serving.

Everyone at your table will be delighted with the wonderful appearance, aromas, flavors and textures of these main-course salads. And though there is just a little cream and butter in each serving, you’ll still feel like they’re eating a light and healthy meal featuring fresh, seasonal produce.

SHRIMP FRICADELLA SALAD WITH DILL-CAPER SAUCE

Serves 6

Fricadella:

3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup diced yellow onion

1/2 cup diced roasted organic red bell pepper

1/2 cup diced roasted organic yellow bell pepper

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 pound uncooked shrimp, shelled and deveined, shells reserved, shrimp coarsely chopped

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill leaves

1 large cage-free egg, lightly beaten

1 cup lightly packed fresh breadcrumbs

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

Pinch cayenne pepper

About 1 cup almond meal or fine dry breadcrumbs

Dill-Caper Sauce:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

4 large shallots, thinly sliced

Reserved shrimp shells (see above)

3 or 4 whole sprigs fresh dill

2 cups dry white wine

6 ounces unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill leaves

1 tablespoon drained capers

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Salt

Freshly ground white pepper

Autumn salad:

1 1/2 cups packed curly endive, torn into bite-sized pieces, thoroughly rinsed and patted dry

1 1/2 cups packed radicchio leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces, thoroughly rinsed and patted dry

1 cup very thinly sliced fennel bulb

1/4 cup, plus 2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Salt

Freshly ground white pepper

6 slices sourdough bread

Directions:

First, prepare the fricadella: In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and peppers and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl and set aside to cool.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream just to a boil, then set aside to cool. Stir into the onion-pepper mixture.

Thoroughly stir in the chopped shrimp, dill, egg, fresh breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and cayenne.

Spread the almond meal on a plate. Divide the shrimp mixture into 6 equal portions. One at a time, with clean hands, form the portions into oval patties 4 inches long and turn in the almond meal or crumbs to coat lightly, transferring to a clean platter or tray. Refrigerate, covered, until needed.

For the sauce, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots, shrimp shells and dill sprigs, and saute, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in the wine, raise the heat to high, and boil until reduced by half, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and vinegar. Pour through a fine-meshed strainer into a clean pan and stir in the chopped dill, capers and mustard. Season to taste with salt and pepper, cover, and keep warm.

For the salad, in a mixing bowl toss together the curly endive, radicchio and fennel. Toss with the oil and vinegar, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the fricadella, heat the remaining 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in 1 or 2 nonstick skillets large enough to hold all the patties without overcrowding. Carefully saute the patties until golden brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side, turning once with a spatula. Meanwhile, toast the bread.

To serve, place 1 slice of toast in the center of each serving plate. Arrange salad on the toast and top with a fricadella. Spoon the sauce around the toast and over each fricadella. Serve immediately.

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