Last week on a quiet Sunday afternoon spent lounging in the sun, I read Stephanie Alexander’s book Cooking and Traveling in South-West France. It is a beautiful book with stories of the people she met and the meals they shared. The south-west is quite possibly my favourite region of France with its rich culinary history and wine culture. I enjoy Stephanie’s book in a somewhat bittersweet way: during my few days in Bordeaux I was as poor as a church mouse and surviving on a few yoghurts, a few apples and a pottle of couscous salad, eating a few teaspoons every few hours to tide me over.
It is these experiences of the poor starving backpacker that made me so appreciative of the meals I shared with my french friends. One particular meal with my friend Sophie and her family we had an entrée of a salad with mesclun, foie gras, magret de canard, corn and small preserved onions that were so tiny and so sweet I thought they might have been a berry. It is a surprisingly light salad, and a reminder that salad is so much more than torn lettuce with a chopped tomato or cucumber.
It was not until I read the page titled La Salade Composée in Stephanie Alexander’s book that I remembered this meal and this salad, the delicate flavours of the duck enhanced by the simple preparation. Stephanie writes that a ‘composed salad’ can be made with any number of ingredient combinations, though it pays not to overcrowd the flavours too much. La salade composée reminded me of another salad, our Saturday lunch sort of salad, in winter or summer: chicken, pear, walnut and blue cheese.
Slices of fragrant, slightly firm pear, crumbles of blue cheese, lightly toasted walnuts and pan-grilled chicken is a classic combination, and, like the duck and foie gras salad, the marriage of flavours is perfectly balanced by the freshness of mesclun, or baby rocket, or cos lettuce. Serve with grilled bread, drizzled in olive oil.