An inversion moved across Lake Michigan a few hours ago, turning our sunny 65-degree day into foggy darkness in no time. As temperatures dropped more than 20-degrees, I couldn't help but think of that line from T. S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" -.... "April is the cruelest month..."
Next time spring decides to stage a comeback, I'll be ready. Meanwhile, I'll console myself with this vegetable salad that, no matter the weather, always puts a smile on my face. It makes a lovely lunch or supper—and an ideal dinner party starter, especially when followed by a main course of grilled salmon or chicken.
Vegetable salad with poached eggs
(4 main course servings; 6 starters)
6-8 ounces slab bacon, cut into small chunks or lardons
1 pound tiny new potatoes, scrubbed clean, steamed until tender and cooled at room temperature
1 pound thin fresh green beans, trimmed
1 lemon, divided
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed, plus 1/2 cup for dressing
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms (oyster or chanterelles)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons minced shallots
Salt and pepper to taste
4-6 cups baby greens, washed, dried and chilled
Farm fresh eggs (4 or 6) poached
In a large skillet, slowly cook the bacon over medium-low heat to render the fat. Once bacon is mostly rendered, raise heat to medium-high and fry until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour the bacon fat into a measuring cup. Return half of the fat to the skillet in which you cooked the bacon; pour the other half into another skillet and set it aside.
Place the skillet in which you cooked the bacon over medium high heat. Sauté the green beans in the fat, turning frequently with tongs, for 2 minutes. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, sauté for another 2 minutes and lightly salt. Remove beans to a plate and set aside. Beans should be crisp-tender.
Place the other skillet with the reserved bacon fat over medium high heat, adding just a touch of olive oil. Add the mushrooms and allow to cook for 2 minutes without disturbing. Season with salt and then toss. Sauté for 8 to 10 minutes until mushrooms are brown and a little crispy. Remove with tongs to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the juice from the other half of the lemon with the sherry vinegar, Dijon and shallots. Slowly drizzle in about a half-cup olive oil, a few drops at a time, whisking constantly until dressing emulsifies. Add salt and pepper and adjust vinegar/oil ratio to taste, if necessary.
Place the salad greens in a large bowl and drizzle with a little of the dressing. Toss to make sure the greens are just lightly coated.
Halve or quarter the potatoes and add to the greens. Drizzle with a bit more dressing and toss to gently combine.
Divide greens and potatoes among 4 (or 6 if appetizer) plates, top each with the green beans, mushrooms and bacon. Finally, top with a freshly poached egg (6 minutes in simmering salted water). Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and gently blot on a kitchen towel. Sprinkle eggs with salt and freshly ground black pepper before serving.