While my aversion to vegetables isn’t nearly as strong as it was six months ago—when I first started this column—developing more than just a mild appreciation for them remains an uphill battle. But now that spring has finally sprung, I think it’s time to try to embrace all that allegedly delicious green stuff Mother Nature has to offer.
With a seasonal menu boasting only the finest, sustainably sourced ingredients out there, the Farm and Fisherman on 11th and Pine streets seemed like a good place to turn. Having no clue it was a white tablecloth kinda joint, I arrived at the quaint farm-to-table BYO dressed for an actual farm and was immediately greeted by the Jolly Green Giant. Actually, it was owner and executive chef Josh Lawler.
Josh, who opened the restaurant with his wife and fellow chef Colleen about a year ago, was still undecided about exactly what type of salad we’d be making. Judging by how many times he asked for my input, I’m guessing he wasn’t very familiar with the column. Rather than trying to explain my life-long aversion to vegetables, I simply noted that the feature was called Forking Stupid for a reason.
Eventually, he decided on a slightly altered version of the restaurant’s spring salad, which piles a bunch of veggies and greens on top of three different base dressings. As Josh explained, what makes this particular salad unique is that it’s crafted to ensure that every bite is different than the last. I didn’t really understand what that meant or how it was possible, but I was intrigued.
Perhaps even more intriguing was the variety of peculiar-looking plants waiting for me on the counter. Only able to identify the asparagus and baby beets, I needed Josh to explain the rest. Turns out, the mushy red stuff was cooked beets (not chunks of jellied cranberries), the swirly green things were fiddlehead ferns (not dead caterpillars), and the things that looked like baby carrots were, in fact, baby carrots.
While Josh stressed that this salad, like any salad, can be tailored however you desire, he did offer two main pieces of advice: Use fresh vegetables, and don’t over-dress your greens.
Since his shipment of pine nuts hadn’t come in yet, Josh opted to make the buttery dressing with pistachios, noting that pretty much any nut butter will do, whether homemade or store-bought. (If you decide to use peanut butter, be sure to stir in a tablespoon of olive oil to lighten the consistency. Personally, I think Josh’s pistachio butter could give Skippy, Jif and Peter Pan a run for their money.)
When you factor in our other two base dressings—beet puree and fromage blanc (aka soft cheese)—you get a perfect balance between creamy and tart.
Creating an umbrella of flavor, we coated the greens with Josh’s homemade lemon vinaigrette—a mix of lemon juice, Dijon mustard and honey. “We use it on everything here,” he says. This answered my next question about what people can do with all the vinaigrette they’ll have left over.
With our veggies separated and spread out on three different platters, Josh then lightly drizzled vinaigrette on top of each, followed by a sprinkling of salt and pepper. I ask: Why not just mix everything up in a bowl? Because, Josh eloquently explains, “Then you’re just making, like, a big pile of poo.”
And why settle for a pile of poo when you can have a work of art?
As if he were painting a canvas, Josh meticulously spread our base dressings onto the bottom of the plate, creating three separate pools of flavor. Having yet to make a valuable contribution to the dish, I insist he let me assemble the salad and complete the masterpiece. Apparently, I got a little too carried away and was just sort of tossing them onto the plate. “You’re being very whimsical,” Josh chuckled as he proceeded to rearrange every vegetable I laid out.
His methods made sense once I actually dug into the salad. For better or worse, every bite did indeed pack a different punch. In fact, it was sorta like playing Russian roulette with your taste buds. Given how light each of the dressings was, I was surprised how well they were able to mask all the earthiness of the greens. The only exception being the baby carrots, which tasted like chunks of dirt regardless of what you paired them with.
While it was nice to try a salad of the fancier variety, at the end of the day, all I really need is a bowl of lettuce, a few strips of grilled chicken (I prefer McDonald’s) and a packet of Newman’s Own creamy Caeser, and I’m content. And I usually pick out the vegetables.
Find all the recipes Nicole has learned from Philly chefs so far online at forkingstupid.com.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014