Enjoy the salad days... with Damien Pignolet

Salades – hundreds of salads for year-round health and enjoyment

By Robyn Lewis
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salades – Damien Pignolet

salades – Damien Pignolet

 

Just when you think cookbooks can’t get any more niche – or appetising – along comes one like salades.

It’s an arresting work of modern art, the cover adorned simply with a Valentino-red tomato on textured white and black. Step inside and you are in another world, one that evokes dreamy summer days, cliffside balconies on the Amalfi Coast, lithe tanned bodies and easy, health-conscious eating…..

However ‘I’ll have the salad, please’ will no longer be solely a dieter’s mantra with salades in your kitchen (or galley). These are about as far from the tired trio of tomato segment, lettuce leaf and coarse-cut cucumber as you can get.

Author Damien Pignolet is well known as one of Australia’s finest chefs and restaurateurs, before TV brought them fame. To quote the media release: ‘As chef and co-owner of Sydney restaurants such as Claude’s from 1981-93, and Bistro Moncur (at the Woollahra Hotel) from 1993 onwards, his eye for detail and consummate French style have garnered him many accolades.’ These include two hats from the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide for four consecutive years.

It’s been a long time between books for Pignolet. His first was French in 2005, which was praised in the Weekend Australian: ‘the beauty and complexity of this book make it a gripping page turner for anyone with a modicum of interest in cooking.’ A sequel has been eagerly awaited.

Pignolet says that the purpose of salades is ‘to introduce you to the broader domain of salads, especially those in the French tradition of composed salads’. The salade composée combines the textures and colours of vegetables with poultry, game or shellfish, and in France play a star role in the menu, offering to balance richer dishes with their fresh spontaneity.

French salads are often a delicious and refreshing starter to a three or four course meal. Americans have adopted this ‘salad as a course’ approach to dining to the extent that it is now also part of their dining culture, but with our British heritage and now Asian influence, we’ve somehow missed out in Australia. Which is a pity given our fresh and flavoursome salad ingredients, available in such variety year round. All this may be about to change.

Salades aims to ‘educate, inspire and delight the dedicated home cook’, and in doing so, to change our perceptions of what a salad is and can do. After all, Pignolet is fourth generation Australian, of French ancestry, so he knows our lifestyle and the way we eat, and isn’t trying to impose an outdated French notion nor upscale our meals to levels of formality not seen for decades.

So, let’s delve into salades. The aim of the book is to assist cooks create dishes ‘where the balance of flavour, texture and visual presentation are harmonious.’ Like the creation of a good artwork, this starts with knowing your materials, in this case a wide variety of salad leaves, from lettuces to witlof, snow pea shoots to sorrel. Over 50 pages of composed salads follow: cauliflower, beetroot and celeriac salad with horseradish cream; leeks vinaigrette; raw mushroom, globe artichoke heart and fennel salad. There are salads for all seasons, and from the pantry as well as the garden, market or greengrocer.

Even humbled grated carrot gets a makeover with shaved fennel and toasted fennel seeds, and there are recipes by chef friend Steve Manfredi, who grows a wide variety of Italian heirloom tomatoes which he roasts and serves on a special witlof called Pan di Zucchero (which he grows himself) and buffalo mozzarella. Neil Perry and Maggie Beer have also contributed personal recipes.

Then to main course salads: with meats from corned and roast beef and duck, to seafoods including mussels, prawns and mudcrabs. Lambs’ brains, ducks livers…. you name it there seems to be a salad you can make with it in the 200+ pages of recipes and photos.

There are side salads, special occasion salads, warm salads, winter salads. Never will a salad be boring again. You won’t find many of these on the internet, either.

I especially like the sweet salads, also far removed from the chopped fruit salads with brown banana of our mothers’ era: peaches with raspberries in a twist on the recipe invented by Escoffier for Dame Nellie Melba; papaya, blood orange and strawberry; and a seven fruit salad including mangoes and lychees inspired by his former mentor and business partner chef Mogens Bay Esbensen. Such healthy and refreshing ways to end a meal.

C’est délicieux states the rear cover, and I am sure you will agree – salades by Damien Pignolet will inspire you to take your salads and indeed your way of eating to a new level.

Wine gets a look-in, in the strawberry and orange salad in red wine syrup, and with summer beckoning I’ll also be trying the nectarine and grape salad with Campari. Pignolet offers a little wine matching advice: really acidic olives for example can destroy any accompanying wine. ‘Taste the raw materials, then taste the vinaigrette, and then taste the wine and a better understanding will emerge.’

‘Matching any dish with an appropriate wine is an exciting challenge and only experience will help the cook to master balance; but what fun!’ That said, I really think salades could have been taken to an even higher level with some more specific advice, as most home cooks know and are somewhat terrified of the reputed effect of a vinaigrette on wine. (The answer lies in toning excess acid in the dressing down appropriately.)

The photos by Anson Smart are simply mouthwatering – not all recipes have them, but then there would be far fewer recipes, and not all require them. There’s a helpful glossary of ingredients, equipment and techniques, and a handy list of suppliers if you live in NSW. It’s no surprise that I spy the name Julie Gibbs of Penguin’s Lantern Press in the credits, that lady of style with a seemingly unerring food publishing eye.

With salades in hand, unlike Shakespeare’s Cleopatra, your salad days won’t be ‘green in judgement’, and will stretch out like that lazy summer’s afternoon….

 

Salades by Damien Pignolet is published by Lantern Press (Penguin Group, Melbourne; hc, 240 pp) and retails for RRP A$59.95.

 

Subscribers and Members of VisitVineyards.com and WinePros Archive can click here to purchase Salades at 12.5% discount from our book partners SeekBooks (postage extra).

 

Regions

  • Sydney (NSW)

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