Salade à l’ail aux croutons

Salad with garlic and croutons

The secret of this zingy salad is in the dressing — the leaves are bathed in a mustard vinaigrette enhanced with plenty of chopped garlic. Homemade croutons straight out of the oven add a welcome crunch. If you like, you can add crispy bacon as well.

Preparation takes 15-20 minutes, including the time it takes to bake the croutons. Any type of salad is fine, including mixed leaves, although personally I’d stay away from iceberg (too compact, and lacking flavor). For the vinaigrette, you can use either red wine vinegar or lemon juice — I prefer the latter, which adds extra tang. And for the croutons, choose a bread with neutral flavor — white or whole wheat would be better than rye. In the salad pictured above, I used oak-leaf lettuce and about a quarter of a baguette.

This salad makes a great starter and can also be the centerpiece of a light lunch, perhaps with some sliced cold cuts or cheese on the side. If it’s a starter, be sure to follow up with a main dish that will complement the garlic and not be overwhelmed by it. Anything from Provence would be a good match — for example, poulet au pastis (chicken in a pastis-flavored tomato sauce) or daube de boeuf (Provençal beef stew flavored with orange peel). You could also consider roast chicken, beef or lamb, or a hearty dish like boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin or haricot de mouton. For vegetarians, pasta might be a good choice: gnocchi au four (baked gnocchi), penne à l’arrabiata (in spicy tomato sauce) or simply spaghetti with garlic and olive oil, the last two being vegan, like the salad itself.

The quantities below will serve 2 people. For a larger crowd, double or triple the recipe.

2-3 large handfuls lettuce leaves
enough bread for 20-24 croutons (for example, 1/4 baguette)
2 tsp. plus 1 tbsp. olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice or red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. salad oil
1 plump clove garlic or 2 smaller cloves
1-2 thick strips of bacon (optional)

Wash the lettuce and spin dry thoroughly.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (350 F, 180 C).

Cube the bread, transfer to a baking sheet or tin, drizzle with 2 tsp. olive oil. Toss. Sprinkle with salt, grind on some black pepper and toss again. When the oven is hot, bake for 10-15 minutes, until the croutons are golden brown. Check from time to time to ensure the croutons don’t burn, and toss or shake the pan at least once.

While the croutons are baking, prepare the dressing. Spoon the mustard into the bottom of a salad bowl. Add the lemon juice or vinegar. Stir. Add a pinch of salt and grind on some black pepper. Now add the remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil little by little — one teaspoon at a time — stirring to emulsify before adding more. Continue with the salad oil.

Peel and finely mince the garlic. Add to the dressing and stir.

If adding bacon, chop into bite-sized pieces. Fry in a little oil. Drain on paper towels.

When ready to serve, transfer the salad leaves to the bowl, setting them loosely on the dressing. Top with the warm croutons (and the bacon if using). Take to the table, tossing only at the last moment.

Serve with a sturdy red — Bordeaux, Côtes du Rhone — or perhaps a Beaujolais. Serves 2.

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