I am not terribly fussy about food, in general. I like good quality food, but that is different than being all delicate about it. Seeds in the orange juice? Not a problem. Peel on the fruit, preferred. Peel on the potatoes preferred, for that matter. A bit of shell in the egg? Not going to worry about it (unless you’ve come over for brunch, in which case I will make one or two attempts to remove it). Antithetically to this kitchen attitude and behavior, I spent much of my youth working in the kitchen of a restaurant – a Tea Room, it was called, even – which served quite fussy food to grey-haired ladies. We’re talking cucumber sandwiches, petite aspics, lemon tartelettes. We’re talking we had to remove the crispy rib of a lettuce leaf before turning it to salad, because the crispy bit might be offensive. It’s a good life practice to occasionally have to behave in exactly the opposite way you’re inclined; keeps you flexible, and teaches you to be cognizant of a world unlike yours, in which people prefer their eggs without a little crunch of shell.
In this salad, I applied some of my old Tea Room training to prepare the grapefruit in the manner we used to for Sunday fruit salad. This technique removes most of the peel, pith, and the membrane that divides each section. It leaves only the most delicate part of the fruit. Can I tell you something? After preparing the perfect little sections, I ate the remains of the membranous de-sectioned fruit.
For the next and each subsequent section, slice down between the membrane and the section you’re after, reverse the knife as you come to the bottom of the section, and slice upwards beween the section and the other membrane. If you’re successful, you’ll have a little membrane flap, a clean section, and an exposed section to tackle next.
Grapefruit and Candied Walnut Salad
1/2 head of lettuce
1/4 cup walnuts
1 tsp sugar (I used muscovado)
For the vinaigrette
1 tsp sugar
2 sprigs of thyme
For the salad, prepare the grapefruit as described above. Cut cleaned sections in halves or thirds, and add to the bowl. Add the walnuts to the cutting board and coat them in the grapefruit juice that’s left from your preparations, or first add walnuts to a pan and drizzle the leftover juice over the top. Add walnuts, grapefruit juice (in some manner), and sugar to a small, heavy-bottomed skillet (cast iron works well here). Cook over low heat while stirring until the sugar has disolved and the nuts begin to brown. Turn off the heat and remove nuts to a plate to prevent the sugar from burning. Rinse and prepare the lettuce.
For the dressing, juice the lemon into a small bowl. While whisking with a spoon or fork, slowly drizzle in olive oil until the volume has about doubled. Continue to whisk the liquid until it has emulsified. Note: if making this dressing in volume, you can make it in a jar, and emulsifying becomes very easy if you cap and shake the jar. Add the sugar and stir. Add the leaves of the thyme sprigs, rolling them in your fingers to release the oils.
Add the lettuce, nuts and dressing to a bowl and toss. If preparing ahead, be sure to add the nuts at the last minute to keep them from losing their candied crunch. The salad is great served with mint tea.