You know, I’m feeling a little indignant about iceberg lettuce right now. Or at least about it’s reputation. It’s the pauper of lettuces – no flavor, no color, no respect. But I have to tell you, I’ve spent the spring and early summer in the farmer’s market tasting organic lettuces and they’re, well, bitter. Then to the grocery store. Romaine – tough and not that tasty. Leaf lettuce – a little too astringent. Butter lettuce – tasty but wilts under the most fragile salad dressing.
But the iceberg. Now there is a lettuce. In its most classic incarnation, it’s a wedge. Topped with bleu cheese dressing (preferably homemade), diced tomato and bacon bits (also preferably homemade). In Nashville, the wedge took a slight turn and became Faucon Salad, which as far as I know exists only in Music City and now only in a few places. It was invented by Xavier Faucon, a French restaurateur in Nashville who retired in 1926. I cannot imagine how a French guy ended up in Nashville around the time of World War I. He must have been very depressed and lonely. But the Faucon Salad was absolutely delicious, especially when served at the Cumberland Club, a private club way up on top of a skyscraper where the members tried to feel important and special (I was once a member who tried to feel important but just knew deep down I wasn’t because nobody in the newspaper business is really important).
But I digress. Tonight I was scratching around for something to serve with a ribeye steak and realized I had a head of iceberg in the fridge (for sandwiches – it’s also provides the best crunch factor). So I mimicked a Buca de Beppo salad – iceberg lettuce, chopped tomato, thinly sliced red onion. Dressing made with vegetable oil, cider vinegar, oregano, salt, pepper and a pinch of suger.
It was absolutely delicious. By the way, the easiest way to make a vinegarette is to just drizzle the oil over the lettuce, splash a bit of vinegar on top, add the herbs and spices and taste it. Add more of whatever to make it taste the way you want.
Wikipedia defines the characteristics of iceberg lettuce as “crisp, cold, clean leaves.” Now doesn’t that sound inviting?