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Late September, sung in the key of salad

Okay, so, remember what I wrote about summer? All my gushing and carrying on, with a scoop of sorbet on top? Well, scratch that. I've changed my mind. Call me fickle, but now I’m feeling sort of smitten with fall. Oh sweet, sweet, slate-colored autumn, I think I love you. For now, at least.

Only a few weeks ago, when August gave way to September, I wasn’t sure that I was ready. With the exception of one—okay, maybe two—heat waves, Seattle had a pretty mild summer, and though I did whine a bit about the heat when it actually came, I wasn’t convinced that I’d gotten my fill. But apparently, bossy Mother Nature had gotten hers, and so while Brandon and I were away in Oklahoma and safely out of range, she bought fall a first-class ticket to Seattle. Last week, it rained, it rained, and it rained some more. It was gray and gloomy. I even got out a coat. And though it surprised the heck out of me, I sort of liked it.

It’s only natural, I guess. We humans seem to crave variety in nearly everything, from our meals to the color of our underwear, so the seasons should be no exception. Summer was nice, but so, in its own way, is September. I’m hard-wired to think so. Either that, or this Rainy City has really sunk its teeth into me. Whatever the reason, I kind of like sleeping with socks on, and waking up to a chilly room. I like turning on the heat and hearing the furnace whirr and thrum. The evenings are perfect for taking walks right now, in the few weeks before night comes at five o’clock sharp. I love the smell of smoke from a chimney nearby—the ne plus ultra of seasonal scents—and the way that the dim, grayish daylight makes everything look brighter: the leaves, the last few flowers, even signs and billboards. I’m a total sap, I know. I’m a real sucker for this fall stuff. But tell me this: who doesn’t love sweaters and scarves and boots and layers? He who denies the lure of fall is a big, fat liar.

So, even if the sun does happen to be shining today in Seattle, it is with pleasure that I swoon a little in the direction of fall, and that I make in its honor my favorite salad of the season.

In my kitchen, every climatic change calls for its own signature salad: a sliced one for spring, with endive, cilantro, radishes, and feta; a cooling one for summer, with lime and garlic; and for winter, a festive red cabbage slaw. As for fall, it wants warm flavors, I think: a cool-weather green, some olives, pine nuts, and peppers, and a few homemade croutons rubbed with plenty of garlic. And since any girl worth her salt knows that roasted chicken is a good way to show affection—whether for a season or a someone—it’s an obvious addition. Tossed together in an oven-warmed bowl, the elements melt softly into each other: the arugula around the chicken, the pine nuts into the olives, the oil and vinegar over it all. Eaten by the window, and maybe with slippers on, it is late September sung in the key of salad. I could eat this every night. For now, at least.

Warm Chicken Salad with Arugula, Olives, and Pine Nuts
Inspired by The Zuni Café Cookbook

I first made this salad two years ago, and I have never forgotten it. Every time I roast a chicken, it is in the back of my mind, and now, with any luck, it will be in the back of yours too. It’s a delicious way to dispose of leftover chicken, but it’s also tasty enough to warrant roasting one to begin with. In fact, that’s exactly what I did this weekend: I roasted the bird on Friday, ate a couple of pieces, and then socked away the rest for salads on Saturday and Sunday. It was heaven, and since Brandon doesn’t eat meat, I got to hog it all for myself. [Oink, oink!] Something tells me that, so long as arugula is available, there will be several more weekends like this.

Before you begin, a couple of notes. First, I have left the quantities somewhat vague. This salad is very malleable, so feel free to play with ratios of various ingredients. But be sure, if you can, to start with all ingredients at room temperature. (If you’re a cheater like me, you can warm the chicken for a few seconds in the microwave.) As for the arugula, it is quite fragile, so make sure that it is very fresh and free of wilty leaves. I used baby arugula, but if you can find the more sturdy, wild-looking, mature type—which seems to be more common in Europe, I’ve noticed—use that. I wish I could find it more often around here.

1 crusty chunk of country bread or baguette
Olive oil
1 large garlic clove, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 handful of coarsely shredded meat from a roasted chicken
Red wine-mustard vinaigrette
1 Tbs pine nuts
6 Niçoise olives, pitted and halved
1 generous handful of arugula
1 small handful of very thin slices from a yellow or red bell pepper
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tear the bread into a handful of irregular croutons. Brush them with olive oil to coat, spread them on a sheet pan, and toast until golden at the edges, about 6 minutes. Cool the croutons slightly; then rub them the garlic while still warm. Be as thorough as you are fond of garlic. Turn off the oven.

Meanwhile, toss the chicken with a bit of the vinaigrette—just a touch, for moisture and flavor—and set aside.

Place the pine nuts and olives in an ovenproof serving bowl—I use my favorite round, vintage Pyrex bowl—and place it in the turned-off oven for about 2 minutes to warm through. Carefully remove the bowl from the oven—it may be hotter than you think—and add to it the arugula and the peppers. Toss with vinaigrette to coat lightly but thoroughly. Add the chicken and the croutons, crumbling some of the latter over the bowl to let garlicky crumbs fall into the salad. Add a little more vinaigrette, and toss gently to coat. Taste, and add more vinaigrette or salt if necessary.

Serve promptly—straight from the bowl, if you like.

Yield: 1 serving


Blogger Kalyn said...

I have leftover roast chicken in the fridge. Perfect!

7:10 PM, September 25, 2006  
Blogger Culinarily Curious said...

I love, love, love the lyrical way you write. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the changing seasons -- and what looks like a yummy salad recipe.

11:00 PM, September 25, 2006  
Blogger lobstersquad said...

Love autum, so much, I´m totally with you. No jumpers and scarves here yet, but it´s all happenning soon, and I´ll be there at the stove first thing.

12:33 AM, September 26, 2006  
Blogger wheresmymind said...

I don't want 'irregular croutons'...I need symmetry damn it!!! hehe j/k ;)

6:30 AM, September 26, 2006  
Blogger Julie said...

Eloquently put. I love fall too, and I yearn for the variety of the seasons here in Florida where we have year-round summer with a few weeks of fall thrown in between Nov. and February. Nothing wrong with being fickle, as long as you love the thing you have at present. I miss living in the Northeast, though!

7:00 AM, September 26, 2006  
Blogger hannah said...

i didnt even know there was such a thing as a fall salad. thank you dear molly for enlightening me. thoughts of roasting are floating in my mind...

8:01 AM, September 26, 2006  
Blogger foodiechickie said...

That is such a lovely post about fall.

8:34 AM, September 26, 2006  
Anonymous Grant said...

I 'm a huge fan of that classic red wine vinaigrette and this salad sounds amazing.

I seriously need to get that Zuni Cafe cookbook. I know I would love it. I've heard great things about the chicken with croutons recipe where you have to salt the chicken like 3 days inn advance. Have you made that?

10:23 AM, September 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anita said...

I love your ode to fall - so perfectly capturing the season. I've always loved your writing, but the last few posts have been really captivating. Thanks for sharing!

12:52 PM, September 26, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

You must have read my mind, Kalyn! I hope you enjoy the salad...

Well! Thank you, Culinarily Curious! That really makes my day.

Lobstersquad, I'm sending my very best fall wishes your way. The past couple of days have been sunny and warm here, but still, there's a wonderful nip in the morning air. My scarves are itching to get out of the closet...

Wheresmymind, well, harumph! If you're going to be that way about it, maybe you should just buy a box of croutons? Or a ruler? Fussy, fussy, fussy...!

Julie, this is too funny. I just looked back at my post about summer and blackberry sorbet, and I found that in response to your comment there, I wrote, "I wish Seattle had summer year-round!" Oh my, look at me now. I am SO fickle. But it is awfully nice, as you so thoughtfully wrote, to love what you have at present. So cheers to you and your summery Florida, and to fall in Seattle!

Oh, Hannah, in my house, there are salads for all seasons! Brandon is a salad fiend - possibly owing to his obsession with vinegar - and as for me, well, I love 'em too, especially when they're full of all sorts of chunky, crunchy, savory things. I tell you what: you come over and make your chili and cinnamon rolls for dinner, and while you're cooking, I'll make this salad for lunch. Deal?

Thank you, foodiechickie.

Ooooh, Grant, yes, get thee The Zuni Cafe Cookbook! You will love it, I'm sure. The roasted chicken with bread salad recipe is everything you've heard and more. That roasted chicken method, in fact, is the only one I use. I salt my bird 24 hours in advance, though - anything more, I think, would be too much. Hurry - go buy the book!

Thank you, Anita. It's my pleasure.

3:13 PM, September 26, 2006  
Blogger Carol said...

mmm...sounds lovely! will have to try it. you know, the chickpea salad you wrote about long ago is a staple at chez arrow. have you tried growing your own arugula (or rocket, as i like to call it)? dan grows it in a big pot, which seems to work well.

4:09 PM, September 26, 2006  
Blogger always learning said...

LOVE your blog! Just happened to find it in a search for the best macaroon recipe, and will be trying the delicious looking chocolate covered ones! :) Keep up the awesome work!

4:49 PM, September 26, 2006  
Blogger Mary said...

I understand exactly how you feel about fall. Vancouver's the same way, lots of cloud and rain, but somehow it feels rejuvenating. I was in Seattle last week and it was raining, of course, but it was still beautiful and had lots of buzz. Btw, can you recommend a couple of your favorite casual dining spots for my next trip down? Thanks in advance. I can't wait to try more of your fall recipes!

10:35 AM, September 27, 2006  
Blogger Natalia said...

Oh yes, I am looking forward to fall too. The change of the seasons is one of the best parts of life. New weather, new clothes, and, most importantly new food. Of course, your salad looks lovely and delicious!

4:31 PM, September 27, 2006  
Blogger Lia said...

Fall is by far my favorite season. I love them all, but there's something about that crisp air and the gorgeous foliage. I think it's particularly wonderful in NYC, but I could be biased.

And as for your salads, I usually bring homemade ones to work for lunch (often leaving me starving by the time dinner rolls around), so you have me rethinking when I should have them. Maybe a heartier lunch and a nice light, fall salad for dinner? Yum.

8:57 PM, September 27, 2006  
Blogger s'kat said...

I love a good fall salad, and that looks like a fine example indeed!

BTW, reading your line "it is with pleasure that I swoon a little in the direction of fall" irresistibly makes me think of this, lol!

11:55 AM, September 28, 2006  
Anonymous Julie said...

Oh yum. As soon as I get back to NYC, I'm going to the Greenmarket for wild arugula and roasting a nice free-range chicken, just for this. Right now I'm in a Doubletree Hotel in Missoula, Montana, and the thought of real, delicious food like this rather than hotel (aka imitation) food is driving me quite mad...

2:27 PM, September 28, 2006  
Blogger hannah said...


7:51 AM, September 29, 2006  
Blogger pomegranate said...

oh wow. we had this salad for dinner on friday night and it was perfect. It "hit the spot!" It was cool outside with a warm kitchen inside. Mmmm..

9:30 AM, October 01, 2006  
Blogger Kim said...

Dear Orangette,
You constantly remind me of being in my 20s in Seattle: working at the Elliott Bay Bookstore, grocery shopping at Pike Place, my first subscription to Gourmet, my first adult love, and the moody arrival of fall. Thank you for your lovely words.

7:55 PM, October 02, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Carol, I hope this salad earns a spot in your repertoire too, right next to the chickpeas! As for arugula, my mother grows it in her garden in Oklahoma, where it gets maddeningly peppery from the intense summer heat, but I haven't tried it myself. How good to know that it can be grown in a pot! Another bit of greenery to add to our patio...

Well, thank you, always learning! Those macaroons are pretty heavenly, in my humble opinion. I hope you agree.

Mary, I would be more than happy to share some of my favorite Seattle spots! I have a running list that I keep just for the purpose of sharing, and if you'll drop me an e-mail, I'll zip it off to you. (It's a little long to post here.) You can find my e-mail address by clicking on "View my complete profile" in the right-hand sidebar above.

Thanks, Natalia! And three cheers for the change of seasons! I am not a huge fan of change in general, but change of seasons, oh yes.

Lia, hmmm, I'm not sure about this NYC bias of yours, lady. Maybe I should hop a plane to New York and do a comparison myself. It's a good excuse for playing hooky, don't you think? Sigh.

Oh my god, s'kat, maybe that's where my line came from! All of a sudden, it popped into my head, just like that - but sheeesh! Now that you mention it, maybe it was a memory castaway from the Holy Grail?

Oh, Julie, I feel for you! Are you home yet? Is your chicken in the oven? I hope so. xo

Alright, Hannah, when are the Huffmans landing in Seattle?

Hip hip! I'm so glad to hear it, pomegranate.

Kim, you're very welcome - and thank you. Your description of your 20s in Seattle sounds very familiar...

2:58 PM, October 03, 2006  

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