Tossing the salad

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paulr@sfbg.com

During the long weeks of this un-spring, I have often found myself looking out into the rain-swept garden and thinking: salad. The reasons for this connection have to do, I suspect, with the fact that the garden looks like a huge salad greens of various shades and shapes dripping with water, as if from those computer-<\h>controlled squirt guns in the produce section at the supermarket and with the fact that by the end of winter, one is just sick to death of greens, of any and every kind. The winter dinner so often ends in a simple tossed salad because the diners simply cannot bear another round of beets or turnips or parsnips or broccoli or cauliflower.

But even salad can grow wearisome, and this is true even if the greens or baby greens are enlivened by the colorful presence of edible flowers. What can the beleaguered home chef do to bring a spark of life to the season's umpteenth tossed salad? You can cheat, of course, by slicing in some hydroponic tomatoes, or cucumber that comes in that Saran Wrap stuff, or some other imported memento of summer; you can add leftovers, like white beans or risotto. You can add bottled artichokes, you can change your vinaigrette, you can drop the vinaigrette entirely in favor of creamy dressing.

Or: You can add parmesan chips. There are many, many upsides here, from welcome crunchiness to a distinctive nutty-<\h>salty tang to the pleasure of actually making the chips. If there is a catch, this is it: Parmesan chips are DIY. You might be able to buy them prepackaged, but I've never seen them so offered, and anyway, making them is easy and fun.

Begin by finely grating a cup or so of parmesan cheese. Real Parmigiano-Reggiano is vastly preferred here, of course, but you could also use grana padano or romano or any other gratable cheese. (The pregrated stuff in the green can? I cannot comment.) Preheat your oven to about 300 degrees Fahrenheit and grease a cookie sheet or line it with wax or parchment paper. Spoon the grated cheese onto the cookie sheet in well-spaced little mounds, as if making cookies. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes; when the cheese melts into disks and turns a pale gold at the edges, the pan is ready to come out of the oven. Let the disks cool slightly, remove them from the pan, add them to the salad and ... toss!

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