Dressing for Success
L'Academie de Cuisine's chef tells how to dress for success with the perfect vinaigrette.
Vinaigrette is a dressing that can be sassy or sublime, lending flavor to more than just salad greens. The versatile mix of oil, vinegar, an emulsifier and seasonings can add punch to roasted vegetables, potato, pasta or bean salads, and even cooked meats and fish. Dijon mustard is a common emulsifier, which is essential to bind the oil and vinegar together into a smooth, creamy sauce. While vinaigrette will quickly break down the fibers of salad greens, it’s easily absorbed by starchier foods such as potatoes and pasta. It’s best to dress those foods ahead of time so they can marinate.
Go for the Good Stuff
Since vinaigrette requires few ingredients, using good-quality oils and vinegars will produce the tastiest dressing.
- Oils: Use extra-virgin olive oil; nut, avocado and grapeseed oils also work. Store the oil in a squeeze bottle so it can be added easily when whisking the vinaigrette ingredients together.
- Vinegars: Potent vinegars add the most flavor, so use sherry, red wine, rice wine or champagne vinegars. Balsamic vinegar is not a good choice because it can turn the vinaigrette dark, and the low acidity of aged balsamic vinegar isn’t strong enough to make a potent vinaigrette.
- Extra flavor: A little chopped fresh garlic will add verve and flavor. Also try adding a dash of red pepper flakes or fresh chopped thyme, parsley or tarragon.
Helpful Hint: Mustard can’t hold oil and vinegar together indefinitely, so the vinaigrette may separate over time. Recombine the ingredients by shaking the container storing the vinaigrette or by reincorporating the broken vinaigrette with a new mix of mustard and water.
To Make A Basic Vinaigrette:
Ingredients (Makes 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon prepared Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon water
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, preferably in a squeeze bottle
- Place the mustard in a mixing bowl. Add the vinegar, salt, pepper, shallots and garlic. Whisk together.
- In your dominant hand, hold a stiff sauce whisk.
- In the other hand, hold a squeeze bottle of oil at the edge of the bowl. While whisking continuously with your dominant hand, squeeze in or add the oil in a thin stream directly where the whisk is beating the mustard and vinegar. The ingredients should begin binding together into a creamy sauce. If the mixture is too thick, add a little of the water.
- If the oil and vinegar start to separate, start over in a clean bowl with a tiny bit of mustard and a few drops of water and whisk the broken vinaigrette into the new mustard mixture.
- Store in a squeeze bottle or an air-tight container in the refrigerator.
To Make The Salad:
1 pound cellentani or fusilli pasta
½ cup vinaigrette
11 ounces cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 each of red, yellow and orange bell peppers, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and chopped
½ red onion, chopped
¼ cup sliced fresh basil
¼ cup Kalamata pitted olives
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add a generous dash of salt. Cook the pasta according to the package directions for al dente.
- Strain the pasta and rinse with cold water.
- Rinsing the pasta will help get rid of excess starch. Drain thoroughly and put in a serving bowl.
- Once the pasta has cooled, toss with the vinaigrette—don’t wait until the pasta is cold because it won’t absorb the dressing as readily. Add the cherry tomatoes, peppers, red onion, basil and olives. Toss together. Sprinkle cheese on top. Serve at room temperature or cold.
Photos by Stacy Zarin-Goldberg
Written by Brian Patterson | L’Academie de Cuisine | www.lacademie.com