Soup or salad, sir?
The following story is true. The names have been changed to, well, to avoid embarrassment of my old boss, Mike.
Once, about 20 years ago, I had accompanied my old boss, Sid (not his real name) on a business trip to Los Angeles. I joined him for dinner one evening at an appropriately-lighted, plant-infused southern California restaurant. Always mindful of what he ate, I never saw Sid order anything other than either the “diet plate” (which in those days was a grilled sirloin patty, an ice cream scoop of cottage cheese and a littering of mealy pink tomato wedges; or a big, green salad.
Sally, the waitress, (could be her real name) approached, a pleasant enough gal with purple eyeshadow probably aspiring to be an actress. (But shouldn't.)
“What do you have for the lighter appetite?” Sid asked, proudly patting his washboard stomach.
“Well, we have soup or salad," Sally sang out helpfully.
“Perfect,” Sid said. “I’ll have one.”
“One what?” Sally asked, confused.
“One of those Super Salads.”
“Well, which will it be?” Sally asked, again.
Sid looked her in the eye. “The Super Salad would be just fine, thank you.”
Sally paused, thinking about it, cleared her throat and started over, her pencil poised for action. “Sir, will you be having the soup or salad this evening?”
“Maybe you didn't hear me. I said yes, that would be fine,” Sid said.
“I have to know which one so I can put the order in!” Sally said, growing exasperated.
“Do you have more than one Super Salad?” Sid shot back.
“Well then give it to me, darn it, before I starve to death,” Sid shouted, pounding the table.
At that point, I erupted in laughter to the point of snorting, and through gallons of tears, eventually broke up the disjointed conversation by ordering for my boss. I didn't even get fired that night.
Ever since, whenever my family and I are having soup or salad for dinner, we occasionally do the Super Salad Comedy Routine, kind of like a Who’s On First. Here are two of our favorites: Spaghetti and Meatball Soup; and Chateau Salad, inspired by one that they serve at the Chateau du Chassan in the mountains of Auvergne, France.
Spaghetti and Meatball Soup
1 1/2 lbs. ground sirloin
1/2 lb. lean, ground pork
1/2 cup fine, dry bread crumbs
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 Tbsp. fresh, chopped oregano leaves (or 1 tsp. dried)
1 1/2 quarts (6 cups) beef stock or broth
1 1/2 cups water
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. each dried rosemary and basil
2/3 lb. spaghetti noodles, broken in thirds
In a large bowl, mix all meatball ingredients together with hands. Form into 1” balls and place in large, deep skillet. Pour water over to cover and cook over medium heat, turning, until done, 12-15 minutes. Drain liquid off.
Meanwhile, make soup. In large kettle, place beef broth, water, tomatoes (include juice), cheese, rosemary and basil. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer 20 minutes, uncovered. Add meatballs, bring to a boil and add noodles. Simmer, stirring, until noodles are tender. Serve with big chunks of garlic bread.
Chateau Salad with Chunky Goat Cheese Dressing
2 lbs. fancy mixed greens, such as red leaf, endive, watercress, romaine, dandelion leaves
2 Tbsp. butter
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/3 lb. sliced Canadian bacon, cut into matchsticks
3 Bosc pears, cut into thin slices
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine (or other) vinegar
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (Chevre)
Rinse greens in cold water, wrap in a tea towel and refrigerate. Melt butter in small skillet and saute walnuts 2 minutes. Remove to a small bowl. In same skillet, cook bacon until very brown.
Make dressing by whisking oil, vinegar and mayonnaise together in a small bowl. Fold in goat cheese.
In a large bowl, toss greens with dressing. Divide among individual serving plates. Arrange pears on top and sprinkle on walnuts and bacon. Spoon dressing over and serve immediately.
Robin Benzle lives in Bay Village. For more recipes, visit www.robinbenzle.com.