At my mother-in-law's recently we had a discussion about mesclun. Not mescaline, people, mesclun. She may have ridden her scooter across the country at the age of 65, but my mother-in-law is more Raging Granny than Easy Rider. She does make a mean salad, though, which is the reason we were talking about mesclun. Our non-trippy discussion occurred over plates of the tiniest, tenderest greens,
which were apparently sold as mesclun, though they didn't resemble the "mesclun mix" found at most grocery stores (you know the stuff: leaves of baby romaine, a few sprigs of browning frisee, some radicchio). So our question was, What the hell is mesclun? Though my mother-in-law did not say hell, I'm sure.
Weirdly, Mark Bittman answered our question in his Minimalist column this week. The word mesclun is from the Italian for mixture, and "when it first came to our collective awareness, it was a random collection of trimmings from the garden, never made the same way twice." Now it's a mix of greens selected for shelf stability, grown in Mexico, and airlifted to a supermarket near you. Mark Bittman's answer to the crappy mesclun mix found at that supermarket near him is to make romaine-lettuce soup, which I vow to you now I will never cook or eat. (What is going ON with you Mark Bittman? A cup of cream and some sauteed lettuce? Are you trying to make me break up with you?)
My answer is to eat as much I can of those greens I first had at my mother-in-law's, before they go out of season. They're closer to the "random collection of trimmings from the garden" version of mesclun, though I've bought three bags, all of which were similar. I think sprouts may be involved,
and the yachtsman called them "clover-y." Mine came from Pete's Greens in Craftsbury, Vermont (via City Market), though I'm sure a farmer is growing something similar in a hoop house or field near you.
I can't post a recipe for buying greens, obviously, but I can tell you how my mother-in-law prepared hers: Tossed with red-wine vinaigrette and a grate or two of Parmesan. I've been re-creating this salad all week, complete with the vinaigrette she used; it's quite tasty.
Red Wine Vinaigrette
Adapted from The Pleasures of Cooking for One, by Judith Jones
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ table salt
¼ Dijon mustard
Mix all four together in a small container and shake madly until emulsified.
This dish goes well with romps in New Orleans cemeteries, viewings of The Wall, and existential, nonsensical discussions of everything from fractals to doughnuts. It's also nice to eat around the table with family, or by yourself on the couch with the windows open on one of the first nights of spring.