The French seem to enjoy salade composée either as an entrée as a light meal. I know I am stereopyping and I hate it when others discuss food preferred by the Italians or the Sicilians, so I will begin again.
When I was in Paris in September and while in the South West of France I ate my way through many servings of salade composée. This refers to a salad in which an assortment of ingredients with a balance of colours, flavours and textures arranged aesthetically on a plate and drizzled with a tasty vinaigrette. It is likely to be composed of a variety of seasonal fresh and cooked vegetables and one or a combination of meats, fish, eggs, nuts or cheese.
In the history of French cuisine, I know that presenting salads is fairly recent, but everywhere I went there seemed to be salade composée.
I stayed with my partner and two friends in La Vieille Grange in Mercadiol (a small hamlet) in the South West of France. It is the same restored barn that Stephanie Alexander stayed (with Maggie Beer and Colin her husband) when she researched material for her book Cooking & Travelling in the South-West France.
The cooking of South West of France is rooted in historical tradition, seasonal produce and nothing is wasted. Apart from a good selection of salad leaves there were other vegetables: potatoes and tiny green beans. Some had cured pork products as well, and of course many had walnuts. So important was the vinaigrette, perhaps made with a combination of walnut oil, olive oil and wine vinegar.
In that location of France I sampled much of the local food and there were plenty of duck’s gizzards, but these were often mixed with other duck meat: pan-fried breasts, smoked or air dried breasts, stuffed necks, confit, terrines, fois products and whole livers. Pan-fried duck livers are so good when cooked properly. (I soak the whole, cleaned livers in milk for about four hours before frying them in a little duck fat, then deglaze them with a little Armagnac, wine or vinegar and then add them and any caremelised juices from the pan to the vinaigrette).
I was very fortunate to attend a class at Le Cordon Bleu Academie D’Art Culinaire in Paris and even there, Le Chef cooked Salade de Pigeon Landase, vinaigrette de son jus as an entrée. The main component was squab breast cooked rare in goose fat. The rest of the squab was braised with shallots, carrots and bouquet garni and then drained. The meat was presented on lambs lettuce, watercress, raw mushrooms and toasted pine nuts. The vinaigrette was the squab jus mixed with red wine vinegar, hazelnut oil and a little mustard. We were presented with what Le Chef cooked, and it was superb.
I always add seasonal vegetables to my salade composée. Because it is spring, I add vegetables such as broad beans, asparagus, peas, zucchini. I also add fresh herbs and a mixture of leaves, sweet, bitter and pungent (eg watercress, rocket, lambs lettuce).
Eating a salad (such as a salade composée) at the start to a meal would be very unusual in Sicily, but they may eat a caponata on its own accompanied by some very good bread.