Once again, I'm fudging the definition of "salad" slightly to use a hot dish as my Salad of the Month. But this time, I have authority to back me up. This recipe, Grits Gratin with Arugula and Garlic, comes from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and he describes it right in the introduction as "Part warm salad, part comfort food." So if it's at least partly a salad to Mark Bittman, who certainly qualifies as an expert, then it's at least partly a salad to me.
We chose this recipe to use up a big batch of arugula that had been growing as a week in our garden paths. These leaves were mature and fairly tough, so we thought they'd be best in a cooked dish. (There are also some younger, more tender leaves that growing in the beds themselves, which seem to have survived last week's frost okay, so we may be able to make a more traditional salad with those.) Searching under "arugula" in the index of Bittman's book, I found this simple, intriguing recipe. It has three basic steps:
1) Make a batch of grits. You can use polenta, but Bittman thinks hominy grits "stand up better to the other assertive flavors." Pour out the grits in a loaf pan or on a baking sheet and let them set. You can do this step up to a day before you make the rest of the dish.
2) Saute a few crushed garlic cloves in olive oil with a bit of sugar until the garlic is soft and just beginning to brown. Turn off the heat and stir in the shopped arugula leaves, with a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and drizzle it with balsamic vinegar.
3) Slice your cooked grits into half-inch strips, season them, and spread them over the cooked arugula. Add a little more oil and some Parmesan cheese (the recipe calls for half a cup, but we cut it down to a few tablespoons with no noticeable problems) and bake it 20 to 25 minutes, "until the topping is golden and bubbling."
This dish was a little bit tricky to serve, partly because Brian had layered the strips over the arugula diagonally, which made it a bit difficult to slice neatly, and partly because the arugula was so old and tough that a spatula wasn't always strong enough to cut through it. But it certainly had an interesting combination of flavors. The garlic and balsamic softened the strong flavor of the arugula, and the grits "stood up" well to the mixture, as promised.
It wasn't as good as it could have been, though, simply because the arugula was too old. Cooking softened the leaves, but it left the stems tough and chewy. So if we make it again, I think I'd like to use younger, more tender arugula, and also realign the strips of grits to make it easier to slice. With these changes, it should be a worthwhile addition to the repertoire of recipes that we can serve to our gluten-sensitive friends.