The Ultimate Spinach Salad

I just love salad. When I’m in the city, I eat salad every day for lunch. When I’m on the road for business, I often order salad from room service for dinner. Of course, I understand that not everyone shares this leafy passion (take my husband, please), so when I make a salad for my family or guests, I try to dress it up. I think of this as the ultimate spinach salad because of all of the elements—other than the spinach and mushrooms—are special. The blue cheese dressing is prepared from scratch with good blue cheese. The croutons are homemade from rustic Italian bread. The bacon bits are spiced. And the lowly hard-boiled egg is cooked with extra love to eliminate the green line dividing the yolk and the white and to keep the white tender. Try it and see if you don’t agree that this salad is the ultimate.

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese, preferably Roquefort, Stilton, or Cabrales
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons whole milk
1 1/2 pounds trimmed spinach leaves
3 hard-boiled eggs (see Kitchen Shrink for boiling procedure), peeled and sliced or coarsely chopped
3 to 4 medium white cultivated mushrooms
1 1/2 cups Parmesan Croutons (recipe follows)
Spiced Bacon Bits (recipe follows) or 1/2 pound bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled
Serves 4 to 6 as a main course, 8 as a salad

Combine the mayonnaise and sour cream in a small bowl. Stir until blended and smooth. Fold in the cheese, vinegar, mustard, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Stir well and thin with milk as needed to reach the consistency of heavy cream. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Stir well before serving.

Rinse the spinach leaves and dry them in a salad spinner or use paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible from the leaves. Tear the leaves into bite-size pieces and pile into a very large salad bowl.

Arrange the eggs and mushrooms on top. Sprinkle with croutons and bacon bits. Spoon a large dollop of the dressing in the center. Toss well just before serving and serve the remaining dressing on the side.

Parmesan Croutons: Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Mix 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 garlic clove, minced, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled, 1/2 teaspoon dried basil, crumbled, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper in a large bowl. Add 1/2 loaf rustic Italian bread, about 6 ounces, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (3 to 4 cups), and toss well. Spread out on a jelly roll pan and bake in the middle of the oven until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle the croutons with 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and bake until golden brown, about 7 minutes longer. Season with additional salt and pepper and cool. The croutons will keep in an airtight container for 1 week. Makes about 3 cups

Spiced Bacon Bits: Combine 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 1/2 teaspoons firmly packed brown sugar, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more to taste, and 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice in a small bowl. Season with freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add 1/2 pound lean bacon, cut into 1/4-inch squares, and toss until the bacon is well coated. Place the bacon in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring often, until the bacon is crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. This will keep covered in the refrigerator for 3 days. Makes about 3/4 cup

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