Introduction: Radish and Prosciutto Salad

About: Everything needs a garnish. Let's talk food! Follow me on Twitter: @garnishgirl

I'll admit: I'm a minimalist. I'd rather manipulate a camera phone than a garnish requiring tweezers.

So, when I stepped onto my patio yesterday and found rosy radish sprouts, I knew what I had to do: design a colorful salad with an absurdly short prep time.

Don't let the quantity of radishes and bitter greens fool you. The taste of spicy bitter greens softens under sweet, tangy avocado balsamic dressing. The prosciutto adds playful color and a touch of savory.

Believe it or not, five years ago, my idea of salad was Ranch dressing on iceberg lettuce. Are you part of the salad uninitiated? I used to think salad was the choice of finicky girls on dates.

My initial encounters were limp lettuce at brasseries, coated in sticky French dressing with far too much tang.  No thank you. Traveling through Europe as a vegetarian at seventeen, I balked at anything green. I stuffed myself with macarons and croissants, long before I knew I was gluten intolerant. (I was sluggish and moody most of the trip).

Then, I boarded a train down to Geneva. On a quiet patio a few blocks from the cathedral, I tasted a 25 euro salad Nicoise. I had my reservations. I could buy three pairs of ballet flats for half the price at a street market. 25 euros for a salad?

My aunt suggested I just try it. We didn't know I was gluten intolerant, but we knew something was off. I'd had muesli for breakfast and was a basket case.

Seared tuna. Kalamata olives. Fresh feta. Red onions so thinly sliced, they were sweet. Okay. This salad, served on a white tablecloth on a cobblestone square, was the taste of summer.

How could I go back to pastry? For the rest of the trip as we traveled south through Italy, I ate produce: apricots on a rooftop garden in Milan, a rich salad in Sienna, a piling Caprese salad in Luca. I couldn't make the connection at the time, but I knew I just felt better.

Sadly, vacation ends. My passion for salad hasn't. Now, I grow the greens on my modest apartment porch.

I hope this fresh, summer beauty will give you a new perspective on ingredients already in your garden. If you're hasty like me, you'll love eating your radishes a few weeks ahead of their already speedy maturity time.

Prosciutto and Radish SaladWith Avocado Balsamic Vinaigrette
serves two

for the salad

1 large handful mesclun greens
1/4 cup radish sprouts
5 small radishes, quartered
3 button mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 to 5 slices prosciutto (more if a meal; less if a first course)
1-2 T vinaigrette

for the vinaigrette
3 T olive oil
1 T apple cider vinegar
1 t balsamic vinegar
1 T sugar
1/2 large shallot, minced
1 avocado, mashed slightly with a fork
sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

1. Wash the greens and pat dry. Gently tear the leaves into fork-size pieces. Rinse the sprouts in a small sieve and shake out. Slice the mushrooms and quarter the radishes, and set aside.

2. Layer the prosciutto across the salad plate in a design. Add the handful of greens in a round pile. Layer the 1/4 cup of radish sprouts over the greens. Pile the mushrooms in a mound, and add the radish quarters.

3. Pulse all the vinaigrette ingredients in the food processor, or grind with a mortar and pestle. It's important to do this just before serving to avoid discoloration. Less blending is more; the vinaigrette is delicious when chunky.

4. Pour the vinaigrette over the greens. 1 to 2 tablespoons is just enough to coat all the greens; more is sinfully delicious.