Springing to life with homemade citrus salad dressing

Spring fever hit me hard this year. It began way back in January, with the greening from the rains here in California, and it has not let up. It has had me pondering the moon, cricking my ear for every croak and chirp, sniffing every blossom. It had me sitting in the backyard in the sun, regularly, until I was drowsy with the dreamlike state such sunny warmth and peace brings.

It led me on jaunts, too, to local, yet-undiscovered little gems, like museums and coastal cafes. And a little corner — or should I say, the Cornerstone in Sonoma. 

I had driven by this little retreat marketplace off the 121 on Arnold Drive many times, but was made aware of it recently by a colleague, named Bryan, whose taste is impeccable (a fellow Virgo)…Bryan likes good quality anything (as do his parents, who steered him onto Cornerstone), but nothing out-of-the-line expensive or fancy. He’s one of those people whose recommendations one should strongly consider (he’d already proven himself with States’ Coffee, Philz Coffee and the Blackwing pencil, among many things). 

So on a sunny almost-spring day, my longtime friend and collaborator and I went on a whim and a Bryan referral to Cornerstone, not knowing too much what to expect, but knowing it was a beautiful day, and we were out and about, and that was enough.

Cornerstone, as it turns out, is a delightful little getaway — a collective of shops, a restaurant and gardens that were designed not only for beauty, but for culinary bounty by Sunset magazine, who also has an outdoor test kitchen there. It’s also a space available for weddings and other gatherings.

We first wandered the gardens, which were a delight…inspiring in their artful organization. After checking out some of the shops, we realized how hungry we were, so we decided to lunch at the little on-site restaurant called Public Kitchen (formerly Park 121). We sat outside (of course), and I was again dreamy with the spring sun (and possibly low blood sugar). It was so pleasant.

My Grilled Cheese Adult Supreme (a blend of Carmody and Manchego cheese, meaty bacon, and sweet quince paste on wheat bread) was accompanied by a fresh little side salad topped with the most delicious vinaigrette, tangy with mustard and vinegar and also loads of citrus. I could definitely taste orange and was trying to discern the other flavors. I decided to inquire about the dressing…maybe they sold it on-site.

Our waiter, who seemed a gentle, kind and patient fellow, spent time explaining the dressing’s ingredients, which included lemon, lime and orange. When asked if they sold it, he said, no, but he could get me the recipe.

What?!? Where was I? How often does one dine and have such a request fulfilled? I was delighted (and still am) at the thoughtfulness and generosity of this exchange. Clearly, the dressing recipe had been requested by others, but the willingness to share the formula just bumped the caliber of this little dining spot to a new renowned level in my book. My companion and I decided this was a “Five Bryan” establishment.

I really couldn’t wait to try an actual shared restaurant recipe in this vinaigrette, but it was a few weeks later before I gathered the ingredients to put it together to top a fresh, colorful spring salad. After zesting the citrus, I squeezed juice from the lemon, lime and orange, mixed in vinegar and the zests, and thinly sliced shallots were added to infuse sweet onion-y flavor to the mix. 

After the shallots have been discarded (actually, I saved them to add to the top of the salad…I just couldn’t throw them away), The infused vinegar-juice, brown sugar, and grain mustard are placed in a blender, then a combination of olive and grapeseed  (or canola) oil are drizzled into the whirring blender until all is emulsified into a pale, sunny yellow thickness. Then I just added salt and pepper to taste.

My homemade version of this Citrus Vinaigrette was just as bright and flavorful as my first taste at the cafe. I was again so grateful at the generosity as I ate my ample spring salad, and had enough dressing leftover to jar and place in the fridge for another salad the next day.

The fruits, flowers, flavors and thoughtful kindness of spring this year seem more bountiful than ever.

Citrus Vinaigrette

By Chef Bruce Riezenman, Park 121/Public Kitchen at Cornerstone Sonoma

Makes 1 pint

  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 lime, zest and squeezed juice for vinaigrette
  • 1 lemon, zest and squeezed juice for vinaigrette
  • 1/4 orange, zest and squeezed juice for vinaigrette
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon grain mustard
  • 3/4 cup good quality olive oil
  • 1/2 cup canola, grapeseed or other neutral, clean-toasting oil.

Place shallots, zest, white vinegar and juices from the citrus in a non-reacting bowl for half an hour. Strain and discard shallots.

Combine the olive and other oil. Place the juices, sugar and mustard in a blender and lightly emulsify by adding the combined oils slowly to the blender. Add salt and pepper as desired remembering the dressing will taste much lighter when drizzled on a salad. Enjoy with your favorite greens.

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