Homemade Ranch is the White Shirt of Summer - No. 29
Pour it over anything!
The Dog Days have begun so it’s time to bring out those recipes that are bold, bare, and keep us cool.
To me, that says salad with a simple but good dressing. Big cooking just doesn’t exist at my house in August. I rely on a homemade buttermilk concoction infused with herbs and spices, roasted garlic, or even crumbled blue cheese. And I spoon it over tomatoes, avocado, grilled chicken, boiled shrimp, fried okra, whatever I’m craving.
It’s kind of like ranch dressing, but better, and like a crisp white blouse or shirt, it goes with everything and makes you look great.
When I think of salad, I think of Julia
Which is crazy because Julia Child taught Americans to make fairly complicated - and heavy - recipes like boeuf Bourguignon. Yet when I think of Julia I think a fresh, crisp, August salad of local greens with a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzle of good olive oil.
In August 1992, I was seated at her kitchen table, and, yes, Julia Child was cooking me lunch! Roast chicken was in the oven, Sauvignon Blanc chilling in the fridge, and a green salad would change the way I looked at salad and the dressing that goes on it.
I had traveled from Atlanta to interview Julia in advance of her 80th birthday. I flew into Boston, rented the car, drove out to Cambridge, and swore I’d never drive in Boston again. (Still haven’t!) I arrived early enough for the interview to swing by a coffee shop around the corner to relax and muster up some courage.
I’m not sure why I was nervous because Julia opened her front door with a friendly hello. There was no assistant, just the two of us in her kitchen for the next few hours, swapping stories, me trying to be polite and look her in the eye when she’s speaking, and then scribbling notes like mad when she turns her back to open the fridge. All the while I am soaking in the moment of being in Julia Child’s kitchen. I still can’t believe it…
The house was noticeably quiet due to her husband Paul being in a nearby nursing home. I asked what dressing she liked best on summer salads, and she tossed her head back that way she did, and in her Julia voice said, “I don’t make dressings anymore. Just good salt and olive oil is all you need.”
And so, I flew back to Atlanta, well fed, on cloud nine, wrote the story, and stopped making salad dressing.
Until we were living in Nashville and my friend Ann Evers brought me dinner after some surgery, and along with a grilled filet was green salad, tomatoes, and a jar of her roasted garlic ranch dressing.
What exactly is Ranch dressing?
According to Jean Anderson in her book, The American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century, ranch is a buttermilk dressing invented in the last 50 years. Two people claim to have invented it. One, the more credible story, was the owner of the Hidden Valley Ranch, a dude ranch near Santa Barbara, California, where he made the dressing to serve to patrons, then turned the recipe into a dry mix and named it after the ranch. And then he sold the formula to the Clorox Company before retiring.
Jean adds that buttermilk-mayo dressings were hugely popular in the South and Midwest long before that famous ranch dressing came onto the scene. It’s what people made with what they had on hand.
And it’s utterly delicious. The homemade version, I mean…
Versatile, too. It’s easy to spin-off into other dressings:
Roasted garlic - roast some garlic heads in foil in the oven until soft, then mash and fold into the dressing. (See the recipe below)
Blue cheese - add about 1/4 cup or more of your favorite crumbles. I vote Stilton!
Basil buttermilk - use 1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped with a green onion.
Green Goddess - fold in lots of every herb - tarragon, hopefully! - in your garden, plus a half of an avocado, mashed.
Caesar - add a squirt of anchovy paste and extra Parm.
Remoulade - fold in diced pickles or capers, a little minced onion, and hot sauce.
And serve it with:
Crispy roasted sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, or cauliflower
Tuna straight from the can
Fried chicken wings
And yes, even baby carrots or Doritos
I’d like to think if Julia were still here she’d approve of my dressing obsession. I haven’t abandoned what she taught me, and a sprinkle of salt and drizzle of EVOO is still my back-pocket trick.
Besides, I believe Julia would like this buttermilk ranch dressing because it’s simple and practical. The French taught us mayonnaise, right? She would spoon it over sliced summer tomatoes and roasted chicken and sip a glass of white wine.
What’s your favorite summer salad and dressing?
And salad speaking:
Emily Rees Nunn has an entire newsletter devoted to it each week. Check out the Department of Salad on Substack!
As I approach 100 paid subscribers after just launching this newsletter a few months ago, I am grateful to all of you supporting this new and unchartered venture in food journalism with no ads but a lot of opinion!
The newsletter for paid subscribers moves to Thursdays. First up, another destination for those ripe summer tomatoes - a quick and easy gazpacho! Plus, since it’s Julia Child’s birthday this month (Aug. 15), in honor of Julia I’ll bake one of her favorite recipes.
And congrats to the July giveaway winner Taneka Martin who wins a copy of Rachel Martin’s Hot, Hot Chicken book!
No more waiting… here’s the recipe
Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
For a roasted garlic version, scroll down to the end of this recipe - it’s yummy! You can keep this dressing in a glass jar in your fridge for a week. For crowds, be prepared and double batch.
Makes 6 servings
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, from half a lemon
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the mayonnaise, buttermilk, Parmesan, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes, or until serving time.
For Roasted Garlic Ranch Dressing: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut 1/2 inch off one head of garlic, showing the cloves. Place the head on a square of aluminum foil, and drizzle the top of the garlic with a tablespoon of olive oil. Pull the sides of the foil up around the garlic to encase it. Place it on the oven rack, and bake until it is tender, 45 minutes. When the garlic has cooked, remove it from the oven, and carefully open up the foil so that the garlic can cool, 20 minutes. Holding the garlic by the head, squeeze the garlic into a medium bowl. Mash with a fork until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients above.
Have a great week! Keep cool!