Gussy up your salad by breaking it down and jarring it up

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Too often, a salad is served out of obligation. We feel it is something we have to do to make the meal complete, but really don’t want to.

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Too often, a salad is served out of obligation. We feel it is something we have to do to make the meal complete, but really don’t want to.

And too often that’s why the salads we serve aren’t all that great. We don’t really care about them. Thing is, I love a well-made salad, and for me it is no obligation to either serve or eat one. This salad, for example, a seven-layer creation built in a canning jar. I love how they look. I love how they taste. I even like the process of assembling them.

It’s basically a dressed-up version of a layered salad “casserole” that is popular in the South. When I was growing up in North Carolina, my friend Laura introduced the casserole-style salad to our potluck circle. It was made with layers of crunchy iceberg lettuce, canned baby peas and chopped red onion, then topped with crumbled bacon — all set into a 9-by-13-inch glass casserole dish.

A few years ago, I remembered that salad, how refreshing and crunchy it was while being just rich and salty enough to be satisfying.

So I decided to remake it for a dinner party. I dressed up the ingredients, but kept the flavors of Laura’s salad. The biggest difference was my presentation. I served it in individual pint-size Mason jars. Not only was it too cute for words, but you can make it up to two days in advance and not lose anything in quality.

Of course, the proof is in the eating, and you should have seen my guests! You would have thought it was a chocolate dessert. I love making this salad all spring and summer for casual cookouts and picnics.

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I prefer using baby iceberg lettuce, which is soft and buttery, more like Boston lettuce than mature iceberg. But you can use your favorite lettuce. I layer thawed frozen peas, shallots and celery on top of the lettuce before sealing it with the dressing and topping with a sprinkle of crispy pancetta.

You could add other “dry” vegetables, such as carrots, sliced radishes, English cucumbers, etc. Any vegetables that are crunchy and not too wet or too acidic will work. If you want to add tomatoes, slice and add to the top of the salad just before serving. Also great to add are nuts, seeds, dried fruit and croutons.