We can’t understand why every restaurant we go to always carries the same two “boring beyond belief” salads. The Chef salad and the Cesar salad. Especially when there are such amazing options out there! Here is one of our spring and summer favorites – we find it tasty and fresh all year round. Yes, we are big consumers of the “salad” and over the next few months will share as many of the creative variety as we can muster.
For the nuts:
1/3 cup granulated sugar (we like to use maple sugar!)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground star anise or-anise seed
3-1/2 oz. (1 cup) walnut halves (also very yummy are pecans)
For the vinaigrette:
1 medium shallot, minced
1/2 tsp. kosher salt; more to taste
2 Tbs. sherry vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the salad:
1 small head curly endive (curly chicory) or frisée, tough outer and large inner leaves removed and discarded, tender leaves torn into bite-size pieces (to yield 3 cups)
1 small head Bibb or Boston lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces (to yield 3 cups) – or Arugula – our personal favorite!
2-3 large heads Belgian endive or 2 small bunches watercress, sliced into bite-size pieces (to yield 3 cups) – again remove the thick center.
2 ripe Bartlett or Anjou pears
1/4 lb. Gorgonzola or Roquefort, sliced and crumbled
Make the spiced nuts: Heat the oven to 350°F. Combine the sugar, cinnamon, coriander, and star anise or anise seed. Put the walnut halves on a baking sheet and toast them very lightly in the oven, just 2 to 3 minutes. Meanwhile, set a large skillet over medium heat and put the sugar mixture in it, shaking the pan to spread it evenly. When the sugar starts to melt a little, add the walnuts while they’re still warm. Shake the pan vigorously until the sugar melts completely, turns medium amber, and coats the nuts as much as possible, 2 to 7 minutes. Keep a good watch; this happens fast. You’ll need to nudge the nuts with a wooden spoon to cover them as much as possible. (This won’t be a completely smooth caramel, and the sugar will adhere to the nuts in patches.) Scrape the nuts onto a plate to cool in one layer. When completely cool, seal in an airtight container.
Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine the shallot, salt, and vinegar. Whisk in the olive oil. Season with pepper and refrigerate until ready to serve. (The dressing can “age” a day or two.)
Assemble the salad: In a large bowl, toss the greens with your hands. Just before serving, whisk the vinaigrette to blend and toss it with the greens. Taste for seasoning; the salad may need a bit more salt and pepper. Mound the greens in the center of each plate. Slice the pears (we like to leave the peel on for color and nutrients). Divide the cheese and the pear slices among the plates. Garnish with the spice-candied walnuts and serve!
For a little twist add avocado and bacon!