Friday, February 5, 2010

Dried Cherry, Spiced Pecan & Blue Cheese Salad

Serves 4

I can’t say enough how important it is to season your salads at the very end with salt & pepper. Be liberal with both, and you’ll turn a pretty good salad into something sensational, something so amazingly tasty you’ll want to forsake good manners and just shovel it into your mouth.


For the vinaigrette:
1 egg yolk *
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbl red wine vinegar
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 small clove garlic, peeled & finely minced
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil (or any mildly-flavored oil, like canola or grape seed)
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

For the rest of the salad:
mixed greens (such as baby spinach, butter lettuce or radicchio), torn into
bite-sized pieces, enough for four people
a good handful of cinnamon-spiced pecans (see recipe below)
a good handful of dried cherries
half a small red onion, very thinly sliced and soaked in cool H2O for 15 min **
about 6 oz good blue cheese, crumbled
1 small pear, thinly sliced (which I completely forgot to add, but I think would
still be a pretty good addition)
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper

First make the vinaigrette: Combine the egg yolk, mustard, vinegar, thyme, minced garlic, a good pinch of salt and a good few grinds of pepper. Whisk together, and slowly pour in the olive oil, then the vegetable oil, both in a thin stream and whisking as you pour. This can be made ahead (but only by about a day, thanks to the raw yolk) and stored in an airtight container until needed.

Next, assemble the salad: Combine the greens, and most of the spiced pecans, dried cherries, sliced onion, crumbled blue cheese and sliced pear in a large bowl. (I say most of the pecans, cherries, etc. because you’ll want to keep a little bit left over to top the salads. It’s always nice to have some of the pretty stuff right on top.) Drizzle a bit of the vinaigrette on top. Don’t use it all here, just enough to thinly coat everything to your liking, and save the rest for a nice salad tomorrow. Season with a good pinch of salt and a few good grinds of pepper. Toss to coat thoroughly, and place onto salad plates. Top with the rest of the pecans, cherries, onion, blue cheese and pear. Serve immediately.

* I know some of you may be sketched out but the raw yolk here. I’m usually pretty courageous about things like this, but certainly Salmonella is nothing to flirt with. I always, always make sure to use the freshest eggs possible - organic and free-range eggs wouldn’t hurt at all. Of course, you can always omit the yolk altogether, and make a perfectly good vinaigrette. But I love the addition of the yolk. It really helps the emulsion, and lends a creamy smooth texture to the vinaigrette.

** A lot of people are wary of raw onions. But I love what they can add to a salad – a pretty pink color, a nice crunch, and truly, a great flavor. So most times when I use raw onions, I take this extra step: I place the sliced/chopped/diced onions in a small container and cover them with cool water. I let them soak in the water at least fifteen minutes and then drain them. This takes the pungent edge off, and lets the onions serve as a nice addition to the overall dish, rather than taking over and being super obvious.


Cinnamon-Spiced Pecans

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Holiday Entertaining 2009
Makes 1 cup

These are so good you’ll want to ‘test’ a few, you know, just to make sure they’re not poisonous or anything. Maybe do yourself a favor, and plan to make extras.


1 cup pecan halves
2 Tbl sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbl rum (but only if you have it on hand; otherwise you can just use water)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp dark brown sugar
1 Tbl butter

First toast the pecans. Preheat the oven to 350°F, line a sheet pan with parchment paper and spread the pecans across the paper. Toast for five minutes, turn the pan, and continue to toast until you can smell the nice nutty aroma and the color of the nuts has deepened a bit, about 10-15 minutes total. Remove from the oven and reserve the nuts.

Next, combine the sugar, kosher salt and ground cinnamon in a medium bowl. Stir together and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the rum, vanilla, brown sugar and butter. Stir to combine and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. When it comes to a boil, add the toasted pecans. Stir to completely coat the nuts with the glaze. Continue to cook, stirring constantly until nearly all the liquid has evaporated, about 1-2 minutes. Immediately transfer the glazed pecans to the bowl with the sugar mixture and toss to completely coat the nuts with the sugar. Transfer the coated nuts back to the parchment-lined sheet tray. Allow to sit until cooled to room temperature, and then store in an air-tight container. These will last about a week.




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