Last week I began a month of Fall Festive recipes, beginning with Butternut Squash Soup with Cumin as a first course. By the end of the month, you’ll have a delicious, seasonal meal to prepare to rave reviews for your family and friends. I love menu planning ~ and I have done it for 12 years as a cooking instructor hundreds of times. I have a huge cookbook collection, a half-dozen binders, and of course the Internet, so finding recipes is no problem. Choosing recipes, tweaking and adjusting them, deciding which ones fit together for the most satisfying meal is one of my favorite tasks in the kitchen.
When soup is your first course (hot), it’s nice to follow with a salad (room temperature or cold).
The inspiration for the salad came from the very first chef I ever assisted at Sur la Table, Caprial Pence. Caprial took my hand, showed me the proper way to hold a chef’s knife and the correct rocking motion for dicing and I was hooked. At the time, Caprial had a restaurant in Portland, Oregon and was on a book tour for Caprial Cooks for Friends, which I’ve used many times over the years. She is now in Seattle.
Our second course is a decidedly seasonal salad with a Pear-Thyme Vinaigrette. Caprial’s version uses spinach as the base, but I love fresh kale in the fall and winter for its hardy texture and slightly bitter taste. If you can find Lacinato kale, that is a first choice, but curly or red kale is good, too. Lacinato is an heirloom black kale that is really popular right now among the Paleo crowd; it’s a little bit sweet, not as bitter as some other varieties. Mixing different varieties is great too for adding texture and color.
You can stick to the spinach or mix it with kale, even add a little frisee. That’s the great thing about salads: they are so versatile. Since this is fall, stay away from the butter or Boston leaf lettuces. You want something hardier.
NOTE: wash very throughly to get rid of any dirt. Remove the center rib by either cutting or tearing the large leaves away. If you are using spinach, please, please, take off the stems. Your salad will be much easier to eat and digest. And be sure to tear the greens into bite-size pieces.
Pears are definitely a fall/winter fruit and their sweetness is a great balance to the greens. I love its use in the vinaigrette. You can substitute the pears for apples if you like. The radicchio adds color and texture too. You can even add nuts, such as pecans or walnuts (See my 10 Essential Ingredients for your Fall Pantry.)
All the ingredients may be prepared ahead of time and kept ready in the fridge for assembly right before serving. The vinaigrette will keep in the fridge for up to a week. I recommend that you remove the vinaigrette from the fridge about 10 minutes before serving to take the chill off so the flavors will be more apparent.
- PEAR-THYME VINAIGRETTE:
- 1 pear, peeled, seeded and diced
- ¼ cup dry white wine wine
- ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 shallot, peeled and minced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- kosher salt, to taste
- freshly cracked black pepper
- FOR THE SALAD:
- 1 bunch kale, spinach, or a mixture, rinsed, spun dry, and torn into small pieces
- 1 small head radicchio, rinsed, spun dry, and torn into small pieces
- 1 cup sliced mushrooms (button, cremini)
- 1 pear, cored and sliced
- TO PREPARE THE VINAIGRETTE:
- Combine the pear and wine in a small sauce pan over high heat and cook, stirring often, until the pears are very tender, about 4 minutes.
- Transfer the pear mixture to a food processor or blender, and add the vinegar, shallot, garlic, and mustard.
- With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil and process until smooth.
- Add the thyme and season to taste with salt and pepper. Process again briefly to mix.
- Refrigerate until ready to use.
- TO ASSEMBLE THE SALAD:
- Place the greens in a large bowl. Add the mushrooms, sliced pears, and about ¾ cup of the vinaigrette, and toss well. Serve immediately.
I hope you try this salad and give it your own creative signature.