I’ll be honest, I am not a big salad eater. Because I feel like, for the most part, salad is often just an afterthought. Sure, I like a restaurant salad with nice add-ins that I am not going to get at home, but I find most home salads come from a bag and use processed, packaged toppings and bottled dressing. People seem to volunteer to bring the salad to a party because it’s the easiest thing to execute. But a salad can be a beautiful thing, packed with vibrant colors and layers of flavor. And everyone will be impressed when you show up with a gorgeous bowl full of the most delicious bites. Rather than that sad little bag.
Each element of the salad can be made ahead. One thing a day until ready to assemble if you like, so it is really easy to create and amazing presentation. If you are transporting this somewhere, keep everything in Ziploc bags, the dressing in a jar and pile it into your salad bowl. It will take a moment to put together when you arrive, sequestered into a quiet corner if the kitchen is crowded. Hearty greens hold up well with these bold flavors – I even like to shave some brussel sprouts and raddichio into the mix.
Autumn Celebration Salad
Greens with Port Poached Pears, Maple Pepper Walnuts, Stilton Croutons
Maple Black Pepper Walnuts
1 egg white
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
¼ cup maple syrup
2 Tablepssons butter, melted and cooled
2 cups walnut halves
Preheat the oven to 325°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil or parchment paper.
Place the egg white in a medium bowl and whisk with the salt until foamy. Whisk in the pepper, maple syrup and butter until combined. Drop in the walnuts and stir to thoroughly coat the nuts. Lif the nuts out of the glaze with your good clean hands, allowing excess to drip off, and transfer to the prepared pan. Spread the nuts into an even layer not touching and bake for 10 minutes. Stir, then bake for a further 5 – 8 minutes until the nuts are a shade darker. Cool completely. The nuts will store in an airtight container for 3 days.
For the Port Poached Pears
2 large, firm green pears
½ cup port wine
¼ cup water
½ cup granulated sugar
Half a cinnamon stick
1 star anise
5 – 6 whole cloves
Peel and core the pears and cut into small pieces, about ½ inch. Stir the port, water and sugar together in a small saucepan and add the spices. Drop in the pears and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the pears until a knife slips in without resistance, about 10 minutes. You want them soft, but still with a little bite. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Remove the cinnamon, star anise and cloves, then spoon 2 Tablespoons of the poaching liquid into a jar. Discard the remining liquid and transfer the pears to an airtight container. The pears can be covered and refrigerated for 2 days. Make the dressing with the poaching liquid as below.
For the Port Dressing:
2 Tablepoons port poaching liquid
2 Tablspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
6 Tablespoons olive oil
Place all the ingredients into a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake to combine. The dressing will keep in the fridge for 2 days. Shake well before using.
8 ounces soft Italian bread
6 Tablespoons butter, melted
4 ounces Stilton (or other blue cheese) FROZEN
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.
Cut the bread into cubes of about ½ inch. Make them as evenly sized as possible. I like them on the larger side, so you get a good crouton to cheese ratio. Place the bread cubes in a large bowl and pour over the melted butter. Toss to coat the bread evenly.
Take the Stilton out of the freezer and use a fine grater to grate about half of it over the bread cubes in the bowl. Toss to coat the bread with the cheese, then transfer the cubes to the baking tray and spread into an even layer. Grate some more of the blue cheese over the top, doing your best to get cheese on every bread cube. You can roll the cubes around in the cheese that drops onto the baking sheet. Return the cheese to the freezer. Bake for 10 minutes, then use a spatula to turn the cubes over. Grate some more cheese over the cubes and return to the oven for another 8 – 10 minutes until toasted and golden. Cool completely and store in an airtight container for 2 days.
For the Salad
8 cups of hearty greens – I like to include a colorful mix of red and green salad leaves – red leaf, frisee and romaine. For a touch of bitterness and interest, I add some finely sliced raddichio and slivered brussels sprouts.
Tear the greens into reasonably sized pieces and soak briefly in cold water, then spin or pat dry. Toss together in a bowl or a large ziptop bag for transporting. The greens can be kept refrigerated for several hours.