PEAR SALAD WITH BLUE CHEESE & CANDIED WALNUTS

Growing up it was this salad that my mom served to guests at dinner. Even after the main course was done and the dessert, too, it was this salad that guests talked about. Nearly two decades later when I serve it to my own group of friends — at sit-down dinners and potlucks alike — it is still subject to the same “oohs” and “aahs.” In a time when entire salads come in a bag — fruits, nuts, dressing and cheese included — this salad seems simultaneously ordinary and luxurious. But, in fact, it’s neither. Yes, fruit has become rather ubiquitous in mass-market salads — proved by a quick trip to the supermarket or a ride through the drive-thru — and yes, this salad requires a wee bit more effort, but with tender leaf lettuces, homemade candied walnuts, pungent blue cheese and juicy pieces of ripe, fresh pear gently tossed in sweet poppy seed dressing, it is certainly more than the sum of its parts.

I like to think of this salad as a reflection of the seasons. In winter it brims with pear and also citrus segments, but in summer I’ll glaze slivered almonds and toss in sliced strawberries and feta.  In fall, I serve it with tart apple slivers and spiced pecans. No matter what you use, there’s no wrong combination — this salad is timeless.

PEAR SALAD WITH BLUE CHEESE & CANDIED WALNUTS

When making the candied walnuts in this recipe, be sure to keep a close eye on them while they’re baking and stir them occasionally to prevent uneven browning and potential burning.  They are a cinch to make and last for about three days in a tightly sealed container if you have the foresight to make them ahead of time.  The recipe will make a full cup, but you may only feel the salad needs about a half cup, leaving you plenty to munch on.  If you already have some spiced walnuts on-hand or a favorite recipe of your own, feel free to use it here too.  The blue cheese used in this recipe can make a huge difference in it’s final overall flavor.  Look for varieties in the same vein as gorgonzola that pair especially well with sweet flavors like honey. When it comes time to assemble the salad, make your life easier by doing so in a very large bowl.  Coat the lettuces with the poppy seed dressing by gently tossing the leaves until everything is suitably dressed.  I like to use my hands for this crucial step as I am better able to turn the leaves in the dressing and I can feel how much they need.  Serve the salad on chilled plates to keep the leaves cool and serve to your guests immediately for optimal flavor and texture.

INGREDIENTS:

For the Pecans:

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Large pinch, cayenne pepper

For the Salad:

  • 1 head of leaf lettuce, core removed, washed and dried thoroughly
  • 1/2 cup candied pecans
  • 1/2 cup coarsely crumbled blue cheese
  • 1/2 of a red onion, sliced thinly and soaked in ice cold water
  • 1 large or 2 small ripe pears, cored and thinly sliced
  • Poppy seed dressing, to coat

METHOD:

  1. Make the Walnuts: Preheat the oven to 375°.  In a small bowl, combine the walnuts, corn syrup, sugar, salt, black pepper and cayenne and mix until the nuts are evenly coated.
  2. Spread the walnuts in an even layer onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake in the oven, stirring and flipping occasionally, until the nuts are deep golden and the sugar mixture is bubbling, about 15-20 minutes.  Remove the baking sheet from oven and allow to cool completely.
  3. Assemble the Salad: Tear or cut the lettuce into manageable, bite-size pieces and place them in a bowl large enough to toss the leaves with dressing.
  4. Add the candied pecans, blue cheese, red onion, pear slices along with enough poppy seed dressing to just coat the lettuce. Toss everything until well dressed and divide the salad among four chilled plates, drizzling a little extra dressing over each, right before service. Served garnished with freshly cracked black pepper.

Serves 4 as a first course

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  1. What a lovely salad (and photo) I’m always looking for ways to incorporate fruit into more savory salads and this one is perfect with the blue cheese and pears combination.

    • Linda
    • February 11th, 2010

    Pecans and walnuts are both referred to in the recipe…have you found that one is tastier than the other?

  2. Linda – That’s a tough call — any candied or spiced nut is a winner in my book. Really, it depends on my mood or the type of fruit I’m planning on using, but it usually boils down to what I have on hand in the pantry or freezer. Walnuts work wonderfully with apples and pecans pair well with peaches, but at the end of the day it all seems to work in this salad. My advice — try the walnuts in this recipe and form your own opinion. I’d love to hear how it turns out.

  3. It looks beautiful. It also reminds me that I need to be eating/making more salads.

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