Perfectly balanced pear salad

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Let’s face it: Salad can be boring. The run-of-the-mill salad — bibb lettuce with chopped carrots and tomatoes, topped with thousand island dressing — that I grew up with never made me too enthusiastic. Then, years ago, I purchased a copy of “Raising the Salad Bar” after reading a review of it in The San Francisco Chronicle. This book has had a home among my cookbooks since then, and I find myself turning to it more frequently during summer months, when I am less inclined to turn on my oven.

The thing I like about this book is that it has salads of all types. Whether you want a summer salad with fruit, like this Mixed Greens and Roasted Pear Salad, or something more substantial with steak, they’ve got it. And every recipe I’ve tried from this book has been good.

This pear salad has a nice sweet flavor accented by crunchy walnuts and cheese that has a bite to it. You can use whatever greens you’d like, and make substitutions as you see fit. I leave the red onions off because they tend to be too harsh for my taste. If you don’t have a food processor for the vinaigrette, you can mash the pear with a fork and stir everything together.

In any case, this was a nice dinner on a hot night. It’s one worth adding to your file.

Ingredients
3 pears, peeled, halved, and cored
Olive oil
1 small head red leaf or bibb lettuce, washed and dried
1 bunch arugula, large stems removed, washed and dried
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 ounces gorgonzola, crumbled
1/3 cup chopped, toasted walnuts

Pear Vinaigrette
1/2 roasted pear (of the three called for above)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, sherry, or apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Brush the pears with a little olive oil, place them on a baking sheet cut sides down, and bake for 20-25 minutes. The pears should be browned on the bottom and easily pierced with a fork. Set aside to cool. Reserve half of one pear for the dressing.

In a large bowl, mix the lettuce, arugula, and red onion.

To make the vinaigrette, place the reserved roasted pear half, oil, apple or pear juice, vinegar, lemon juice, and salt and pepper in a food processor or blender. Process until mixture is pureed. Add a little more oil or juice to thin the mixture, if necessary. Add enough dressing to coat the salad; mix well, then divide the salad among individual plates. Top each serving with a roasted pear half and sprinkle goat or blue cheese over all. Top with toasted walnuts.

Beets make for a satisfying salad

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Since I now have a job with normal hours, it’s a lot easier to plan meals ahead of time.

It wasn’t until I started cooking with beets about a year ago that I really started to enjoy them. I usually use them in either salads or cook them in my dutch oven with a roast.

This salad is all about texture. It has hearty beets, a nutty crunch, creamy goat cheese, and balsamic vinegar that really sets off the flavor. It’s one of the Barefoot Contessa’s recipes. Her version called for almonds and arugula, but I only had pistachios and romaine lettuce, so I went with it. Arugula probably would have been better, but it was good just the same.

This is a great meal on a warmer day. As we head into summer, I’ll be looking for more great salads to make at home.

Ingredients
3 medium-size beets, tops removed and peeled
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoons Dijon mustard, such as Grey Poupon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces baby arugula or romaine
1/4 cup raw pistachios
4 ounces soft goat cheese crumbled

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Wrap the beets individually in aluminum foil and place them on a sheet pan. Roast them for 50 minutes to 1 hour, depending on their size, until a small sharp knife inserted in the middle indicates that they are tender. Unwrap each beet and set aside for 10 minutes, until cool enough to handle. Peel the beets with a small, sharp knife over a piece of parchment paper to prevent staining your cutting board.

Meanwhile, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, mustard, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and set aside. While the beets are still warm, cut each one in half and then each half into 4 to 6 wedges and place them in a large mixing bowl. As you’re cutting the beets, toss them with half of the vinaigrette (warm beets absorb more vinaigrette), 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Taste for seasonings.

Place the arugula in a separate bowl and toss it with enough vinaigrette to moisten. Put the arugula on a serving platter and then arrange the beets, almonds, and goat cheese on top. Drizzle with additional vinaigrette, if desired, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve warm or at room temperature.