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February, 2011

Baby Spinach and Pear Salad

By Heidi Allison

By using the finest-quality ingredients in smaller portions and different ratios, this salad is extravagant, yet far leaner than the classic—Roquefort, Pear, Walnut and Endive Salad
.

Pears
This icon gets a contemporary spin substituting healthier, organic baby spinach as a base; seasoning with a lighter, fresher-tasting dressing of roasted hazelnut oil, white balsamic vinegar and orange blossom honey; using a matchstick cut on red pears for an avant-garde edge that supplies both visual and textural interest; and topping with sweet, nutty pecans and Craisins along with the requisite, salty blue cheese. The result is satisfying without being heavy; rich and savory, yet almost dessert-like.

This type of salad works because it offers a paradox of flavors -- a subtle, rich blend of salty and sweet—and juxtaposes creamy and crunchy textures. In the upscale, lighter dressing, extra-virgin olive oil has been switched out for roasted hazelnut oil, which provides a nutty, toasty and slightly smoky flavor that diminishes the sweet aspect of the fruity-tasting vinegar and bitterness of the spinach. The sweet/ tart Craisins and buttery, sweet pecans act in consort as perfect counterpoint flavors to enhance the salty, complex taste of the Point Reyes Blue Cheese, a stellar product that has achieved international cult status. This award-winning, creamy-style, full-flavored blue cheese from Marin County has a lovely tang without the pungent harshness of a Stilton or Roquefort, and, it almost melts in your mouth— the perfect choice for those who are just getting into the “Blues”, or, kids.

This elegant, nutritious salad offers another advantage as well: it’s easy to make since the only prep work is cutting the pear, which takes no time at all if done on a Japanese Berliner or mandoline. Moreover, the dressing is not mixed up separately and then poured over the greens-- in this ingenious recipe, the dressing ingredients are poured directly over the greens in a certain order, and then tossed with tongs (or clean hands). However, its crucial that you follow the recipe’s given order: vinegar goes on first (which acts to “wet” and season the greens so that less oil is used in the finished product), then toss to evenly coat; drizzle the oil over the vinegary greens, and toss again; and finally, season with honey, salt and pepper and toss one more time. If you drizzle the oil over the greens before the vinegar, you’ll get a tasteless, limp mess. This “one-bowl” method also reduces your calorie count since less (more than 50 %!) oil is needed to create a flavorful, well-seasoned salad. This dish works equally well as a side, or, served as a one-dish meal with the addition of roasted turkey or chicken breast.

Salad of Baby Spinach, Point Reyes Blue Cheese, Matchstick Red Pears and Pecans in Orange Blossom Honey and White Balsamic Vinaigrette
Salad of Baby Spinach, Point Reyes Blue Cheese, Matchstick Red Pears and Pecans in Orange Blossom Honey and White Balsamic Vinaigrette
Ingredients
:
2 ½ cups organic spinach
1 red pear, stemmed, cored and peel left on; cut into ¼-inch julienne or matchstick cut
2 Tbsp. Craisins
10 pecans halves (about 1/8 c)
1 ½ oz. Point Reyes Blue Cheese, crumbled

Dressing:
2 Tbsp. Alessi’s Orange Blossom Honey Balsamic vinegar
1/2 Tbsp. roasted hazelnut oil
1/8 tsp. flake kosher salt
1/4 tsp. orange blossom honey freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preparation:
In a large bowl, place pears, spinach, Craisins and pecans. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of Orange Blossom Honey Balsamic Vinegar, and toss; then drizzle the remaining 1-tablespoon of vinegar and toss again, or until you see the spinach leaves are evenly coated and glistening. Drizzle ½ Tbsp. of hazelnut oil over salad and toss lightly several times with tongs. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the salad and drizzle with honey; then toss lightly several times again. Mound salad on plates and top with blue cheese and a small twist of freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately.