Thursday, January 6, 2011

Fresh Pear Salad

Over the past year, one of the things that I have come to appreciate about food blogs is the pictures. In some respects, this has come as a surprise to me. It took the pushing and prodding of several friends to convince me of the importance of including pictures on my own blog. And I would still be the first to defend the value of good food writing and cookbooks published without pictures when it comes to really learning how to cook. But if you have a solid grounding in the basics, sometimes a good picture is all you need to motivate you to get into the kitchen and get cooking.

Such was the case for me a few days ago when I was reading a post at Baking and Boys. Katrina had posted one of my favorite recipes for Chicken and Arugula Meatballs. At the end of her post she had a picture of the pear salad she had served with them. Suddenly I was really hungry for pears...and I wanted to eat them—sooner rather than later—in a salad like the one in her picture.

Katrina had found the recipe at Suzanne Collier's blog, Thru the Bugs on my Windshield. Katrina mentions that the photographs posted there are especially nice...and they are. The salad itself was conceived of as a way to utilize an abundance of lovely pears received as a Christmas gift. Taking her inspiration from Waldorf Salad, Suzanne used pears that were still slightly crisp instead of apples. In place of the walnuts one would typically find in a Waldorf Salad, she uses almonds—which I think is a nice touch since the thin and crisp almonds probably went well with the crisp texture of her pears. She called her salad "Fresh Crispy Pear Salad".

When I made the salad, I had some perfectly ripe, buttery-textured Bartlett pears. These made me want to tone down the "crisp" aspect of the salad a bit. So instead of crisp almonds, I chose to use softer pecans. Walnuts would have been good too. I also cut the celery into very thin slices so that its contribution to the salad would be more of a tender crunch.

Waldorf Salad is usually dressed with a mayonnaise-based dressing. I substituted a simple cream-based vinaigrette. This is currently my favorite all-purpose vinaigrette.

It clings beautifully to salad greens and dresses up fruits and vegetables nicely. Its tangy, slightly mustardy flavor goes well with many things. When I make it, I only make a small batch. The presence of the cream makes it more perishable than a classic vinaigrette. Also, over time it will thicken a bit as the vinegar interacts with the heavy cream. I actually don't mind this too much—it just makes it so the dressing clings to the salad ingredients even better.

This juicy and refreshing pear salad was the salad that we had on New Year's Eve with our Wild Rice Soup. We couldn't get over how good it was. I don't know why I never thought to make a Waldorf-style salad out of pears before. Thank you Suzanne—for the inspiring recipe and the beautiful photographs. And thank you Katrina—for making it and sharing it on your blog so that more people would see (and make) this delightful salad.

Fresh Pear Salad

2 ripe, but firm Bartlett Pears, peeled and cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces
4 to 6 T. dried cranberries or dried tart cherries
1/3 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, coarsely broken
1 stalk of Celery, split lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise (about 1/4 cup)
Salt & Pepper, to taste
2 T. minced Italian Flat Leaf Parsley
Creamy Vinaigrette (below)
2 or 3 handfuls mixed baby lettuces

Combine pears, dried cranberries or cherries, pecans, celery and parsley in a medium sized bowl.

Season with salt & pepper and pour enough vinaigrette over to just coat; fold gently to combine.

Chill briefly before serving—as little as 15 minutes and up to an hour.

Season the lettuce with salt and pepper and toss with some of the vinaigrette. Arrange the lettuce on individual plates (or a platter) and top with the dressed pears. Serves 4

Creamy Vinaigrette:
1 T. white wine vinegar
1 T. Dijon mustard
¼ c. canola oil
6 T. whipping cream
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Combine the vinegar and mustard in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Continue to whisk while slowly drizzling in the canola oil to form an emulsion. Whisk in the cream. Taste and season with salt and pepper.


Katrina said...

Awesome! Looks great. Makes me want it again. Thanks for the shout out. I'll have to make sure Suzanne sees this, if you haven't told her. It will make her very happy.
Thanks, Paige.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE your vinaigrette! My husband and I were just talking today about how we needed to get more pears to make a salad again. I will definitely be taking a page from your book/blog! Thanks so much for my "15 minutes of fame" here on your blog! Of course, you have now indebted me to Katrina - again. I can never repay her, or you, for all your kindness. Love, love, love your "Fresh Pear Salad"!

The Happy Whisk said...

Hi. I'm Ivy and a new reader to your blog. So nice to meet you. Happy Cooking :-)

Paige said...

Hello Ivy. Thanks so much for stopping by and letting me know you are out there--it's nice to meet you too!