Thursday, April 28, 2011

Spinach Salad with Bacon, Mushrooms & Gruyère with a Creamy Vinaigrette

Last January I posted a recipe for a pear salad dressed in a creamy vinaigrette. I stated at the time that this particular dressing was my new favorite vinaigrette. But in point of fact, this dressing isn't really "new" to me at all. I have just been using it with much greater frequency in recent months, as I continue to discover the myriad of taste possibilities it presents.

I first sampled this vinaigrette at Le Cordon Bleu where it was used to dress a salad of Frisée lettuce, cubed Gruyère cheese, bacon and croutons. I'll never forget tasting that salad for the first time. I thought it was the best salad I had ever put in my mouth...the whole effect of creamy, salty, chewy, crunchy and tangy was astonishing. I had no idea that salad could taste that good.

Several years later, while working at the American Restaurant, I thought of this dressing when I was putting together a Celery Root Remoulade-like concoction of apples, celery root, golden raisins and walnuts. Appropriately creamy and mustard-y, but lighter than the traditional mayonnaise-based dressing used for Celery Root Remoulade, not only was it a perfect fit for the celery root, it was wonderful with the sweet golden raisins and tart apples. Last fall, I resurrected this celery root and apple salad for a class. Consequently, the vinaigrette was in the forefront of my mind when I made the fresh pear salad in January. It turned out to be a perfect fit for that salad, too.

Last week as I was putting together the menu for my family's Easter dinner, I was thinking about making a spinach salad...possibly with some bacon...when I remembered how good this vinaigrette was on that Frisée salad with bacon and cheese. I thought it might work a similar magic on Spinach. And it did. Of all the things I prepared, it was the salad that was commented upon the most.

When you make the salad, make sure that the cheese, onions and mushrooms are all thinly sliced. I think this gives a more delicate texture overall and at the same time allows you to experience the combined flavor of all of the ingredients in each bite. To obtain the thin slices, use a vegetable peeler to shave strips of the cheese and a mandoline to slice the onion and mushrooms.

In the recipe I have listed the amounts of all the ingredients that I used, but as with all tossed salads, you should add each ingredient in quantities that please you. I always use a light hand with raw onions in a salad. I enjoy the crunch and sweetness of raw onion—but not the "bite". Rinsing the onion will tame its acidity a bit. Simply place the sliced onion in a sieve and rinse it under cold running water. Shake or blot the onions dry before adding them to the salad. Rick Bayless calls this process "de-flaming" an onion.

When I made this salad for Easter dinner, I knew that I would enjoy it.  What I didn't know was how much my family would like it.  There is just something special about this combination of flavors and textures.  Judging from the reception this salad received at my house, you should try it at yours.  Even those around your table who think they don't like salad will probably be seduced by the charms of this one.

Spinach Salad with Bacon, Mushrooms & Gruyère

1 T. white wine vinegar
1 T. Dijon mustard
¼ c. canola oil
6 T. whipping cream
5 to 6 oz. salad baby spinach, washed and spun dry
6 oz. thick-sliced bacon, cut into ½” strips and cooked until crisp
3 oz. Gruyère cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
1/4 a red onion, thinly sliced and rinsed
3 oz. white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
Salt & pepper

To prepare the vinaigrette: 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.

Place the spinach in a large bowl and add the bacon, cheese, onion and mushrooms. Season with salt & pepper.

Drizzle some of the vinaigrette over the ingredients in the bowl and toss to combine. Add more vinaigrette as necessary so that the ingredients are thoroughly coated with the vinaigrette. Pour any extra vinaigrette into a small pitcher or cruet and pass at the table. Serves 6 as a first course or side salad.


Katrina said...

This sounds like the dressing you made in my favorite salad from one of your classes--with the greens, thick bacon, gruyere, and walnuts. I love that salad and have made it a number of times.
I could almost drink that dressing. ;)

Paige said...

Yes, that's the one...from the Paris Bistro Class...