Sunday, February 28, 2021

Spinach Salad with Blue Cheese, Cranberries, Maple-Glazed Pecans & Maple-Dijon Vinaigrette

This has been a winter of green salads for me.  Ever since Christmas it has seemed like I have always had an abundance of salad greens in my fridge…left from classes, pop up dinners, etc.  Baby lettuces, spinach, arugula, romaine, radicchio, endive….  I’m sure I’m missing some.  There are worse problems to have.  These leftover greens have provided the foundation for many a delicious winter lunch—satisfying my depths of winter craving for things fresh and raw.

If you want to be able to make spontaneous salads, you just need to make a point to keep a well-stocked salad pantry.  In addition to greens (if you don’t know how to store your greens so they keep for a while, check out my long ago post onhow to do so),  you’ll want to have nuts and seeds, dried and fresh fruits (this time of year: apples, pears, and all kinds of citrus),  cheeses and olives… things like eggs, avocado and canned/leftover meats/fish for substance…and finally, things like celery, radish, onion (red, scallion, shallots) for sharpness and crunch. 

If in addition to all this you keep a couple of nice homemade vinaigrettes in your fridge, you will be able to have a delicious and simple—or complex—salad anytime you like.  I almost always have a plain/basic vinaigrette in my fridge—one that will go with just about everything (usually mustard and shallot based).  And then another one with some kind of interesting flavor profile that fits the current season.  For example, in late winter and early spring, I like to make one with reduced orange juice (great on citrus, green vegetables like asparagus and green beans, beets and avocado).  And the maple one that I am sharing today is perfect for the fall and winter months. If all else fails, if you have olive oil and lemon juice (or a selection of vinegars), you can dress your greens with a squeeze of the latter and a drizzle of the former…and a sprinkling of salt & freshly ground pepper.

The salad I’m sharing today happens to be the one I served at my most recent curbside pickup dinner, but it could easily have been a spur of the moment pantry salad.  Most of the time after I have spent a lot of time cooking something, I’m not really in the mood to eat it myself.  (Hasn’t everyone experience this after big holiday meal preparations?).  But I was tired enough after my last curbside that I didn’t really want to start my dinner from scratch, so I had the salad I had served to my clients.  I was so glad I did.  Even in my “I’m tired of this food” state, I thought it was exceptionally good.  I knew I had to share it here.

It is just a simple spinach salad … enhanced with a few of the pantry elements listed above:  cheese…nuts…dried fruit…a tasty vinaigrette.  But don’t be fooled by its simplicity.  With just a few ingredients, it manages to hit all the right salad notes.  It is refreshing, tangy, salty and slightly sweet.  The addition of a little shredded romaine to the spinach, plus the crunchy maple glazed pecans and chewy dried cranberries, give texture…and the maple syrup spiked vinaigrette brings everything together nicely.  If you maintain a salad pantry, you probably have all the ingredients on hand to make it right now.


Spinach Salad with Gorgonzola, Dried Cranberries & Maple Glazed Pecans

5 oz. baby spinach (weighed after any obtrusive stems have been removed)
2 to 3 oz. romaine or radicchio, sliced in 1/4- to 1/2-inch wide ribbons
3/4 to 1 c. Maple Glazed Pecans (recipe below)
3/4 c./3 oz. dried cranberries/craisins
2 1/2 to 3 oz. crumbled Gorgonzola (choose a harder/crumbly aged variety—piccante or naturale), or substitute Feta
1 oz. shaved red onion, rinsed under cold running water and blotted dry (optional)
1/2 to 2/3 recipe Maple-Dijon Vinaigrette (recipe below)

Place all of the ingredients except the vinaigrette in a large bowl.  Season with salt & freshly ground pepper.  Drizzle a third cup of the vinaigrette over the salad and toss until everything is well coated…adding a bit more if necessary…but be careful, you don’t want a sodden salad. 

Mound the greens on a platter or divide among four individual plates.  If you like, drizzle a little more of the dressing over the plated salads. 
Serves 4

Maple-Dijon Vinaigrette

1/4 c. white wine vinegar
2 T. minced shallot
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 T. Dijon mustard
2 T. Maple syrup
5 T. olive oil
5 T. vegetable oil

Place the first three ingredients in a bowl and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes to allow the shallots to soften.  Add the Dijon and whisk until smooth.  Whisk in the maple syrup.  Add the oils in a thin stream, whisking constantly.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  You may need as much as another 1/4 t. of salt, depending on your palate (I add almost that much).

Makes a generous cup of vinaigrette.

Maple Glazed Pecans

Place the pecans (halves or coarsely broken pieces) in a bowl and add 2 T. of maple syrup and a slightly mounded 1/4 t. of kosher salt for every cup (115 g./4 oz.) of pecans.  Spread the nuts in a greased/oiled/sprayed baking sheet that is just large enough to hold the pecans in a snug single layer.  Transfer the pan to a 325° oven and bake for five minutes.  Give the nuts a stir with a heat proof spatula or pancake turner and return to the oven.  Continue to bake until the syrup is thickened and bubbling…and has darkened slightly.  The amount of time this will take will vary greatly according to how many cups of pecans you are preparing.  For one cup it might take 2 or 3 minutes, for 4 cups it will be closer to 6 or 7 minutes.  Do not under bake or the pecans will remain sticky.

Remove from the oven and immediately transfer the nuts to a second greased/sprayed/baking sheet, quickly spreading/separating the nuts…and continuing to stir and separate every few minutes as they cool.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature. 

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Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Fettuccine with Leeks, Walnuts & Cream

I love pasta “sauces” that showcase one main vegetable. A quick scan of pastas I’ve posted over the years will bear this out:  peppers, broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, corn, peas, winter squash, Swiss chard, tomatoes … although… maybe tomatoes don’t count….   Anyway, I obviously can’t get enough of these kinds of pastas.  They are a great way for someone in a small household to use up vegetables…or for the cook in any sized household to take advantage of seasonal abundance.  They are also usually fairly straightforward in their preparation…which means they can make for a quick dinner.  Furthermore, from a cook’s perspective they are instructive in that you can learn what spices, herbs, etc set off that one vegetable to advantage—making these pastas a great way to get to really know a vegetable and at the same time train your palate.    

Recently I was reminded of a “single ingredient” pasta I hadn’t made in a while when I found myself with several leeks in my pantry that had been intended for an event that ultimately didn’t happen.  (A lot of my eating this past year had been dictated by having to find ways to use ingredients that were purchased for an event that was canceled due to the pandemic.)  I could have used the leeks for an overdue “leek weekend” (
à la French Women Don’t Get Fat)…but I didn’t really have enough for a whole weekend of dining (or to be more precise, not dining….). So I settled on other uses:  in a tart…a soup…and a pasta.  I was able to spread my leek fest out since they—like most winter vegetables—store pretty well.

The pasta I made is from a book by Janet Fletcher called
Four Seasons Pasta.  If you have never run across this book…and you love pasta…you should check it out.  The book is organized by the seasons and is filled with recipes featuring authentic Italian sauces that aren’t necessarily familiar to American audiences.  The recipes work well…and are delicious.  And if you are interested in learning how to make your own pasta, there’s a good section on that too.

To make the leek sauce, leeks are softened in butter…reduced with a bit of cream…and finished with minced toasted walnuts and parsley.  Like other members of the onion family, leeks become sweet with prolonged cooking.  This cooking also gives them a silky texture.  The cream enhances both the sweetness and silkiness.  The slightly bitter toasted walnuts provide a nice flavor counterpoint and interesting texture.  Once the leeks are cleaned (the most difficult part of the recipe) the sauce comes together quickly and easily, making this a simple, elegant…and slightly different…winter weeknight meal. 

 Fettuccine with Leeks, Walnuts & Cream 

4 T. unsalted butter
5 or 6 leeks—white and pale green parts only—halved lengthwise, sliced thinly crosswise and well rinsed (5 to 6 cups sliced leeks)
Salt & Pepper, to taste
3/4 c. chicken stock
1 c. heavy cream
1 lb. fettuccine
2 T. minced flat leaf parsley
1/2 c. walnuts, plus more for garnish—toasted and chopped medium fine

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium low heat.  Add the leeks and season lightly with salt.  Stir to coat with the butter.  Cover and cook gently until the leeks are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes—reducing the heat if necessary.  There should be a few tablespoons of flavorful liquid in the pan when they are done.  Add the stock and cream to the leeks and bring to a simmer.  Cook briefly, until the sauce is just slightly thickened.  Remove from the heat and keep warm.

While the leeks cook, bring 6 quarts of water to the boil in a large stock/pasta pot.
  Add 2-3 Tablespoons of salt.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente.  Drain, reserving some of the pasta cooking liquid.

Add the parsley, walnuts and a generous amount of pepper to the leeks.
  Add the pasta and toss to coat—adding some of the reserved pasta water if it seems dry.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Serve, garnished with more walnuts if desired.  Serves 4 to 6.


  • Add a clove or two of minced garlic and/or some minced fresh thyme to the leeks while they cook.
  • Stir in a few tablespoons of mascarpone to the finished sauce.
  • Garnish the pasta with crumbled goat cheese or blue cheese.

(Recipe from Four Seasons Pasta, by Janet Fletcher)

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