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. 

 Printable Version 


hhd1911 said...

This is a beautiful, perfect early spring meal! Thank you!

Paige said...

Thank you! Glad you like it!