Sunday, December 7, 2008

Winter Delight Salad - Pears, Candied Pecans & Blue Cheese Make This a Winner

Winter Delight Salad - elegant enough for the Limoges china, popular enough for a potluck.

If you're looking for a winter salad that's both bold and beautiful, simple and satisfying, look no further.

We developed this salad when I was the chair of the salad section of the Huntington Garden's herb cookbook, a Celebration of Herbs. (Believe it or not, arugula, the green used in this salad, is considered an herb.) Even though this recipe didn't make it into the book, it's become my "signature salad" - the one I'm most often asked to bring to potlucks. "Can you bring that salad you do? The one with the candied pecans?" friends often ask.

What makes this a "winter delight salad"? Pears are hard and bland when out of season, but a delight in winter, when the fruit is ripe and sweet. The pairing of sweet and sour, crunchy and soft, peppery and pungent make this winter salad even more delightful.

Winter Delight Salad

1 bag baby arugula greens
2 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, thinly sliced
2 pears, thinly sliced
1/4 C. candied walnuts or pecans
1/2 C. gorgonzola cheese, crumbled


1/3 C. balsamic vinegar
1/2 C. virgin olive oil
1 t. lemon juice
1 minced shallot
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper to taste

Blend together all ingredients.

Candied Pecans

I've experimented with at least a half dozen recipes for candied pecans (with or without butter, with or without egg whites, brown or white sugar, on the stove top or in the oven, with a variety of liquids) and I think this one is the easiest and best.

1 1/2 cups toasted pecans
1/2 cup liquid (I like to use brandy)
1 cup brown sugar

- Toast pecans in a dry, non-stick fry pan, being careful not to burn.
- Add brandy and sugar and stir.
- Keep stirring until liquid evaporates and turns into a glaze on the pecans.
- Dump pecans in a single layer on a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper.

Use candied pecans as a snack, in salads, as a vegetable topping (especially good with sweet potatoes, squash or pumpkin) or as a topping on desserts, such as ice cream or baked pears.

Something old, someting new: Vintage Limoges china is from the Pasadena City College Flea Market. Vintage linen napkins are from a Chicago yard sale. Gold double-satin ribbon on napkins is from e-bay.

The dinner party was a great success, even though I forgot about the sweet potato, butternut squash gratin (from Pinch My Salt) that I'd popped into the broiler for browning. By the time the smoke was wafting from the broiler, the golden brown gruyere cheese had turned coal black. I pulled off the charred layer and it was still a hit. Is it any wonder why friends ask me to bring the salad to potlucks?


Petrea said...

I'm going to do this one. It sounds fabulous. If one isn't a gorgonzola fan, are there other cheeses you recommend? Or I suppose I could just do it without the cheese?

Susan C said...

Petrea, I often pass the blue or gorgonzola cheese around separately for those who aren't fans of the stinky cheese.

Do you like crumbled feta? That would also work. If not, it's still delicious without the cheese.

altadenahiker said...

Well I'm going to try your steak technique -- I think you left in on Blue Kitchen. Sounds like quite a bit of work, but delicous.

Petrea said...

Cheese on the side. Perfect.

Margaret said...

Looks delicious. Hope you had fun.

Carolyn Jung said...

Anything with candied pecans is a winner in my book!

Laurie said...

Wow, this sounds yummy. It's definitely one better than my signature salad -- a similar mix of spring greens, chopped basil, chopped mint, sliced granny smith apples, regular plain ole walnuts, gorgonzola and a balsamic vinegarette with minced Vidalia sweet onions and a little dijon. I think what I've been missing all along is a candied nut. And pears... oh yummy don't get me started about pears in salads.

Can I have a dinner party for the sole purpose of making you bring something?


Oh and Petrea, I love the stinky cheeses and I love feta, too but sometimes I use crumbled chevre when I am not sure what a guest would like since it's such a mild cheese.

Petrea said...

I'll try the chevre, Laurie. I'm kind of a super-smeller, which means I'm a super-taster, and some cheeses are stronger to my palate than to most peoples'.

Laurie, I think you could have that party if Susan says so, but now you have to invite all of us.

Laurie said...

Petrea, but of course!

Anonymous said...

Have you ever made this salad with apples? Can you purchase candied pecans? I have a pot luck coming up and I thought it would be nice to come up with something other then cutting up apple fritters and bear claws then sticking them with cocktail tooth picks.

brooklynfarmhouse said...

oh Gorgonzola! i love it! thanks for this!

Susan C said...

AH: Yes, that technique for cooking steak from the WSJ is the best. Pair it with a good blue cheese (ala Blue Kitchen), and you can't miss.

Margaret, yes, it was a fun party.

Carolyn, I agree about the candied nuts.

Laurie, your recipe sounds heavenly. Tell me what to bring, and I'm there!

PA, I have made this with just apples when pears aren't ripe. It's great. You can use any kind of greens that you like. You can purchase the candied pecans, but they're a bit pricy. Come on by, and I'll give you enough for a salad. (Anyone else who would like candied pecans, email me at susancarrier AT You just have to pick them up.)

BF, candied nuts and gorgonzola - the secrets to a great salad. (That and bacon)

Miss Havisham's Tea Party said...

I plan on wrapping myself in bacon this evening.

You should be eating more grits with butter and mac and cheese, Susan.

Salads are so healthy and non caloric.

Come on, don't make me feel so wide.

Wandering Chopsticks said...

I've made something similar with a pear, bleu cheese, walnut and radicchio salad. The slight bitterness of the radicchio is similar enough to arugula that it pairs with the sweetness of the pears.

I like your table. Looks like a great dinner party.

Susan C said...

MH, Don't worry. I only eat the high calorie salads with nuts and eggs and cheese and bacon. And I'm finally gaining weight.

Oh, and I made the NY Times creamy mac and cheese two nights ago. It's SOOOO delish. My picky eater daughter even prefers it to the orange stuff in a box.

WC, Radicchio would be wonderful with pears. You're right - it's the combination of slight bitter and sweetness that makes this good. I would not, however, recommend spinach greens.

Thanks, it's fun to play "grown-up" table sometimes with china and crystal and candles.

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