I make this salad when what I really feel like having is dessert but know better. And the funny thing is, it works.
Besides, the days when I was a full-fledged sugar-holic and bypassed real meals so that I could bask in the glory of my sweet tooth are over. Those were my crazy 20s.
I discovered this salad eons ago on a date night with Erik, when we lived in Princeton, New Jersey. We were having a drink at a place called the Triumph Brewing Company and were just excited to have a few minutes alone. Our oldest was still a baby at the time and we couldn’t believe that we were without our all-to-familiar entourage of baby bottles, nappies and wipes. Initially, I remember being really taken with the local band that was playing. I hadn’t been to a live concert in a while, and this band was good and tight and playing original music, which is always a big plus with this former singer-songwriter. It wasn’t a Radiohead concert, to be sure, but I wasn’t getting out much in those days.
Then the waiter brought out my appetizer in the form of this wonderful salad and I don’t think I even heard one note after that. I recreated it at home the very next day, which was super easy, and it’s been a staple in our house ever since. Best of all, besides being ridiculously delicious, it makes quite the visual splash and so I make it often when we have company.
What I really think makes this salad work is the balanced combination of the sweet, tart, salty and pungent elements. The sweetness of the fruit is in direct contrast with the bite of our chicory friends, the radicchio and the Belgian endive, both of whom are cousins to the lettuce family but possess a more bitter and heartier edge. AND you get the wonderful crunch from the toasted walnuts to boot.
I just learned that Belgian endive is a bit of a vampire, poor thing. It is forced to grow in the dark, which stops chlorophyll from developing and keeps the leaves the palest shade of yellow and white. Who knew?
The only thing I’m absolutely sure of is that my sweet tooth is going to be happy as soon as I dig in.
making harvest salad with spiced walnuts & blue cheese
Pour 1 tablespoon of either extra virgin olive oil (or walnut oil) in a 10-inch frying pan and heat on a medium flame. When the oil starts to swirl, which will look like this:
add 2 teaspoons of Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Seasonings Blend for Pork and Veal. At least, that’s what it says on my jar. I’m running low though, so today I bought another bottle and found that the ‘Pork and Veal’ blend is gone. Now there’s just one designated for meat, which I took as an encouraging sign. That, and the fact that the spice blend looked the same as what I’ve been using. In any case, allow the seasoning to cook for a minute or so to release the spices’ oils, stirring with a wooden spoon the whole time.
Once you smell the strong fragrance of spices, add 1 1/2 cups of walnut halves and cook, again stirring constantly, for 5 minutes or so. You’ll start to smell a wonderful ‘toasty’ aroma. Don’t let them get too dark. When ready, transfer the walnuts to a small bowl, add 1 teaspoon of sugarand a ½ teaspoon of sea salt, and mix around with a spoon. Allow them to cool.
While the walnuts are cooling, trim the outer leaves of 1 medium head of radicchio and cut off its base, where the root grows. Then, start separating the leaves one at a time. Continue cutting the base if you find that the inner leaves are still attached to it. Then, tear the radicchio leaves into bite-sized pieces.
Similarly to the radicchio, trim the outer leaves of three heads of endive and slice them into ¼ inch-rounds. Start at the tip. As you work your way to the bottom towards the root, you’ll find that the center of the rounds become harder and harder. Remove this hard central core and keep the softer layers surrounding it.
Wash and halve 1 cup of red seedless grapes. Then wash one Honeycrisp or Granny Smith apple and cut it into four quarters and remove the core. Cut each slice 3 more times lengthwise and then create small, bite-size quasi-triangles.
Place the cut fruit and lettuces in a bowl.
Add ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil (or walnut oil), 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, andsea salt and mix well. Make individual servings on 6 salad plates.
Top with 1/4 cup of blue cheese, the spiced walnuts and fresh-cracked pepper. Makes 6 servings.