Saturday, February 26, 2011

Vertical Pear Walnut & Gorgonzola Salad

Winter, you have very much overstayed your welcome! Three weeks ago, I spend over an hour digging my car out from shoulder-high snow drifts and two weeks ago I got to celebrate my 25th birthday with a little frostbite, thanks to the -15ยบ temperatures (not windchill, but temperatures!). In past years, once my birthday has come and gone, I'm about done with February and winter in general, but this year I had to stick with winter at least week longer for Valentine's Day. Previous Valentine's Days were observed with eating chocolate, drinking wine and watching Blade:Trinity with my girlfriends, but being in a new relationship meant this was the year to actually embrace the gooey-ness of the day. Being only a week after my birthday, for which I was spoiled for an entire week, I decided to tackle the V-day plans with a go big or go home attitude!

Now, of course I wouldn't be content with either making reservations at a restaurant or cooking up some heart-shaped mac-n-cheese. Nope, after a few weeks of searching through recipes and every romantic menu I could find on a food-related website, I finally nailed down my menu the morning of: this salad, steak and salmon with roasted potatoes and a raspberry-chocolate truffle tart. Cue panic! After an amusing trip to the grocery store (lots of frantic and confused looking guys wandering around with what was left of the chocolate and roses selection), I spent the afternoon spinning around my kitchen like a crazy person. Luckily everything turned out well and dinner went off without too much of a problem, save for a dessert that was delicious but managed to be an aesthetic mess! This salad, however, was definitely the most impressive looking of the courses.

I came across this recipe last fall, when pears are actually in season, but never had a good event to try and make such a show-stopping salad until recently. Given the mild panic I was in while trying to get everything done for dinner, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that this salad requires relatively little time and effort for such an impressive looking final product. If you aren't a gorgonzola person, which I really wasn't until I tried this recipe, goat cheese makes a good substitution. The goat cheese keeps the texture similar with out the... bite? of gorgonzola, or blue cheese if you're really adventurous with your cheeses (I'm way too chicken to try the blue stuff!).

This pieces to this salad can easily be put together ahead of time and then assembled when it's salad time, just make sure that you brush the pear slices with lemon juice (so they don't brown) and don't toss the vinaigrette dressing with the greens/walnuts/gorgonzola until it's game time (or the greens get wilty).

Vertical Pear Walnut & Gorgonzola Salad, adapted from The Novice Chef Blog
Makes 4 salads

4 Smooth-Skinned Pears
1/4 cup Walnuts
1/4 cup Gorgonzola Cheese
4 cups(ish) Spinach or Baby Greens Mix

Vinaigrette dressing:
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1/8 cup Balsamic Vinegar
Lemon Juice, to taste
salt, pepper, basil to taste

1. Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing and let sit, covered, not refrigerated. The 2:1 olive oil to vinegar ratio is very subjective, change things up to fit your taste.
2. Wash and slice the pears horizontally with 3 or 4 slices. Cut off a thin sliver of the bottom, just to create a flat surface.
3. Cut out the core of each pear slice and scoop out any core from the bottom slice. Brush with lemon juice.
4. Combine the walnuts, gorgonzola cheese and greens. Toss with the vinaigrette dressing until evenly coated.
5. Reassemble the pear with the salad between the pear layers. Some salad can also be poked into the o-rings of the pear slices where the cores used to be.
6. Serve and enjoy! Feel free to not correct your guests when they compliment you and assume it was a long and complicated process.

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