I’m solo this year for Thanksgiving — having just gotten back from 17 days of traipsing across Indochina I’ve more than fulfilled this month’s quota of time zone changes, airports and security checkpoints.
Just because I’m on my own doesn’t mean I won’t be cooking a special meal. It will start with one of my favorite recipes for entertaining from the Neiman Marcus Cookbook, Roasted Pear and Gorgonzola Salad with Toasted Walnuts and Balsamic Vinaigrette.I have some very strict standards for my entertaining dishes: 1) I need to be able to make it ahead of time or assemble at the last-minute, 2) it must taste delicious, 3) have a beautiful presentation , and, if possible, 4) be something a bit unexpected but not completely foreign. This salad meets all of those criteria. As an added bonus it’s easy to double or reduce this salad as needed since the star of the salad are the pears — just make as many or as few as you like.
Roasted Pear and Gorgonzola Salad with Toasted Walnuts and Balsamic Vinaigrette
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon chopped mixed fresh herbs (such as basil, oregano, and thyme)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups olive oil
Combine the vinegar, garlic, shallot, herbs, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor or in a blender. Puree on low-speed and then slowly add 2 1/2 cups of the olive oil in a steady stream until well incorporated. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.
This is best made one to two days ahead of time to allow the flavors of the dressing to develop.
This makes a LOT of dressing — much more than you’ll need. I’ve reduced the recipe but it never taste the same as the original proportions. When I’m making this salad just for myself, I often just use a pre-prepared creamy balsamic dressing.
4 large, firm Bosc or Bartlett pears, cut in half
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon light brown sugar
2 Tablespoons dry sherry or balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
To prepare the pears, use a melon baller (or a knife) to remove the cores and seeds of the pears and season them with salt and pepper. Pour the 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a large oven-proof skillet and set over medium-high heat. When hot, carefully place the pears cut side down in the oil. Cook for about 2 to 4 minutes or until the pears have nicely browned. Sprinkle the pears with the brown sugar and add the sherry or balsamic vinegar to deglaze the plan. Turn the pears over and transfer the skillet to the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the pears are easily pierced with a sharp knife. Transfer the pears to a clean plate and let cool. When cool enough to handle, slice each pear half into four or five wedges. Return the sliced pears to the plate, cover with plastic wrap, and let cool; keep refrigerated if not making the salad immediately.
Warning, this will splatter! The oil will splatter when you first add the pears, again when you deglaze the pan and when you flip over the pears. I use a splatter screen, long tongs and try to tilt the pan away from me.
12 ounces mixed lettuce greens (mesclun or spring mix), washed and dried
1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, or another good-quality blue cheese
1 cup toasted walnuts*
To assemble the salad, place the lettuce greens in a large salad bowl and toss with the balsamic vinaigrette. Transfer to chilled salad plates and top with the cooled slices of pears. Sprinkle the Gorgonzola cheese over the top and garnish each salad with 1/4 cup of the toasted walnuts.
*Because I don’t like walnuts I substitute glazed pecans.
Roasted Pear & Gorgonzola Salad Tips
- Pears can be roasted up to one day ahead of time.
- The recipe calls for 1 pear per person but you can easily stretch the recipe and serve 1/2 pear per person.
- When making the salad for a large group serve the salad in a large platter or round bowl garnishing the sides with sliced pears. Plan on 1/2 pear per person.