FARGO — This week’s Bittersweet Winter Salad is in keeping with our January commitment to healthy recipes.
In a land surrounded by snow and ice, no one wants to eat anything with the name iceberg in front of it, and this recipe features two of my favorite leafy vegetables, radicchio and butter lettuce, to create a brightly colored and deliciously bittersweet salad.
With its gorgeous purple leaves and spicy, bitter bite, radicchio is one of my favorite leaves to use in winter salads. During our recent visit to Italy, bitter greens, like this gorgeously purple-hued radicchio, were commonly used in salads to help aid digestion, especially after a meal.
Radicchio is similar in appearance to red cabbage and can be difficult to find in supermarkets, but if you appreciate the benefits of a good, bitter leaf, it’s worth the effort. I visited three stores before finding it the produce section of the new Hornbacher’s store in West Fargo. Word to the wise — call ahead to confirm it’s in stock before you head out.
Butter lettuce is sweetly fresh in flavor with delicate, bright green leaves that provide a lovely contrast in color and taste to balance the bitterness of the radicchio. Butter lettuce is a living green that comes with its root ball intact, so it’s important to gently wash the leaves before tearing to remove any excess dirt.
I wash both the butter lettuce and radicchio leaves in a thin stream of cold water and lay them on paper towels to dry completely before tearing them into salad-size pieces. This step can be done up to two days in advance, and the prepared leaves can be refrigerated until ready to use.
In addition to the greens, this salad also features sliced pear, toasted pecans and a tangy Gorgonzola vinaigrette.
The gentle sweetness of the pear really emerges next to the bitter radicchio, and any variety of pear will work. To keep the pear as fresh as possible, I wait to slice it until just before serving, but the pecans and dressing can both be prepared well in advance of serving.
I use pecan halves for this recipe, mainly because they’re easy to toast and they create a more elegant presentation than chopped pecans, and walnuts would also work well. Toasting the pecans enhances their nutty flavor and texture. You can toast them plain or follow my advice and toss them with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper before toasting, for added flavor. I always make a double batch to keep some on hand just for snacking.
Boldly flavored greens deserve a dressing that can meet them head on, and today’s Gorgonzola vinaigrette is full of bright, tangy flavor. The dressing is best when prepared at least 30 minutes before serving, especially if you include the shallots, as this allows the flavors to meld together and softens the bite of the onion.
Brightly flavored, colorful and wonderfully textured, this Bittersweet Winter Salad is easy to make, nutritious and sophisticatedly delicious.
Bittersweet Winter Salad with Gorgonzola Vinaigrette
½ cup pecans
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ head of radicchio, washed, dried and torn into 2-inch pieces
½ head of butter lettuce, washed, dried and torn into 2-inch pieces
½ pear, cut into thin slices, (peel on, if desired)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon shallot, sliced paper thin or minced (optional)
½ cup Gorgonzola cheese crumbles
To prepare the pecans:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the pecans with the olive oil, salt and pepper and mix until evenly coated. Scatter the pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until lightly toasted and fragrant, turning once, about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.
The pecans can be toasted in advance and stored in an airtight container until ready to use.
To prepare the vinaigrette:
In a large bowl, add the oils, vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper. Whisk vigorously until fully emulsified, about 1 minute. Add the shallots and most of the Gorgonzola crumbles (save about 2 tablespoons to use as garnish); use a spoon to mash the ingredients into the dressing until blended.
Leave dressing at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld together. The vinaigrette may be made several days in advance and refrigerated until ready to use. Let the dressing sit at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes and mix well before serving.
To assemble the salad:
When ready to serve, place the torn radicchio and butter leaves in the bowl and lightly toss until evenly coated with the dressing. Add the toasted pecans and pear slices and toss again. Garnish with the remaining Gorgonzola cheese and serve.
The radicchio and lettuce leaves can be washed and torn a day or 2 in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use.
“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com.