With summer’s arrival there’s a proliferation of fresh local salad ingredients that naturally end up taking center stage for meals coming out of my kitchen this time of year. Fresh crisp and colorful leafy salad choices combined with fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts, cheeses, and flowers dressed with a zesty summery vinaigrette is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.
The inspiration for the recipe that follows is an abundance of pears available here in Thailand at the moment. Admittedly, imported from New Zealand. Nevertheless a favorite addition to a summer salad from my former life in North America that highlights the combined flavors of pears, fresh herbs, in this case marjoram, fennel, sweet Gorgonzola, and toasted slivered almonds all dressed with a zesty raspberry vinaigrette. The combined flavors and colors embody the very essence of summer.
Pear Salad with the Flavors of Summer Serves 4
Prepare ahead: There are several components for the salad that you can prepare in advance, making the final assembly of the salad quick and easy.
Pears are often very firm unless you are fortunate enough to be able to pluck them from the tree at just the right moment of ripeness. If that is not an option, as in my case, lightly poaching the pears will soften them a bit, imbue the flesh with a seductive translucence and a subtle sweetness that works beautifully for this salad.
Cut out a circular piece of parchment paper slightly larger than the diameter of the saucepan you will be using to poach the pears. Punch a small hole in the center and set aside.
- 4 firm pears, peeled
- water to cover (about 3 cups)
- ½ cup sugar
- 8 black peppercorns
- ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Peel the pears, leaving the stem intact.
Fill a saucepan with the water, add the sugar and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the peeled pears, peppercorns, and vanilla to the saucepan and place the circular parchment over the pears and press around the edges of the pan. This will insure the pears are submerged while poaching. Bring the cooking liquid to low simmer and poach for 5 minutes. Test by piercing a pear with a sharp paring knife. The blade should slip into the pear with some resistance when done. Over poaching will make the pears too soft for the salad, but if the pears are still firm after testing continue poaching for a couple more minutes until done.
Promptly remove the finished pears to a bowl and set aside to cool. Reduce the poaching liquid by half and set aside to cool. Then strain the liquid over the poached pears, cover, and refrigerate. Discard the peppercorns.
Lightly toasted slivered almonds:
- 2 teaspoons butter
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/3 cup blanched slivered almonds
- sea salt
Place the butter and olive oil in a small skillet set over medium low heat. When the butter and oil begin to bubble add the almonds and begin stirring and tossing the almonds continuously so they color evenly. This will only take a couple of minutes. You want a very pale coloring so be careful as they color quickly. Overdone and they will be bitter.
When done promptly transfer the almonds to a tray lined with a paper towel and spread them out in a single layer. Lightly salt and set aside to cool. When completely cool transfer them to a small bowl, cover, and set aside.
Raspberry Vinaigrette: makes 1 1/3 cup
- 2 tablespoons finely minced shallots
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- 3 to 4 twists freshly ground white pepper
- ½ cup raspberry vinegar
- 6 fresh raspberries, mashed (or 2 teaspoons raspberry preserves)
- 1 teaspoon of honey if using mashed berries
- ½ cup olive oil
Place all the ingredients in jar in the order listed. Screw on the lid and give the jar a vigorous shake for 1 minute. Refrigerate the dressing until you are ready to serve the salad.
Composing the Salad:
- assorted leafy salad greens (see suggestions below)
- poached pears, quartered, core removed, and each quarter halved lengthwise (8 slices per pear)
- 2 baby fennel bulbs, outer layer removed, sliced into paper thin batons
- 2 teaspoons fresh young marjoram leaves
- raspberry vinaigrette
- sweet Gorgonzola
- toasted almonds
- flaked sea salt
- freshly ground pepper
Select a variety of firm leafy greens such as baby romaine, leafy endive, crisp head lettuce (iceberg), radicchio, and rocket (arugula) that will make four servings. Tear the leaves as required and place them in a large salad bowl. Place the bowl in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the salad.
Chill individual serving plates!
When ready to serve, remove the leafy salad from the fridge. Add the marjoram leaves and toss. Give the dressing a vigorous shake for a minute and sparingly spoon dressing, drawing from the bottom of the jar to incorporate the shallots and mashed berries, over the salad. Toss to combine and transfer to individual serving plates.
Nestle the pears into the salad, the equivalent of one pear to each serving (8 slices). Scatter the fennel over the top. Add small dollops of Gorgonzola over the top of each serving. Spoon a little more dressing over each salad, and finally scatter the toasted almonds over the salads.
Serve with flaked sea salt and a pepper mill on the table.