Pear, hazelnut and blue cheese salad with grainy mustard vinaigrette
The combination of pears, blue cheese and hazelnuts is classic in the Pacific Northwest, as evidenced by the many variations on this salad found on menus throughout the region. Some swap pears for apples. Others use goat cheese instead of blue cheese, or substitute bitter lettuces for tender leaf lettuces. In the autumn months, when radicchio, chicory and friseé begin to appear in the market, I prefer a mix of arugula, red butter lettuce and small leaves of radicchio. However, any blend of greens will be delicious; let the quality of the lettuces make your decision for you.
Beginning in early fall, a parade of pear varieties ripen and appear at the market, one after the other, to vie for our attention. Bartletts are among the first, boasting sweet flavor, yielding texture and a high water content, which means they are best eaten right away rather than stored. I like Bartletts for this salad in early September. But as the season marches on, freckled Forelles and round Asian pears (see photo) are firm, crisp choices, that keep well. Other varieties will appear in recipes over the months to come.
Because it’s nearly impossible to remove the entire hazelnut skin, I purchase partially peeled dry roasted hazelnuts. If you prefer yours without any skin, place the nuts in a 350 degree F oven for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and tip the nuts into the center of a clean, dry dish towel. Gather up the corners of the towel with one hand and use the palm of the other to rub the nuts together until the remaining skin comes loose.
Grilled red onions add pleasing flavor and texture to this salad.
Makes 4 servings or one LARGE FAMILY STYLE SALAD
1 small red onion, sliced in 1/4-inch thick rings
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 Barlett pear
Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette (recipe below)
4 ounces mixed lettuces ( see headnote for suitable varieties), washed and dried (see Techniques)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped roasted hazelnuts
2 ounces soft creamy blue cheese
Brush the onion slices with oil and salt them lightly. Heat a cast iron skillet or similar heavy pan over medium heat and add the onions to the pan to brown slowly. Once one side is brown and caramelized, turn the onion rings over, remove the pan from the heat and let the onions cool to room temperature.
Peel, core and slice the pear into 1/4 inch slices.
In a large bowl, add the vinaigrette, cleaned lettuce, sliced pears and hazelnuts. Season with a little salt and toss carefully. Serve in a large bowl, or on individual plates. Distribute the ingredients evenly. Crumble or slice the blue cheese on top and place grilled onions on top. Grind black pepper onto the salad salad and serve.
grainy mustard vinaigrette
1 teaspoon grainy mustard
1 orange, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, such as cabernet, merlot or pinot noir
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl or place in a food blender and process for a few seconds.