Culinary Quest #12 – Pecan & Pear Salad

Oh man!  These hot temps are really pushing cool food, so here we go with my family’s weekly pick.  Recently, we visited one of our favorite eateries in D.C. called Matchbox.  Great pizza, very cool atmosphere and it is a local favorite.  And, as of this trip, home to an incredible salad.

We walked the National Zoo in record heat for 9 hours before reaching the restaurant and were hot beyond belief!  We were seated immediately, and although we never order appetizers, etc. because of our family budget, we couldn’t pass up a cold salad.  Honestly, we had eaten so much fast food on the trip from vending carts to tent stands to Union Station with its food court, I told my kids the next meal absolutely had to have something green on it.

We all shared Matchbox’s rendition of a pear, pecan and gorgonzola salad.  It was so fresh and chilled and yummy that we splurged and ordered a 2nd one to split!  My kids liked it so much, and I am bored of making the traditional lettuce, tomato, cucumber salad at home, I thought I’d try my own version of theirs.  Glad I did!

This salad is very savory, without having to use a ton of ingredients.  Sometimes, using a few flavorful ingredients packs more of a punch than many mild ingredients.  This is one of those dishes.  The sweet, sugared pecans and pears mixed with the slightly pungent gorgonzola cheese and rich balsamic vinegar makes this salad taste like you worked on it for hours – but you did’t!  (Shh, it’s our secret!)  Great to serve when impressing company or just sitting barefoot in the backyard under a shade tree.

The secret to any salad being a success, in my opinion, is the dressing.  I once paid a hefty price for a salad in a bistro.  I instantly knew at first bite that something was off.  I asked the server if the dressing was made in-house.  She confided in me that they walk across the way to the grocery store and buy a common brand by the bottle off the shelf.  What?  I knew I tasted mass production in there.  It killed the experience for me.

Below is super tasty summer salad that can be a starter, side or add protein to it (fish, chicken or steak) and you’ve got an easy one-dish meal.  The dressing is so simple, don’t settle for bottled.  Your taste buds, and budget, will thank you.  It takes me about 3 minutes to whip it up, seriously!

To mention about the sugared pecans, traditional candied pecans (often made at Christmastime) call for double the sugar and less cinnamon.  Because these are just one element to the salad, I was able to half the amount of sugar and double the cinnamon.  Just another tip to reduce calories.  We didn’t miss the sugar at all, and the extra cinnamon was tasted without overpowering the pecans.  When I bought the pecans, I used 2, 6oz bags of pieces.  This gave me an extra cup left over to either save or let my family indulge. 🙂

Also, I bought the field greens by the bag (3 bags) at a reduced price because of the sell by date.  I was using them the same day, and the sell by date was still 2 days off, yet I received $1 each bag.  Every little bit helps!  The greens were perfectly fresh.

When cooking at home, a great advantage is tweaking dishes to your preferences.  Although Matchbox’s salad was delicious, for still far less than buying it there, I was able to add extra pecans to some, extra gorgonzola to others, and still extra pears to others depending on my family’s taste.

Enjoy a taste of summer! ~ Kristi

Pecan and Pear Salad

Serves 6

Salad

15oz                       mixed field greens

7oz                          gorgonzola cheese; crumbled

3                              pears; sliced thin

2c                            sugared pecans (see below)

Honey Balsamic Dressing (see below)

************************************************************

Sugared Pecans

2c                          pecan pieces

1                             egg white

1T                           water

1/2c                       sugar

1/2t                        salt

1t                          cinnamon

************************************************************

Honey Balsamic Dressing

1/2c                        canola oil

4T                           balsamic vinegar

4T                           honey

1/4t                        salt

*************************************************************

Directions:

#1           Pecans – whip egg white and water until foamy.  Add pecan pieces to froth & mix.  Add remaining ingredients and mix until completely coated.  Spread on parchment paper-covered baking sheet & bake @ 275 for 50min – tossing twice while baking.  Slide parchment off of baking sheet and onto counter and allow pecans to cool. Set aside.  (These can be made a few days in advance. Store in airtight container.)

#2           Dressing – mix all dressing ingredients in blender, Magic Bullet, or food processor until whipped.  Set aside. (Can be made at least a week in advance. Keep refrigerated.)

#3           Salad – when ready to serve, toss lettuce with dressing in large bowl with lid.  Shake until evenly coated.  Layer on plate: lettuce, gorgonzola, pecans and then fan pears around the edge of the plate.

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