- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2005

I have to admit, I am not a mesclun person. At least not the mesclun that is the salad mix available in bulk for $5 a pound. Call me a salad scrooge, but in upscale restaurants when the menu announces “field greens,” I keep on reading.

It’s not that I don’t love an intelligent combination of sweet and bitter greens, but so often these mixes contain leaves I wouldn’t eat raw, no matter how tiny they are. Stern things like red mustard are meant to be cooked. Often the leaves are mismatched flavorwise, as well as in terms of freshness, creating a mix in which some of the leaves are turning yellow or (horrors) slimy while others remain fresh.

One of my all-time favorites (perfect for this time of year) is a salad of crisp and soft, slightly bitter and mild greens tossed with sweet, juicy slices of lemon-coated pear, accented with toasted walnuts and soft, salty feta cheese.

My own personal favorite is Comice, but the bottom line with pears is this: Choose ripe over type. Use what seems ready to be eaten. A ripe pear can be an elusive thing, and finding one can be a challenge for even the most experienced cook. Pears have an annoying tendency to be hard as a baseball one day and in a state of mush two days later.

If they have more than just a bit of give, they are probably ready now. If a pear seems a little too hard to cut or eat, leave it at room temperature out of direct sunlight and check it every day. As soon as you detect the slightest pear aroma and the flesh near the stem yields a little when gently pressed, eat or refrigerate it. Even in the refrigerator, pears continue to ripen, although more slowly.

Green salad with pears, walnuts, feta

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 medium-sized perfectly ripe pear (your choice of varieties)

2 small heads soft lettuce (butter or Boson lettuce or red or green leaf or about 12 perfect leaves of romaine)

1 small head frisee, radicchio or endive, if available

Dijon-shallot vinaigrette (recipe follows)

cup crumbled feta cheese

cup minced walnuts, lightly toasted

Freshly ground black pepper

Spoon 1 tablespoon lemon juice onto a dinner plate. Cut pear into thin slices and place slices in a single layer on the plate. Drizzle pear slices with the other tablespoon of lemon juice and set aside.

Wash salad greens and spin in salad spinner until very dry. Break into bite-sized pieces and combine in a medium-large bowl. Drizzle with enough dijon-shallot vinaigrette to coat to your liking. Toss gently, adding pears, feta and walnuts as you toss. Bring to the table with a pepper mill and pass it around. Makes 4 servings as a side dish; 2 as a main dish, but it is easily multiplied.

DIJON-SHALLOT VINAIGRETTE:

1 small shallot (about 2 teaspoons minced)

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

1/8 teaspoon (heaping measure) salt

4 to 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Finely mince shallot with a very sharp knife and place in a small jar with a lid. Use a tiny whisk to beat in mustard, vinegar and salt. Keep whisking as you pour in oil in a steady stream until it thickens. Cover tightly and refrigerate.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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