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Red, White, and Green Salad

My perfect salad. I could eat this every day in one form or another. There are many forms it could take and easy variations depending on what you have or what you need to use. Just make sure you start with the red, white, and greens, a crispy crunchy fruit, a stronger cheese, and nuts. 
For instance, apple or fig would be a perfect substitute for the pear but it could even be strawberries or blueberries. Gruyere could replace gorgonzola if you are not crazy about blue cheese and really, any nut works. A nut oil for the salad dressing adds an important dimension and helps it pair even better with wine. But, a basic vinegar and olive oil dressing works just fine, too.
Author: Denise Pardini, Hotel Castello di Sinio

Ingredients

The Salad

  • 2 handfuls various hearty lettuces per person, or more
  • ½ head radicchio torn into pieces (tardivo or treviso-type radicchio is great too)
  • 1 small sweet fennel, sliced thinly preferably on a mandoline
  • 1 pear, very firm and crunchy, sliced thin on the mandoline (large chopped pieces work)
  • 1 medium gorgonzola piece cut into small chunks
  • ½ cup pecan halves, toasted (caramelized pecans optional, recipe follows)
  • 2 rashers thick-sliced bacon or prosciutto per person, cut in 1-inch pieces (optional)

Apple Cider & Walnut Oil Vinaigrette

  • cup apple cider vinegar (could also be raspberry vinegar, Champagne or Sherry)
  • 1 large shallot
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 2 TBS dijon-style mustard
  • 1 TBS sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • A few grinds of ground black pepper
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup walnut oil

Instructions

Make the vinaigrette

  • Place all the ingredients, except the olive oil and walnut oil, in a blender. Leave the shallot whole, just drop it in with everything else. Blend on med-low until all the ingredients are blended and smooth. With the blender continuing to run, drizzle in the olive oil and then walnut oil in a steady slow stream. Halfway through adding the oil, increase the speed of the blender, and finish streaming in the oil. It should emulsify nicely and fairly thick. Taste with a lettuce leaf to make sure the vinaigrette is balanced. It should have a little spark but not too much. 

Toast the Pecans (or make caramelized)

  • Turn the oven to 375° F / 190 ° C. Spread the nuts in one layer on a small cookie sheet.  Once the oven is up to temperature, bake for about 6 minutes, checking the nuts halfway and stirring them around a bit. They should be nicely toasted, but not too dark. Pecans tend to brown quite quickly so watch closely. Exact cooking times vary from oven to oven.

Make the salad

  • Greens: choose a variety of more delicate greens, wash, and dry about 2 handfuls per person
  • Fennel: slice thinly on one of those inexpensive mandolines, either lengthwise or crosswise. You can do this advance but store the sliced fennel in a container with ice water, covered and in the fridge. Dry on paper towels when ready to use.
  • Radicchio: cut up the radicchio into 1 ½  to 2-inch pieces.
  • Pear: Do not peel the pear! Wash well and slice the pear on the mandoline. Do last minute so the pear does not brown.
  • Gorgonzola: cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
  • Bacon or Prosciutto: fry in a skillet until crispy.
  • Pecans: Toasted!

Plating the salad

  • Put the greens, fennel, radicchio, and pear in a large bowl and toss with about 3 spoonfuls of vinaigrette per person. Pile the dressed greens on large dinner plates.  Divide and sprinkle evenly the gorgonzola, pecans, and bacon or prosciutto. If using bacon or prosciutto, place evenly between the salads, sprinkling each element around on the greens. Finish with a grinding of fresh black pepper.
  • Pour a lovely, medium body and fruity glass of red wine and enjoy!