We like our salad here, we do - there's hardly a meal that is not served with a big bowl of leaves on the side and in the warmer months, we often make a meal of it. For this purpose, I love to play around with various dressings and always have at least a dozen bottles of different oils and vinegars open, so that I can mix a suitable vinaigrette depending on the ingredients of the salad. A former nanny of ours explained upon her arrival that, looking at the pictures we sent, she was hesitant to sign up with us at the beginning, due to the fact that there were so many bottles of liquor and wine standing around on the worktops in the kitchen - she must have been really relieved to find they were no more than precious oils and vinegars from all over the world and we were not a bunch of hopeless alcoholics!
In the colder months, a bowl of salad is usually not comforting enough to withstand the weather oustside (or is it just hormones that make my appetite insatiable?), so a side salad is all we tend to have. Last night, though, I felt like serving a salad as a starter - and of course, I chose plenty of wintery flavours for it... fennel, pear, orange, pecan nuts and a generous helping of sweet and smooth cave-aged cheese! For the vinaigrette, I used olive oil infused with nuts and a raspberry baslamic vinegar, deliciously fruity and sweet - and the whole affair taught me that a salad can indeed be comforting enough for those dreadful winter months. I intend to play around more with other winter warmers like butternut squash, celeriac, parsnip, pomegranate and all those other flavours that are seasonal now, especially since I will need some quick and easy dishes in the upcoming few weeks when I'll have other things on my mind...
Winter salad with fennel, pear, orange and pecan
(serves 6 as a starter)
1 large fennel bulb
some lemon juice
1 pack rocket salad (110 g)
1 generous handful pecan nuts
1 firm pear (I used Conference)
100 g Comte cheese
For the vinaigrette:
½ tsp dijon mustard
½ tsp herb paste (Milherb) - use fresh herbs instead
4 tbsp olive oil (nut infused, if you like)
4 tbsp raspberry balsamic vinegar
Cut the fennel into very thin slivers using a mandolin. Toss in a little lemon juice to prevent it from browning. Fillet the oranges, removing all membranes and retaining the juice if possible. Roughly chop the pecans, then toast them in a non-stick pan, without oil, until they're browning and fragrant. Core the pear and cut into thin wedges or bite-sized pieces. Brush with lemon juice to keep from browning. Cut the cheese into bite-size slivers.
Combine all the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a bowl and beat with a fork until well combined.
Toss all the ingredients for the salad in a large bowl, then pour over the vinaigrette.
Serve in the bowl or on individual plates, with some crusty bread on the side.