Mixed Greens with Roasted Pears, Blue Cheese, and Spiced Pecans
This salad appeared on the menu of my game-based restaurant, Wild Hare, for the entire four years we were open. Our customers wouldn't let us take it off. Blue cheese provides just the right salty-tangy punch.
2 ripe but firm pears, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces pecan halves
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 medium shallot, minced
4 ounces (4 big handfuls) mixed baby greens (mesclun mix), rinsed and spun dry
4 ounces blue cheese such as Maytag or Roquefort
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Use a teaspoon measure to scoop the core from the centers of the pear quarters; discard. Place the pears in a salad bowl with 1 tablespoon of hte olive oil, 1 tablespoon of the vinegar, and a pinch each of sea salt and pepper. Toss to evenly coat the pears, then transfer them cut side down to a rimmed baking sheet. (No need to was the bowl; you can incorporate any remaining juices into the dressing.) Bake until a knife pierces the flesh all the way through with only a little resistance, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven but leave the oven on. Cool the pears for 15 minutes, then cut them into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Set aside.
While the pears roast, toss the pecans in a small bowl with the brown sugar, 2 tablespoons water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, the chili powder, and cayenne, stirring to dissolve the sugarand distribute the spices. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or baking parchment and spread the nuts in a single layer. (Alternatively, use a nonstick pan.) Bake until the nuts are light brown in the center when you bite into one, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
To make the dressing, mix the remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar with the shallots in the bowl you used to coat the pears. Slowly drizzle in the remaiing 1/2 cup olive oil while whisking continuously to emulsify the dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Just before serving, add the greens and pear slices to the dressing. Toss gently with two large spoons or your hands until everything is well coated. Toss in the pecans. Place a mound of salad in the middle of each plate, taking care to distribute the pears and pecans evenly. Crumble the blue cheese over the salads and dust them lightly with freshly ground black pepper.
Comice, Anjou, or Bosc pears are good choices as they remain firm when roasted. (Firm Boscs will take longer to roast.)
A flavorful goat cheese will also work.
Be sure to include something that bites back in the salad mix. Anything from the chicory family will do--try curly or Belgian endive, escarole, radicchio, or frisee.
The pecans can be made up to a few days in advance. If you like, double them and store the completely cooled nuts in a tightly sealed container to have on hand for snacking.