Salads don't always have to contain green lettuces, like basic iceberg or bibb, other colors, textures, and flavors can make an interesting combination. I love bitter lettuces, such as purple radicchio and white endive. Add pungent cheese, sweet and juicy pears, and crunchy walnuts to the mix, dress it in a Dijon-maple vinaigrette, and it becomes a festive fall salad that can be enjoyed as an elegant appetizer. Roasting the pears with a drizzle of maple syrup creates another level of flavor and intensifies their sweetness. I use Seckel pears, which are a small and quite firm variety of pear. They work extremely well when cooked and don't lose their texture at all, making them ideal in this salad.
Texture is what this salad is all about: the interplay of crunchy, crinkly, smooth, creamy, and crispy. Radicchio, with its deep purple and white leaves, adds color and crinkly texture to the salad. Endive is firm and crunchy in its texture. Both lettuces have a slight bitterness that contrasts well with the sweetness of the pears and of the maple vinaigrette. Further play on texture comes from the creamy Roquefort bleu cheese and crunchy toasted walnuts. Those unfamiliar with such a unique flavor combination might think this salad would be too strong, but it's truly complementary.
Fall and winter are the best times to grow and enjoy lettuces, which flourish in cool temperatures. Loose leaf lettuces can easily be grown in cold frames. Harvest only the outer leaves so that the inner leaves continue to grow. This salad, however, uses two specialty lettuces, which aren't often grown in home gardens. Many might recognize radicchio in salad mixes but think it is red cabbage. In fact it's a lettuce in the bitter chicory family. When it is grown it looks a lot like a big ruffly head of dark green cabbage, but only the deep purple inner core is harvested. Endive, almost tulip-like in its shape, is also in the chicory family. It's grown in complete darkness so that the leaves remain a pale creamy white. The small lettuce heads are cut so that their roots can grow new endive.
This fall I'm participating in A Way to Garden's first Fall Fest, a continuation of Summer Fest. Every Wednesday a summer produce will be the theme. This Wednesday it's salad. To participate all you have to do is something as simple as leaving a comment or linking to a favorite blog post or informational site. You can share gardening tips, recipes, and/or pictures. Visit the Fall Fest link for more information. Many other blogs are participating and it would be great to see how far the conversation goes.
Roasted Seckel Pear, Endive, and Radicchio Salad with Roquefort and Walnuts
4 Seckel pears, halved, cored, and rubbed with lemon
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil, plus more for drizzling
2 teaspoons maple syrup, plus more for drizzling
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 heads Belgian endive, sliced into strips
1 head radicchio, leaves torn
4 ounces Roquefort, crumbled
1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Toss pear halves in a drizzle of oil and maple syrup. Place cut side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast until knife tender, about 8 minutes. Let cool slightly.
In a large bowl, whisk together oil, maple syrup, lemon juice, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Add endive and radicchio; toss until coated. Divide among 4 salad plates. Top with crumbled Roquefort and chopped walnuts. Nestle 2 pear halves into each salad. Yield: 4 appetizer servings.