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Pears, Blue Cheese & Walnuts w/Baby Greens


We don't have green salads very often, but our hands-down favorite is this pear, blue cheese & toasted walnuts on a bed of baby greens. Now pears, nuts and cheeses can also serve as a or pre-dessert or dessert course, and I actually prefer this salad after the entree. The acriditiy in the walnuts and mustardy, nutty vinaigrette is the perfect foil for the play between the sweet pears and salty, musky cheese. This is another one of those dishes where the synergy in the whole surpasses the sum of the individual parts.

Of course, the star here is the blue cheese so use the best quality you can find, Maytag and Amish blues are our favorites in the US; Roquefort (Papillon brand, if available) in the Continent. The pears, too are important; search out ones with a creamy texture when ripe such as Bartletts/Williams or Packhams. Oriental/nashi pears are delicious, but the synergy is not present when we tried this combination. And don't forget the walnuts. I don't like walnuts — in any recipe where I can substitute another nut or omit them completely, I will do it in a New Your minute! But there's something about the tannins in the skins and the slightly sweet taste brought on by the toasting that makes the walnuts a crucial part of the synergy. The salad seems "flat" without them — see, we did try to leave them out once!

PEAR, BLUE CHEESE & WALNUTS WITH BABY GREENS AND HAZELNUT VINAIGRETTE
For 2 people
Place salad plates in refrigerator to chill for at least an hour.

1/2 cup walnuts
Preheat small counter top oven to 400F/200C. Position oven rack to the highest tier. Chop nuts coarsely and place them on a tray. When oven is fully pre-heated, place nuts in top rack and roast for one minute, then turn off heat and lave oven door closed until pan completely cools. Meanwhile, prepare vinaigrette and salad.

For the Hazelnut Vinaigrette:
1 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
1/4 tsp. sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. raw sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. white or red wine vinegar
1/4 cup hazelnut oil (or walnut oil)

In a small bowl, put mustard, salt, pepper, sugar and lemon juice and whisk well to dissolve salt and sugar. Add vinegar and whisk again until incorporated. Add all of the oil, and whisk vigorously to emulsify. Set aside.

2 firm-ripe Bartlett, or other creamy type, pears
4 cups of baby greens, or mache
2 oz. chunk of Maytag or other quality blue cheese

Peel pears, then quarter lengthwise and remove core. Slice each quarter lengthwise into 3-4 pieces.
Place 2 cups of greens on each chilled plate. and lay 2 quarters (1/2 pear) over greens.
With a fork, separate small chunks of cheese and scatter over salad. Add cooled walnuts.
Drizzle Vinaigrette over all and serve immediately with or without sliced baguettes on the side.