Pear and Pomegranate Salad with Late Harvest Riesling Vinaigrette, Candied Bacon, and Spiced Pecans
This is a take-notice salad, one to be served as part of a special meal or perhaps as a special meal. There are several components, but they are worth the effort.
The salad gets a touch of color from pomegranate seeds, known as arils. When selecting a pomegranate, don’t go by looks. A bruised and battered pomegranate is more ripe and tasty than a shiny perfect one, but it should still be plump and feel heavy for its size. Pomegranate juice stains everything it touches, so submerge the pomegranate in a bowl of water when pulling off the skin and loosening the arils from the membranes. The water will contain the spray of juices.
The recipes for the candied bacon and spiced pecans will make more than you need for the salad, but that’s a good thing. It’s nearly impossible to resist nibbling when they come from the oven, so making extra might be the only way to ensure there’s enough left to go on the salad.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 ripe but firm pears
1 tart green crisp apple
Late Harvest Riesling Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
4 cups lightly packed baby arugula, frisée, Belgian endive, and/or thinly sliced radicchio
Arils of 1 pomegranate (about 1/2 cup)
6 to 8 strips Candied Bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces (recipe follows)
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 cup Spiced Pecans (recipe follows)
1/4 cup beet micro greens (optional)
1. Unless the skins are thick or blemished, don’t peel the pears and apple. Core and cut into thin slices or matchsticks. Place in a bowl and toss gently with about 1//4 cup of the vinaigrette to prevent browning.
2. Toss the salad greens with enough vinaigrette to moisten and spread onto a large serving platter or serving plates.
3. Arrange the pears, apple, pomegranate arils, candied bacon, blue cheese, and spiced pecans over the greens. Drizzle any remaining vinaigrette over the salad. Sprinkle with micro greens, if using, and serve straightaway.
What else works? You can use Asian pears in place of regular pears. Try red seedless grapes or champagne grapes in place of the pomegranate. You can also use other greens, although small leafy greens work better than crisp lettuce. You can also simplify the recipe by using unglazed pecans and bacon that is not candied.
Late Harvest Riesling Vinaigrette
This delicate vinaigrette is perfect for any green salad that includes fresh or roasted fruit. The vinegar is made from Riesling grapes that are left on the vines so long that they become slightly shriveled with concentrated sweetness. The vinegar is so tasty and mild that you could nearly sip it as an aperitif.
When making vinaigrette, I choose particular oils and vinegars according to the flavors of the salad. If a salad has a particular nut in it, I like to reinforce that flavor by including some of that nut’s oil. Nut oils can be very strong, so they taste best when balanced with milder oil in a recipe. See page 000 for more tips on using nut oils.
Makes about 3/4 cup
1/4 cup late harvest Riesling vinegar
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons grapeseed oil or mild and fruity extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons pecan oil or walnut oil
Ground black pepper, to taste
1. Combine the vinegar, shallot, and salt in a medium glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and let sit for 5 minutes. Add the mustard, grapeseed oil, and pecan oil. Close the jar and shake vigorously to mix well. Season with pepper and additional salt, if needed.
2. Use soon or refrigerate for up to 1 week. Return to room temperature, shake vigorously, and check the seasoning before serving.
Variation: Replace the late harvest Riesling vinegar with raspberry or pear vinegar to make other mild, fruity vinaigrettes.
After years of many people pretending they don’t eat bacon and don’t even like it, we have come clean and admitted we love the stuff. I know three people who are strictly vegetarian except for bacon on Christmas morning. Because of that devotion, some silly, gimmicky things are being done with bacon these days. This isn’t silly—it’s sensational pig candy that is simultaneously salty, smoky, sweet, spicy, and sticky. It’s good for breakfast, salads, and all by itself. If you cut it into short lengths or triangles and put it in a bowl to serve as party food, your guests will sing your praises.
Makes 12 to 16 slices, depending on the thickness of the bacon (at least 1 serving)
Vegetable oil spray
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1 pound highest-quality sliced bacon
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Set a wire rack inside a large rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil or parchment. Mist the rack with the spray.
2. Stir together the brown sugar, cayenne, and mustard in a small bowl.
3. Arrange the bacon on the rack and bake until almost crisp, about 8 minutes.
4. Sprinkle the tops of the slices generously and evenly with the sugar mixture. Try not to scatter it onto the pan, where it will burn and turn black.
5. Bake the bacon until it is crisp and the sugar is bubbling, about 8 minutes more. Let the bacon cool on the rack until the glaze is firm.
Spiced pecans are a southern classic. Because these are neither too sweet nor too salty, they have uses beyond being a spot-on bar snack to serve with bourbon or sparkling wine. For example, they are great on salads as a creative, crunchy alternative to croutons. They also serve as that little something that makes a cheese plate look finished. A package of these pecans makes a gracious gift from the kitchen.
Because nuts are available year-round, we can forget that they are seasonal. Tree nuts are ready to harvest in autumn, which is the original reason that they are so popular in fall and in winter holiday recipes. When nuts are freshly shelled and still plump, buttery, and moist, they are clearly superior to packaged nuts that have been stored for months.
Pecans are the most southern of tree nuts, and there will always be good-natured debate on how to pronounce the word. How a person says “pecan” depends on where that person grew up, so I try to respect those hometown differences. I say “puh-cahn,” mostly because one of my elementary schoolteachers said that a “pee can” was what great-granny hid under the bed. That image made a lasting impression on me.
Makes 4 cups
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
4 cups raw pecan halves (about 1 pound)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the salt, pepper, cayenne, cinnamon, brown sugar, and rosemary. Add the nuts and stir well until well coated with the butter mixture.
3. Spread the pecans on a large, rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.
4. Pour into a serving bowl and serve warm or at room temperature.
What else works? You can use other nuts, or a medley. If the nuts are already salted, you probably will not need to use salt in the recipe.
Make-ahead note: You can store in an airtight container up to 3 days. The nuts can be reheated in a 300°F oven for 10 minutes.
Recipes from The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers’ Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes by Sheri Castle. Copyright © 2011 by Sheri Castle.