Digging into the Thanksgiving Day feast is a joy, but preparing it takes work. This Green Salad with Pear Dressing is a simple but elegant first course, and it will take some of the stress out of the gig. And — bonus! — it's lighter than the usual holiday recipe. How did we do it? By swapping out some of the oil in favor of a very flavorful pear puree.
Indeed, this salad is an ode to pears, teamed up with a couple of their best buddies: walnuts and blue cheese. (Cheese!? So much for lightness, right? Not really. There's only half-an-ounce per person.) You'll need one very ripe pear for the dressing and two firm ripe pears to slice and add to the salad, so planning ahead is key. Most pears in the supermarket are rock hard when you buy them and need several days to ripen. You can speed up the process by placing them in a brown paper bag alongside a bunch of bananas.
Walnut oil is our oil of choice because it complements the pear's sweetness. (It also happens to be wonderful drizzled on vegetables, raw or cooked, and on all sorts of cheeses.) My favorite brand is La Tourangelle from France, but there are many other brands, both domestic and imported, that will do the job. Just be sure to store it in the refrigerator once you've opened it because walnut oil — like any other nut or seed oil — can go rancid easily if left at room temperature too long. Still, if you don't want to invest in a bottle — it's a little pricey — use safflower or sunflower oil instead.
Likewise, you're welcome to swap in a different nut for the walnuts and a different cheese for the blue cheese, including Parmigiano-Reggiano, goat cheese, or aged gouda.
You can whip up the dressing, toast and chop the nuts, and crumble the cheese several days before the big feast. Then on Turkey Day there's nothing to do but toss the salad, slice the pears and serve. It's the kind of salad that looks very pretty on the plate.
Green Salad with Pear Dressing, Gorgonzola and Toasted Walnuts
Start to finish: 40 minutes (20 active)
1 very ripe small pear, peeled, cored and sliced 1/2-inch thick (it should measure 2/3-3/4 cup sliced), plus 2 firm ripe pears (preferably red)
1/3 cup distilled white vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 tablespoons walnut oil
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
8 cups loosely packed watercress, arugula or greens of your choice
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
4 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola Dolce, Roquefort, or blue cheese of your choice
In a small saucepan combine the sliced pear, vinegar, honey and salt; bring to a boil. Simmer until the mixture is reduced to 2/3 cup. Let cool slightly, transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until smooth. Add the oil and pepper; pulse one or two times. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if desired.
Core the remaining pears and slice thin. In a large bowl drizzle the watercress with some of the pear dressing and toss well. Mound one-eighth of the salad on each of eight plates and top each portion with the walnuts, Gorgonzola Dolce and sliced pears.
Nutrition information per serving: 170 calories; 112 calories from fat; 12 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 13 mg cholesterol; 261 mg sodium; 11 g carbohydrates; 3 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 5 g protein.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton is host of public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals." She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows, including "Cooking Live." Her latest cookbook is "HomeCooking 101."