Monday, March 24, 2008

March 24: Spinach & Basil Salad with Tomatoes, Candied Walnuts, & Warm Bacon Dressing

I talked to my mother on the phone last night, and she said that southwestern Michigan got ten inches of snow over the weekend. Here the trees are budding, it hits 50 by mid-morning most days, and winter is giving up the fight, and in Michigan, it's sledding weather.

I miss winter, if you want to know the truth. I'm a cold-weather girl, I like the sound of snow under my boots, I like scarves and mittens and how quiet everything is with a few inches of snow on the ground. It drives me crazy that there's never enough snow here to make it worth even dragging out my down jacket.

This is a fantastic winter salad. Even in the dead of winter, when there's not a decent tomato to be found, grape or cherry tomatoes are entirely edible. The basil, you may have to search for a little, if there's not a Trader Joe's or a Whole Foods near you, but it's doable. Really, nothing else in here is a particularly exotic ingredient--most decently stocked grocery stores have herbes de Provence now.

Take the time to make the candied walnuts. In fact, make extra. They're delicious tossed with cooked carrots with some crumbled bacon, as a topping for ice cream or fruit crisps, or just eaten out of hand.

Spinach & Basil Salad with Tomatoes, Candied Walnuts, & Warm Bacon Dressing

1/2 pound baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
6 slices bacon
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons dried herbes de Provence
1.2 teaspoon dehydrated minced or granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Candied Walnuts (recipe follows)

In a large salad bowl, toss the spinach and basil together.

Cut each slice of bacon into thirds. Cook in a skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, drain on paper towels.. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat. Crumble the bacon into pieces

In a medium bowl, whisk the vinegar with the mustard. Slowly whisk in 1/3 cup of of the olive oil, then whisk in the 1 tablespoon bacon fat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside in a warm place.

Position an oven rack as close as possible to the broiler element. Put a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet on the rack and heat the broiler to high. Toss the tomatoes with the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil, the herbes de Provence, and kosher salt. Pour the tomatoes onto the hot pan and broil, stirring occasionally, until the skins are cracked and blistered, and the flesh is warmed through, 4-5 minutes. Transfer the tomatoes with a slotted spoon to the bowl with the salad dressing. Stir to coat and mix the seasonings into the dressing.

Just before serving, transfer the tomatoes from the dressing to another bowl with a slotted spoon. Whisk the dressing to recombine. Add half the bacon to the greens. Drizzle with dressing and toss lightly to coat. Don't overdress.

Garnish with the tomatoes, the remaining bacon, and some of the candied walnuts (you'll have leftovers.) Serve immediately.

Candied Walnuts

1/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch cayenne
1 large egg white, at room temperature
1 tablespoon water
1/2 pound walnut halves

Heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a small bowl, mix together sugars, salt, cinnamon and cayenne. In a large bowl, whisk the egg white until frothy; whisk in the water until combined. Add the walnuts and stir to coat. Sprinkle on the sugar mixture and stir to evenly distribute.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat. Spread the nuts in a single layer on the sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, stir, and continue baking until the smell toasted and the sugar coating has caramelized, about another 15 minutes.

Let nuts cool on the pan, separating them as they cool. When completely cool, transfer to an airtight container. They'll keep for two weeks.

1 comment:

merseydotes said...

I'm glad you mentioned the seasonality issue because it is just hard for me to eat green salads in the winter, especially with tomatoes. We have hosted two dinners parties in the past couple of months and made the same salad for each: greens with roasted beet, blood orange sections, goat cheese and an orange-dijon vinaigrette. But I just can't bring myself to eat tomatoes before we turn the heat off for the year. It just feels wrong. This does sound delicious, however, and I will file it away for warmer times.