Friday, March 9, 2012

Sometimes It's The Little Things

These are not actually Balsamic Walnuts (I ate them all before taking the pic!!!)
Almost without exception, dinner just doesn't seem like "dinner" to me unless I have some form of green salad. It could be as simple as a sack-o-salad given a quick rinse (I know it says pre-washed, but I feel better giving it a twirl through my salad spinner) with some bottled dressing, but a green salad seems to complete the meal for me. I'm not a big fan of the old iceberg lettuce-cucumber-hothouse tomatoes version of salad, gravitating more towards dark green romaine lettuce, Boston lettuce, red and green leaf lettuces, arugula, field greens--heck, even thinly sliced red cabbage frequently finds its way into my salad bowl. Of course, when to serve the salad is always a question, as some people prefer it as a first course, before the entrée, while others seem to feel it belongs at the end of the meal as a sort of digestive. Me, I like to have my salad right in the middle, in a nice big bowl suitable for tossing, next to my dinner plate. That way I can alternate a bite of this with a bite of that.... kind of lends variety to the meal, in my humble opinion. Sometimes salad IS my dinner, and one of my all time favorites is a mix of crisp greens, crumbled feta, walnuts and rosemary balsamic vinaigrette.....yum!

On my lazy days, I whack up a few leave of romaine lettuce, send them for a ride through my spinner, drizzle on a simple homemade vinaigrette and dig in. When I am creating a special dinner experience, I will go all the way, preparing balsamic glazed walnuts and a sweet and tangy dressing with either fresh sliced strawberries in season, or dried sweetened cranberries during the colder months. The combination of crisp greens (especially the really intense ones like arugula), crunchy candied walnuts and sweet but tangy dressing hits all the right notes.

Here is my recipe for Strawberry Fields Salad, the perfect fit for your most elegant dinner party.

Strawberry Fields Salad
Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients for balsamic walnuts:
4 Tbs. sugar
4 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 cup walnut halves

Ingredients for salad:
2 Tbs. strawberry preserves or jam
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
mixed field greens or other salad
1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced

Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper or non-stick aluminum foil. Heat sugar, 4 tablespoons balsamic and walnuts in a large frying pan over medium heat. Stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, simmer until balsamic is nearly evaporated and nuts are well coated. Working quickly, pour the walnut mixture onto the lined baking pan. Using two forks, separate the individual nuts. (Be careful as the walnuts are wicked hot!) Bake in 350° oven for about 5 minutes until light brown. Allow to cool completely at room temperature then break the pieces apart with your fingers.

In blender container or with stick blender, combine strawberry preserves or jam with 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar. Stream in the olive oil, a little at a time until an emulsion forms. Set aside. When ready to serve, arrange salad greens in a large bowl or platter. Scatter strawberry slices over salad, drizzle with dressing and garnish with the balsamic walnuts.

Notes & Pointers:
Watch the nuts carefully both while simmering in the frying pan and baking in the oven. The high sugar content makes them go from golden brown to burnt in moments. Also be very careful not to touch them until they are completely cool. Caramelized sugar can cause a nasty burn! The walnuts can be made a couple of days before you serve, just be sure to keep them at room temperature in an airtight container. Because of the sugar content, they will draw moisture from the air and get sticky if the container is not well sealed.

When strawberries are out of season, this is also delicious made with cranberries. Use whole berry cranberry sauce instead of strawberry preserves in the dressing and serve with sweetened dried cranberries instead of the strawberries.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mrs. Armato!
As a "non-domesticated" female with little means financially to eat healthy, I appreciate the heck out of recipes like this! I myself am HUGE on eating salad as my meals often...I like to add black eyed peas or black beans (at about $.99 a can) for extra heartiness and to keep myself from piling on the cheese (semi lactarded). Also pears as a sweet pop of flavor but not the mushy ones, ew! Thanks for all your great ideas!!!!
Kiri HT

From Aunt Tina's Kitchen said...

Thank you so much for the feedback!!! My husband and I also love opening a can of salmon and a can of white beans and topping a huge bowl of greens with them....toss with your favorite vinaigrette and you've got another delicious, inexpensive and heart healthy it!