Sunday, May 9, 2010

Starter - Strawberry and Caramelized Walnut Salad with Orange-Basil Vinaigrette

Recipe Source: Eggs on Sunday

1 pint strawberries (preferably local, preferably organic!)
8 thin or 4 regular scallions, sliced thinly
your choice of greens, preferably something that's got some spiciness, like arugula or a braising greens mix - figure about 2 generous handfuls per person
1 cup raw whole walnuts
1/3 cup sugar
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Orange-Basil vinaigrette; see below


Slice strawberries and scallions and set aside. Wash greens and spin them dry, and set them aside.
There are two ways I caramelize walnuts:
Method #1: Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet an toast them in a 350 F oven for about 5 minutes (don't forget about them! They'll go from toasted to burned fairly quickly.) You'll know they're almost done when you start smelling fragrant toasted walnut smells throughout your kitchen - yum! Remove the walnuts from the oven and set aside. Spread a piece of parchment paper or a silicone mat near the stovetop (this is for the hot walnuts after you toss them in the sugar syrup you're going to make.) Now, in a small saucepan, heat the 1/3 cup sugar over medium heat until it begins to melt. All the sugar should melt into a clear liquid; keep it on the heat and it will start to turn an amber color. Once it start to turn amber, toss in the walnuts, and use a silicone spatula to gently stir them around. You'll want to get them pretty evenly coated in the sugar syrup.

Method #2: Place the walnuts in a saucepan with the sugar and a teaspoon or so of water. Heat over medium heat until the sugar melts and the walnuts are getting toasted, about 5 minutes. You'll probably get some sugar crystals on the walnuts this way, which may not matter to you.

For both methods, as soon as the walnuts are coated in amber sugar syrup, turn them out onto the piece of parchment paper (or silicone mat). Use your spatula to try to tease them apart from the clumps they will have formed. Don't worry too much about it; they'll be easier to separate once they've cooled down. When they're cool enough to handle, you can break apart any clumps of walnuts.

Assemble the salad by tossing the greens with about half of the vinaigrette to start. Add more vinaigrette according to your taste. Place the dressed greens on each of 4 plates, and top with the sliced strawberries, caramelized walnuts, and sliced scallions. Top with crumbled goat or feta cheese, or if you don't have that, any other nice cheese will do alongside, with a nice slab of crusty bread.
Serves 4.

Orange Basil Vinaigrette

juice of 1 orange, about 1/4 cup
1 small shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon champagne or white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
a pinch of coarse salt and a good grinding of black pepper

Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
Makes about 3/4 cup.

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