One way of dealing with salads while speaking the language of winter is to cook them. I once had a fantastic grilled romaine salad with a super creamy vinaigrette, sort of a cooked take on the classic wedge salad. Then, last weekend I had another cooked salad; this one with big half-rounds of griddle-seared purple radicchio, chopped walnuts, and mushrooms. I liked the idea of a salad with a flash-cooked winter green like radicchio, but didn't dig the walnuts and mushrooms.
Then I had a fantasy that these two salads mate.
Out comes a salad with cooked bitter greens, but this time featuring longer leaner endive and treviso, soaked in honey and seared. Then add pecans instead of walnuts to cut back on the tongue puckering tanins. Beets in a winter salad is a no-brainer and blue cheese is a nice complement to beets and nuts. Tangy, smoky Roquefort makes two appearances: whisked into the salad and crumbled over the top.
There are lots of possibilities for substitutions in this recipe: use cabbage, romaine or bok choy instead of radicchio and endive; swap out the pecans for another nut variety; use goat cheese instead of blue cheese, or skip the cheese completely. As always with salad dressings, the vinegar and oils listed are merely suggestions. I think these flavors work well but don't fret about buying walnut oil if you have all the other ingredients; just use olive oil. The same goes for the champagne vinegar: I find it to be a versatile acid for my pantry, but if you have a good white wine vinegar or mild sherry vinegar, try it. The idea is to have a gentle dressing that will support the blue cheese and the cooked greens.
There are no hard and fast rules here, folks. It's all one big experiment anyway.
Grilled Bitter Greens Salad with Roasted Beets, Spiced Pecans & Roquefort
2 medium beets
4 small heads Treviso radicchio
4 heads Belgian endive
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
Freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup pecans
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup walnut oil
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
3 ounces Roquefort cheese, divided
1/2 pound mixed greens, spinach or arugula
Place a rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 375° F.
Rinse the beets and trim off the leafy tops (reserve for a recipe using beet greens). Wrap each beet loosely in aluminum foil and place in the oven. Roast until tender and easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife, about 1 hour.
Remove from the oven and take off foil. Set aside to cool.
When cool enough to handle, slice off each leaf end. Push off the skin using your thumbs. If the skin doesn't easily strip away, the beets probably need more time in the oven. Try another 10 minutes.
When peeled, slice the beets into large bite-sized pieces.
While the beets are roasting, slice the radicchio and endive lengthwise in half and arrange on a plate or small roasting pan. In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, the 2 tablespoons honey, about 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Pour this mixture evenly over the radicchio and endive. Set aside.
Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add the nuts, honey, and cayenne. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, until the nuts give off a toasty scent and brown slightly. Remove from the skillet carefully with a fork and arrange across a plate or piece of parchment paper.
Make the dressing by combining the oil, vinegar, and 2 tablespoons crumbled Roquefort in a jar and shaking vigorously, or whisk to emulsify in a small bowl.
Heat a large grill pan or skillet over high heat, or prepare a grill. Place the radicchio and endive cut-side down and cook, undisturbed, for about 4 minutes (less if grilling directly over fire).
Toss the mixed greens and the beets with the dressing and divide evenly between four serving plates. Place two halves of radicchio and two halves of endive on each plate. Sprinkle with the nuts and Roquefort, dividing evenly between the four plates. Top with more cracked pepper and sea salt, to taste.
(Images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)