Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching. To some, that means deciding which restaurant to make reservations at, to others it means scouring cookbooks for a special meal to make. I am part of group two. Hubby and I have never been big on going out for Valentine’s day. I would rather not go out on the busiest restaurant day of the year to have to wait in line or make reservations days or weeks in advance. I’d rather have a nice, quiet and relaxing meal at home.
Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday this year. So likely you won’t have to wake up early to get ready for work the next day, so go for that second (or third, or who’s counting anyway?) glass of wine. But it is on a workday, so for those who work outside the home, it means coming home late and then rushing to make something a little extra special. So I thought I’d help you prepare and post some quick meals that are still special enough to enjoy for a hot date night at home. The recipes that are included in this special Valentines day menu series are all either quick and easy to make, or can be prepared ahead of time. Today’s recipe falls in the make-ahead category.
We’ll be starting with a salad. The particular salad I’ve chosen is one I’ve made countless times. It’s substantial enough to be used it as an entree salad, but I’ve also used it as an appetizer/side-dish salad for dinner parties. I call it “Roasted Pear Salad with Parmesan and Walnuts”. It has the perfect combination of sweet, salty and sour, and even a tiny bit of bitterness from the walnuts and greens. It’s really, really good. For this particular menu, the salad would work well either served before the entree, or beside it – totally your preference.
The first, and most time consuming step in this salad is preparing the pears. I’ve used many different types of pears here – Bosc, Barletts, D’anjous (above) and whatever grows on my tree in the backyard. They have all worked just fine. BUT: you want to use pears that are on the fimer (less ripe) side. If you use pears that are very ripe, they will fall apart and end up being mushy in the salad. Plan on using roughly one half to one pear for each person you are serving. Or you can always make extra and keep the extra roasted pears in the fridge for a few days.
After they are done, they are a beautiful golden brown around the edges. They taste even sweeter now and are soft and slightly chewy around the edges. But don’t eat them all before you make the salad. Let them cool, and if you’re making them ahead, put them in an airtight container in the fridge until you’re ready to use them.
As an alternative to roasting the pears in a hot oven, you can pan roast them. Follow the same preparation steps, but instead of tossing the pear slices with melted butter (you will still toss them with sugar), melt the butter in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Roast the pears until golden brown on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side. The results won’t be quite the same as the oven roasted pears, but it’s definitely a viable option if you don’t have access to an oven, or you don’t want to bother heating it up (the pan roasted option is actually quicker). You’re done with the pears, the rest is easy.
Next is the walnuts. Coarsely chop them and toast them in a dry skillet until they’re golden brown and fragrant. Make sure you keep an eye on them and shake them around occasionally. I have burnt them several times and they are not salvageable. If you’re running short on time, you can skip toasting them. I’ve made the salad without toasting plenty of times and it tastes just fine – just a bit better if they’re toasted.
Next is the Parmesan cheese. Shave it with a vegetable peeler – it looks fancier this way.
Now for the salad dressing. All you have to do is add the vinegar, salt and pepper to a bowl and whisk. Then pour in the oil in a steady stream while you continue whisking. Done.
All that’s left is putting everything together. If you made your pears ahead of time and they’re in the fridge, take them out first think when you’re starting to get everything together so they can warm up a bit. First fill the bowl most of the way with greens. You can use whatever you prefer. You could do arugula, spring mix, baby romaine, even spinach. Then arrange the pears on top – 7-8 slices per bowl. Then sprinkle on the walnuts and Parmesan and drizzle with dressing. Note that the recipe below makes 4 large salads. If you’re using this recipe as an appetizer or side for 2, you’ll definitely want to divide the recipe in half.
- 3-4 firm pears
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter melted
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 8 cups salad greens (spring mix baby romaine, arugula or spinach)
- 4 oz Parmesan cheese shaved with a vegetable peeler
- 1 cup walnuts coarsely chopped
Adjust oven rack to lower middle position. Preheat oven to 500°F.
Wash pears and cut into quarters. Remove core and stem. Cut each quarter into 3 slices. Put the pears in a pile on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with melted butter and sugar. Toss pear slices to coat. Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes.
Remove baking sheet from oven and flip pear slices. Bake for 5 more minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Whisk vinegar, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Slowly pour in olive oil while continuing to whisk. Set aside.
Toast walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, shaking occasionally, until golden brown and fragrant. Allow to cool.
Place salad greens in individual bowls. Arrange divide pear slices among bowls and arrange on top of the greens. Divide walnuts and Parmesan among bowls and sprinkle on top of roasted pears. Drizzle dressing on each salad and serve.
The calorie content is on the high side for a salad. Most of the calories (303kcal to be exact) come from the Parmesan and walnuts. If you’re looking to save some calories, reduce the amount of both of these by half and you’ll save 152kcal, bringing each bowl to a more manageable 333kcal. Keep in mind that the recipe as written makes large salads, so you could always reduce the total portion size by half to also half everything on the nutrition label. Your salad would then be 243kcal.