When winter finally gives way to spring warming the earth and new tender lettuce sprouting, most country home cooks begin to grace the table with wilted lettuce. It is one of those first early meals from the garden that bring us back to fresh foods.
The classic rendition features bits of bacon fried crisp in it’s own rendered fat with a bit of sugar and vinegar added to make a fine dressing. The hot dressing is poured over a large bowl of crisp tender lettuce fresh from the garden seasoned with thinly sliced green onions. Briefly tossed until the greens wilt and you have a side dish that melts the heart of gardeners and cooks alike. This is a dish your Grandma would recognize.
While I too love this homestyle version, I like to step it up into a gourmet-worthy start to a meal. Using the same new spring greens straight from the garden, I use a blend of green and red leaf lettuce, tiny spinach and even a handful of tender young dandelion leaves to make a perfect salad base. The dressing is where I part with tradition. Vinegar and honey combine to create a sweet-tart base to the dressing, while the blue cheese brings a salty note to cut the richness of the cherries. Toasted walnuts offer a meatiness that of course doesn’t equal bacon, but once you dig into this upscale salad, you won’t miss it.
• 4 cups tender salad greens
• 1/2 cup walnut pieces
• 1/3 cup dried cherries
• 3 tbsp olive oil
• 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
• 1 tbsp honey
• 2 tbsp gorgonzola or other blue cheese, crumbled or cut into pea size pieces
• salt and pepper to taste
1. Prepare greens by washing greens thoroughly then dry in a salad spinner.
2. Tear into bite size pieces and divide between two salad bowls.
3.Toast walnuts in dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, 2 -3 minutes.
4. Add olive oil and cherries. Continue cooking for 1-2 minutes. Cherries will plump slightly.
5. Add vinegar and honey, reduce heat to low and cook for 1 minute or until thoroughly blended and heated through. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
6. Ladle warm dressing over greens, dividing evenly. Top with chunks of gorgonzola and serve.
Julia Miller is the co-owner of Five Feline Farm, a modern homestead in Illinois where the cats and owners meld old skills with new technology. If you enjoyed this post, you can find more of her cooking philosophy in her book Simply Delicious.
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