Sunday, February 28, 2010

escarole salad with pickled red onions

City Bakery’s hot chocolate festival can only go so far to relieve the winter doldrums. February (officially the longest month ever, despite what experts say) has left me feeling defeated, and decidedly ready for spring…

Or perhaps not entirely decided. Because, while I’ve lost my tolerance for winter’s ubiquitous slush puddles and 5:30 p.m. sunsets, I’m still loving the food. Beets, salsify, brussels sprouts—my appetite for cold-weather ingredients is inexhaustible.

Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the winter salad. To some, salads may seem inimical to the season. But look past the waxy tomatoes and wilted iceberg lettuce, and I promise that winter is full of forage-centric potential.

Exhibit A:

Escarole Salad with Pickled Red Onions
Adapted from Anne Burrell

Escarole, endive, chicory—these winter greens tend to have a more robust flavor (and texture) than their temperate counterparts. Here the bitterness of the escarole is harnessed for good, playing perfectly off the brininess of the pecorino, and the sweet bite of the pickled onions. I’ve admired variations on this theme at several restaurants: Lupa, Otto, Frankies. But Burrell’s hazelnut-pecorino-parsley crumb sets this version apart. I love this salad on its own, or accompanying a simple pasta (for instance, the Fettuccine with Peas and Parmesan).

For the salad:
1/2 cup grated pecorino
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
1 head escarole, washed, spun dry, cut into bite size pieces
High-quality extra-virgin olive oil

For the pickled onions:
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup cold water
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 to 3 generous shots hot sauce (e.g. Tabasco)
1 red onion, peeled, halved and sliced into very thin half-moons

Make the pickled onions: In a small bowl, combine red wine vinegar with 1/2 cup of cold tap water. Stir in salt, the sugar and the hot sauce. Add the sliced onions and let sit for at least one hour.

Pulse the pecorino, hazelnuts and parsley in the food processor and pulse until they are coarsely chopped.

Toss together the escarole, hazelnut mixture and some of the pickled red onions and dress with some of the pickling liquid and olive oil. (If you have hazelnut oil on hand, you can drizzle some of that as well.) Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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