A salad may not be the first thing that comes to mind when gloweringly grey skies close in and rain starts plopping down. But bear with me here, because this salad is no wishy-washy, lighter-than-light, sunny day food. No sir.
There are pears (more of the buggers from the tree), nuts, and – the not-very-secret weapon that makes this a great autumnal dish – great creamy lumps of gooey blue-veined stilton. All smooth and strong with a hint of sharpness, the James Bond of the cheese world.
As noted previously, I have a surplus of pears, and necessity being the mother of invention, I wanted to find non-dessert ways of using them up. Taking the traditionally end-of-the-meal combo of pears and stilton and making it the main event seemed a good way to do this.
Slightly under-ripe pears work really well here. They are a little sharp, not too sweet and have bit of bite to them. Perfect for slicing wafer thin and a great foil for oozing ripe stilton.
The nuts – and you could use walnuts, pecans, almonds or macadamias here – bring the sharpness and piquancy of the other two main ingredients down to earth. They add some real oomph to the salad.
Finally the onions – a vital ingredient – are sliced super thin and scattered around. The pungent flavour brings balance to the salad. And this is so important. An unbalanced salad is just a morass of different flavours pin-balling from taste bud to taste bud, an entropic mess.
Get the balance right and flavours build on one another leaving you with a harmonious whole. This is why the dressing is so important. Here, a simple mix of lemon juice and a fruity Sicilian olive oil melds all those precariously balanced flavours together. Mellowing the onions, spritzing up the nuts, bringing a gentle sweetness from the pears and lifting the cheese.
Make sure you keep everything in check and you’ll have a perfect mix of autumnal flavours. And, if you add some bread, a surprisingly substantial meal.
2 small pears – quartered, cored and finely sliced
A wedge of stilton (or any other piquant creamy blue cheese)
A handful of hazelnuts roughly chopped
Half a red onion – finely sliced into wafer thin rounds
Autumn salad leaves
Half a lemon
A glug of E. V. olive oil
Combine the ingredients as you see fit (I build them in layers), squeeze over the lemon, pour over a little olive oil (don’t swamp it), grind some black pepper and eat.