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Almond Pear Salad, a reflection of the season

In Italian culture and throughout much of Europe, salad is an integral part of the main meal and is typically served after the main course, to aid in digestion. This post-meal custom was routine in Tony's Sicilian household growing up, where a si...

Bosc pears are perfect for a winter pear salad. David Samson / The Forum
FNS Photo by Dave Samson Winter Pear Salad includes sliced bosc pear, gorgonzola crumbles, toasted almonds, sliced red onion, mixed greens and raspberry vinaigrette.
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In Italian culture and throughout much of Europe, salad is an integral part of the main meal and is typically served after the main course, to aid in digestion. This post-meal custom was routine in Tony’s Sicilian household growing up, where a simple, light salad of romaine lettuce tossed in red wine vinegar and olive oil was served at the end of every dinner.
In France, you will often find a simple salad follows the meal, while a more complex salad is served before the entrée. Here in the United States, we typically have our salad with the main course when dining family style, or just before, as is the custom at most restaurants and formal or Sunday dinners.
I was curious as to why the customs vary from one continent to another, but a bit of online research didn’t yield much clarification. Instead, I found a great sampling of opinion, both sides very passionate, about when a salad should be eaten.
Americans who had spent time in Italy and France were nearly vitriolic about our wayward placement of the salad course in the States, voicing their disgust with a virtual eye roll and sometimes even colorful language. Others were insistent that we “are not Italy or France,” so the salad should only be served before the meal.
What I love about the melting pot of America is that there isn’t just one correct way to do most things, as our culture carries the influence of many customs. Neither Tony nor I really care when you eat a salad, but we do believe that it is an important part of every dinner.
Menu planning requires not only creativity, but intention. Not only should the various foods at a meal complement one another and reflect the season, but they should each serve a purpose, which could be color, flavor, texture, digestion, nutrition or all of the above.
The purpose of a salad varies depending on its ingredients: In Tony’s family, the simple salad was served mainly as an aid for good digestion. At fine-dining restaurants, the salads can be more complex, consisting of multiple ingredients like fruit, nuts, cheese and vegetables, and are thus better enjoyed before the main course.
Today’s Almond Pear Salad is a perfect example of a complex salad, and we would typically serve it before the main course. But, if you examine its ingredients, one could argue that it would also be an excellent post-meal choice.
Here’s why: In Italy and France, the salad is often followed by a cheese course and a fruit course, but you will rarely find this custom in the States. This almond pear salad is a great way to combine the three courses into one, as it features mixed greens tossed in raspberry vinaigrette with toasted slivered almonds, fresh slices of Bosc pear, crumbles of Gorgonzola cheese and a bit of sliced red onion.
This complex salad is simple to prepare and uses ingredients that complement each other, reflect the season and contribute to the overall nutritional value of the dish.
Tony is partial to the Bosc pear, but you could use any variety you prefer. The raspberry vinaigrette can be made up to a week in advance and is a simple blend of extra virgin olive oil, raspberry vinegar (available in most grocery stores), salt and pepper.
I love this salad no matter when it’s served. In fact, with a bit of grilled chicken added, it would be a perfect choice for lunch. But that’s a whole other topic.
Almond Pear Salad
Serves 4 to 6
Mixed greens (one bag)
2 Bosc pears, thinly sliced (with the skin-on)
1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds
¼ cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
½ red onion, thinly sliced
Raspberry Vinaigrette (recipe below)
Combine all ingredients together, toss with vinaigrette and serve.
Raspberry Vinaigrette
3 ounces extra virgin olive oil
1 ounce raspberry vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Whisk all ingredients together until emulsified. Serve immediately.
Tony’s tips
V Always taste your food before serving to adjust the seasoning if necessary. In this case, taste the vinaigrette after making it, and then taste the salad after tossing; add salt and pepper as desired.
V Vinaigrette can be refrigerated for at least one week.
V Use a squirt bottle or Mason jar to store vinaigrette. Shake well before each use.
“Home With the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello.

Related Topics: FOOD
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