I’ll never forget the first Thanksgiving I spent in the United States, away from my Canadian family. Though we feasted for the Canadian celebration each year (about a month earlier), nothing prepared me for the smorgasbord of food at my first Thanksgiving with a family of mid-westerners.
It was a huge affair, upwards of two dozen people, and everyone contributed, potluck-style. I recall going over the list of who was bringing what—it made my mouth water—but it also sounded pretty heavy. Lots of cheese and creamy goodness. Bacon, bread, potatoes. And more bread…
This was many years ago, and I wasn’t nearly as aware of my food choices, especially how food made me feel, but I still was more health-minded than the average population. So, I suggested maybe we add a “light salad,” thinking it might cut through some of the weight of the rest of the meal; encourage a little dose of freshness into the mix.
My request was heeded, and some out-of-state aunt volunteered to bring salad.
And, of course, it was laden with about twenty ingredients: bacon, two types of cheese, croutons, and thick, creamy dressing. I think there might have even been crunched-up tortilla chips in there.
Delicious, but not exactly what I had in mind.
What I love, and had hoped for, is a simple, low-ingredient salad to adorn a big meal, highlighting a few of the brightest flavors of the season. A salad rounds it all out, in my opinion. And if made with attention and a small handful of complementary ingredients, a great salad has the ability to be an accompaniment to the wonderful flavors of a meal, and also shine on its own.
This Arugula-Pear Salad is just such a dish. Simple, elegant, autumn flavors. Minimalist—made with only six ingredients—one might never guess the multiple layers of taste and texture are so simple to create.
It’s got every element I believe makes a killer salad: a fine balance of tart and spicy, with a touch of sweet and a hint of salt, all rounded out with a crunch. The flavors pair especially well with the tastes of the autumnal season, and the fresh acidity from the dressing provides a foil for the rich, creamy food so often eaten during the holiday.
Arugula-Pear Salad with Hazelnuts and Parmigiano Reggiano
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 8 minutes
1 5 oz. package baby arugula leaves
2 pears, cored and sliced
½ cup hazelnuts, roasted and roughly chopped
¼ cup shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
3 tablespoons white balsamic, champagne, or other vinegar of choice
6 tablespoons fruity olive oil
Salt and freshly cracked pepper
- Toast hazelnuts: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and roast until fragrant and golden-brown, about 7-8 minutes. Let cool, then rub between hands to remove skins. Roughly chop.
- Prepare salad: Place arugula and pears in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar. Season liberally with salt and cracked pepper. Toss to combine.
- Divide among plates and scatter cheese and hazelnuts on top.
- Alternatively, if displaying on a buffet table, layer dressed arugula and pears with cheese and hazelnuts in a serving bowl.
Image from Briana Goodall.