the best - salad

I admit it's a bit of a stretch to say this is The Best salad but it'd pretty darn good. I had actually forgotten how good until I made it again recently. It's description goes something like this - a Pear, Endive and Watercress Salad with Toasted Hazelnuts and Gorgonzola Cheese in a Hazelnut Dressing.

I first made this salad when I worked as a chef at Pastis Restaurant in Vancouver. It was my first serious cooking job out of culinary school and I was delighted to find myself in an award winning French bistro restaurant with an immensely talented European-trained chef and a group of hard-working female chefs. Yes, that's right the entire kitchen (with the exception of two or so men who passed through our ranks) were women. If you know anything about the cooking industry than you know this is a rather rare circumstance.  However, Frank Pabst, our head chef, liked the energy and work ethic of an all female kitchen where egos rarely got in the way and we all worked toward a common goal.

I still have all of my small notebooks filled with recipes from my days as a chef. The notebooks had to be small enough to fit in your pocket or at the very least hide at your station. I also have scores of menus with handwritten notes about the special requirements for that evening's dinner. Looking back on them now I can remember the exhilaration and trepidation of heading into a service that was going to be fast-paced but also had to be technically perfect.

This salad was a staple at the restaurant. It's a perfect combination of crunchy, sweet, bitter, creamy and tangy tastes and textures. It's one of those dishes where every bite is slightly different than the one before it.

Making this salad for these photos I was reminded of many of the tricks I learned from Frank. He really taught us to cook with all our senses. As a chef in a fast paced kitchen, you have to be able to multi-task in the most absurd way. No easy feat when a moment's distraction can result in burned crust, overwhipped cream, or overcooked fish. In order, to keep in top of everything you really need to be super aware of your surroundings.

Pear, Endive and Watercress Salad with Toasted Hazelnuts and Gorgonzola Cheese in a Hazelnut Dressing - makes 1-2 servings

1 pear

2-4 endives

1 head of watercress

1/2 cup halzelnuts - toasted

2-4 tablespoons of gorgonzola cheese

Hazelnut Dressing

30 mL sherry vinegar

30 mL hazelnut oil

62 mL vegetable oil

1 tsp dijon mustard

2 tbsp  hazelnut butter

warm water to thin as necessary

salt and pepper to taste

For the Dressing: Combine vinegar, dijon, and hazelnut butter in a bowl or blender. Slowly add the oils one at a time until the dressing emulsifies. Season with salt and pepper and adjust the consistency with warm water as necessary.

For the Salad: Wash and clean the watercress and put to one side to dry. Chop the endive horizontally in 1/2 inch pieces discarding the hard, solid core. Peel, core and slice the pear into thin wedges. Rub the toasted hazelnuts in a clean dish towel to remove the skins. Place the watercress, endive, pear and hazelnuts together in a bowl and top with a few tablespoons of dressing. Gently toss being careful not to bruise the watercress. Top with chunks of gorgonzola cheese.

Have you ever had a salad like this before? Do you have a favourite salad you return to time and time again?