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Strawberry and Caramelized Walnut Salad with Orange-Basil Vinaigrette

June 16, 2008

For a few years, a number of years ago, my favorite salad to make was a mesclun salad with dried cranberries, slivered pears, caramelized walnuts, and gorgonzola cheese with a balsamic vinaigrette — particularly in the fall and winter. It’s one of the dishes I would make for holiday get-togethers with family (actually, I still do make it). The idea of fruit, nuts, and cheese combined with some type of greens and a vinaigrette is hands-down my favorite kind of salad in general — so, I make them year-round, just trying to adapt and improvise the type of fruit, nut, cheese, and vinaigrette type based on what’s in season.

At least one of you mentioned making a salad with strawberries and the spicy greens that we got in our CSA share, which I thought was a great idea! Here’s how it went:

We used up all the strawberries from the share in our shortcakes, but luckily, the Farmer’s Market had plenty of strawberry offerings this past weekend (yippee!) Along with the sliced strawberries, I caramelized some walnuts and chopped up some of the slender, delicate scallions that were in our share.

hello, my pretties

I wanted to make a fruity, slightly acidic, herbal vinaigrette to toss this salad with, so I used one of the Valencia oranges I had in my fridge and whisked the juice of that together with a minced shallot, coarse salt and pepper, some extra-virgin olive oil, a little dijon mustard, some champagne vinegar, and some of the (gorgeous!) opal basil I picked up also at the Farmer’s Market.

beautiful purple & green dark opal basil

Onto the greens: I used some of the red leaf lettuce we had in the share along with some of the pretty braising greens; I thought the spiciness of the braising greens would be nice paired with the sweet strawberries and walnuts. I tossed the greens with some of the vinaigrette, and topped them with the strawberries, caramelized walnuts, and scallions. The only thing missing, I thought, was some fresh tart goat cheese — sadly, I didn’t have any of that, but I did have some some nutty, sharp Tomme Bergére, a raw sheep’s milk cheese made at Northland Sheep Dairy, a few towns over from us. Really good stuff.

The salad was great, and the orange basil vinaigrette is definitely a keeper! I’m going to keep a supply of it around for drizzling with other summer salads, over grilled vegetables, or maybe to use as a marinade for fish.

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Strawberry and Caramelized Walnut Salad with Orange-Basil Vinaigrette

View printable recipe

Ingredients
1 pint strawberries (preferably local, preferably organic!)
8 thin or 4 regular scallions, sliced thinly
your choice of greens, preferably something that’s got some spiciness, like arugula or a braising greens mix – figure about 2 generous handfuls per person
1 cup raw whole walnuts
1/3 cup sugar
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

Orange-Basil vinaigrette; see below

Directions
Slice strawberries and scallions and set aside. Wash greens and spin them dry, and set them aside.

There are two ways I caramelize walnuts; I haven’t decided which I like better:

Methods #1: Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet an toast them in a 350 F oven for about 5 minutes (don’t forget about them! They’ll go from toasted to burned fairly quickly.) You’ll know they’re almost done when you start smelling fragrant toasted walnut smells throughout your kitchen – yum! Remove the walnuts from the oven and set aside. Spread a piece of parchment paper or a silicone mat near the stovetop (this is for the hot walnuts after you toss them in the sugar syrup you’re going to make.) Now, in a small saucepan, heat the 1/3 cup sugar over medium heat until it begins to melt. All the sugar should melt into a clear liquid; keep it on the heat and it will start to turn an amber color. Once it start to turn amber, toss in the walnuts, and use a silicone spatula to gently stir them around. You’ll want to get them pretty evenly coated in the sugar syrup.

Method #2: Place the walnuts in a saucepan with the sugar and a teaspoon or so of water. Heat over medium heat until the sugar melts and the walnuts are getting toasted, about 5 minutes. You’ll probably get some sugar crystals on the walnuts this way, which may not matter to you.

For both methods, as soon as the walnuts are coated in amber sugar syrup, turn them out onto the piece of parchment paper (or silicone mat). Use your spatula to try to tease them apart from the clumps they will have formed. Don’t worry too much about it; they’ll be easier to separate once they’ve cooled down. When they’re cool enough to handle, you can break apart any clumps of walnuts.

Assemble the salad by tossing the greens with about half of the vinaigrette to start. Add more vinaigrette according to your taste. Place the dressed greens on each of 4 plates, and top with the sliced strawberries, caramelized walnuts, and sliced scallions. Top with crumbled goat or feta cheese, or if you don’t have that, any other nice cheese will do alongside, with a nice slab of crusty bread.

Serves 4.

Orange Basil Vinaigrette

Ingredients
juice of 1 orange, about 1/4 cup
1 small shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon champagne or white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
a pinch of coarse salt and a good grinding of black pepper

Directions
Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Makes about 3/4 cup.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. June 16, 2008 4:54 am

    Sounds really good… long time I want to try strawberries in some salad with balsamic vinegar… this one looks worth trying! Thank you :) Margot

  2. Kristin at The Kitchen Sink permalink
    June 16, 2008 5:58 am

    Amy: Oh, wow! Every single element in this salad looks spectacular. Great use of some great ingredients.

  3. June 16, 2008 12:49 pm

    yum, this looks completely amazing! i definitely want to try this for dinner!

  4. Lynne permalink
    June 16, 2008 5:27 pm

    This looks just delicious! I love the colors and the orange basil vinaigrette sounds wonderful! I am really looking forward to trying this salad! What a great way to use the produce from your CSA!

  5. June 16, 2008 9:10 pm

    This looks really good. I have a strawberry salad that I make that had candied almonds in it. Also good.

    That first salad that you mentioned w/ pears and gorgonzola. That’s definitely my kinda salad. I love to make that sort of thing all year long.

  6. June 16, 2008 10:10 pm

    I love orange vinaigrettes! I made a really good one earlier this year… hmm… I think it was made from honeybells. It was delicious (I had it on pan-roasted fish). I will have to try yours out :) (as always – gorgeous pictures!!)

  7. June 17, 2008 3:00 am

    Mmm…that looks good!

  8. June 17, 2008 7:41 am

    Amy, this looks so good. I am visiting family in Old Lyme, Ct. and we are going strawberry and raspberry picking. I think this would be good with both of our pickings. Delish!

  9. June 17, 2008 7:45 am

    I made a salad with baby greens and strawberries just last week, it was delicious. I didn’t think of adding cheese though, and the caramelized walnuts must be fabulous!

  10. June 17, 2008 11:44 am

    What a beautiful salad! I totally agree with you about the fruit-nut-cheese-greens combo being the greatest. Of course, I always end up snacking on so many of the candied nuts in the process that few of them actually make it to the salad :-)

  11. June 17, 2008 8:18 pm

    Oh Yum! I wish so much that we had better produce stores around here.

  12. June 17, 2008 10:42 pm

    Thanks, Coffee and Vanilla! Hope you enjoy it if you try it!

    Kristin, thanks — it’s hard to go wrong with such great ingredients!

    Thanks, sara and Lynne!

    RecipeGirl – that pear/walnut/gorgonzola is a good combo, right? Candied almonds in this would have been great — I think I’ll try those next time.

    Thanks, Josie — I think I’m going to try this vinaigrette on fish next. Great idea!

    Thanks chriesi!

    Kim – Old Lyme?? I’m very familiar with that area! As I mentioned in my meme, I lived in Mystic for awhile (not too far from Old Lyme.) It’s beautiful in that part of CT — have fun and ENJOY the pick-your-owns!

    LyB – I have a real weakness for candied nuts…I end up eating half of them before they even make it to the salad!

    PaniniKathy – agreed! (see above)

    HoneyB – I have to admit, we’re pretty spoiled here with good produce…but, you could make this salad with any good greens, berries, and nuts — just pick your favorite!

  13. pennythoughts permalink
    June 30, 2008 8:11 am

    I made your orange vinaigrette, tweaking it a bit to fit a Mexican-themed potluck dinner. I used cilantro instead of basil, and I added 50% more vinegar because my oranges were soooo sweet. I also chose raw apple cider vinegar instead of the white wine vinegar (for its health properties). It turned out GREAT. I tossed it with mixed baby greens, avocado chunks, thin slices of red onion, and pieces of orange. It was a hit! I got several requests for the recipe, so now I need to blog about it. Thank you so much for the inspiration. :-)

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