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This Salad Is Basically Performance Art. Yours Can Be Too

by 
Dina Cheney
July 14, 2021

You could say salad is a hobby of mine. It all started with my mother, an art school graduate and self-taught home cook. On the salad plate, those two identities collided in the best way.

For seemingly every occasion, she’d craft a salad, fine-tuning the arrangement of cut-up vegetables and fruits as if they were tiles in an intricate mosaic. I remember her painstakingly arranging these compositions in commodious glass bowls or shallow white platters, the better to display her work. 

Watching her prepare salads showed me that food can be art — perhaps an even more powerful form than the visual variety because cooking also incorporates smell, taste, and touch. Salad-making, in fact, was my gateway to the culinary arts as a means of expressing my creativity and visual sensibilities.

Today, not only is salad my favorite course to prepare, it’s also my preferred part of the meal.

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I relish the process of searching for the freshest seasonal produce at the market while conceptualizing a balanced dish; prepping the individual components; and later assembling them into the finished product. Salad is so appealing to me, in fact, that I even authored a book on the subject just a few weeks after giving birth to my first child.

Whenever I create a salad, I aim for a balance between at least three of the five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory. I also try to include a variety of textures (such as creamy and crunchy) and colors (ideally, at least three). 

For this summery salad, I began with seasonal produce: nectarines, tomatoes, and fresh basil. To enhance the flavor of the fruit and accomplish a contrast between raw and cooked elements, I decided to grill it. In order to incorporate more colors, I added (purple) shallots and (purple and green) lettuce, as well as (white-yellow) Parmesan cheese curls and (brown) toasted nuts. The nuts, lettuce, and pickled shallot supply crunch, while the tomatoes and nectarines bring juiciness. Uniting the elements, the fresh basil vinaigrette adds an extra shot of verdancy and signals summer. 

Grilled Nectarine, Parmesan, and Walnut Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

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Serves 8 as a starter

Ingredients

Notes: The shallots can be pickled and the nectarines grilled up to two days ahead. For the most vibrant color, prepare the vinaigrette at the last minute and serve the salad immediately after composing. Use a Y-shaped vegetable peeler to shave the cheese.

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar, divided

1 1/4 tsp salt, divided

1 very large shallot, halved and thinly sliced into rings (1/3 cup) and minced (1/3 cup), divided

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

5 nectarines, pitted and halved

1 cup packed fresh basil leaves

10 cups Fifth Season Three Rivers Blend

28 red and yellow cherry tomatoes, halved (2 1/2 cups)

1/3 cup raw unsalted walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped (about 1/4 cup)

1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese

 | 
 | 
Serves 8 as a starter

Ingredients

Notes: The shallots can be pickled and the nectarines grilled up to two days ahead. For the most vibrant color, prepare the vinaigrette at the last minute and serve the salad immediately after composing. Use a Y-shaped vegetable peeler to shave the cheese.

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar, divided

1 1/4 tsp salt, divided

1 very large shallot, halved and thinly sliced into rings (1/3 cup) and minced (1/3 cup), divided

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

5 nectarines, pitted and halved

1 cup packed fresh basil leaves

10 cups Fifth Season Three Rivers Blend

28 red and yellow cherry tomatoes, halved (2 1/2 cups)

1/3 cup raw unsalted walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped (about 1/4 cup)

1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese

Ingredients

Notes: The shallots can be pickled and the nectarines grilled up to two days ahead. For the most vibrant color, prepare the vinaigrette at the last minute and serve the salad immediately after composing. Use a Y-shaped vegetable peeler to shave the cheese.

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar, divided

1 1/4 tsp salt, divided

1 very large shallot, halved and thinly sliced into rings (1/3 cup) and minced (1/3 cup), divided

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

5 nectarines, pitted and halved

1 cup packed fresh basil leaves

10 cups Fifth Season Three Rivers Blend

28 red and yellow cherry tomatoes, halved (2 1/2 cups)

1/3 cup raw unsalted walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped (about 1/4 cup)

1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese

Directions

1. Pickle the shallots: In a small-medium bowl, stir together 1/3 cup of the vinegar and ¼ tsp of the salt. Add the shallot rings, and let sit for at least 15 minutes, but up to one or two days is much better.

2. Make the grilled nectarines: In a large bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon of the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the oil, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Add the nectarine halves, and stir. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat and brush with 1 teaspoon of the oil. When hot, add half of the nectarine halves flesh-side down, and grill until grill marks appear, about 3 minutes (reserve the marinade). Flip and grill the second side until grill marks appear, about another 3 minutes. Turn heat down to medium-low, cover, and continue grilling until the nectarines soften but still retain their shape, about another 10 minutes. Repeat with another teaspoon of oil and the remaining nectarine halves. Return the grilled nectarine halves to the bowl with the marinade, and toss.

3. Make the basil vinaigrette: To a food processor or blender, add the cooked basil, 1/2 cup of the oil, the minced shallot, 1/4 cup of the vinegar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Puree until smooth, about 2 minutes. Set aside.

4. Season and compose the salad: Add lettuce to a large, shallow, white or green serving platter. Arrange the nectarine halves over the greens, flesh-side-up. To a bowl, add the tomatoes and another 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and toss well. Sprinkle tomatoes over the top of the lettuce. Drain the pickled shallots and sprinkle them over the salad. In a small bowl, toss the walnuts with 1/8 teaspoon of the salt. Sprinkle the nuts and cheese over the salad. Drizzle the basil vinaigrette over the salad, and serve immediately.

About the Author

Dina Cheney

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