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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Comté Cheese Makes a Fall Salad Even Better

A few weeks ago while admiring the bountiful display at the cheese counter of my local Whole Foods, I spotted one of my favorite French fromages!  There, in full view, was a wheel of Comté, a hard, ivory-hued cow’s milk cheese with a slightly sweet, nutty flavor from the  east of France. I was even more surprised later that month when I discovered that two local supermarket chains were selling Comté as well.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out how to use my purchase. Since fall weather was arriving, I decided to include it in an autumn salad.  I combined beautiful deep wine- and green-hued leaf lettuce with Belgian endive for the base, then added thinly sliced pears, toasted nuts,
and as a final flourish, some shaved Comté. A balsamic vinaigrette prepared with shallots and Dijon mustard made an ideal dressing for this robust mix.

This salad was a big success when I took it to a dinner with friends last Sunday. One of the hosts, a confessed “picky eater,” was seen taking generous seconds, while others helped themselves to thirds.

Balsamic Dressing
4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Several grinds of black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots

1 ripe (but not mushy) unpeeled pear, halved, cored, and thinly sliced
2 medium heads dark red leaf lettuce, baby romaine, or butter lettuce, torn into bite- sized pieces
1 Belgian endive, halved lengthwise, and each half cut crosswise into 1/2 inch thick slices
Kosher salt
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped (See note.)
One 6-ounce slice Comté cheese (If unavailable, Gruyère, Emmenthal, or a good quality sharp white cheddar can be substituted.)

1. For the dressing, place the vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper in a medium nonreactive bowl. Whisk well to combine. Then gradually whisk in the olive oil. Stir in the shallots. (Dressing can be prepared 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature for 30 minutes, and whisk well before using.)

2. For assembling the salad, place the pear slices in a salad bowl and toss with half of the dressing. Marinate for 5 minutes. Add the lettuce and Belgian endive and toss gently, adding more dressing to coat the greens lightly. Season with salt if needed. (You may not need to use all of the dressing.) Sprinkle with walnuts, and then shave a generous amount of cheese over the salad. (You will not need to use all of the cheese; save extra for another use.) Makes 4 to 5 generous servings.

Note: To toast walnuts, place on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake in a preheated 350 degrees F. oven until fragrant and lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Watch carefully, and then remove and cool.

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