I’m always looking for new salad combinations, especially since I’ve somehow become the go-to salad person for our family get-togethers. Two things I’ve learned about making a good salad are 1) you need a balance of flavors and textures, and 2) you can always look to Italian cuisine for inspiration. This Italian salad with pears, shaved Parmesan and honey-balsamic vinaigrette is a perfect blend of sweet, salty, sour and bitter flavors, with a variety of textures from tender salad greens to juicy pears to crunchy toasted pine nuts.
I’ve been buying pears a lot lately because my teen son loves them, and I’ve been surprised that I can find decent pears even in winter. Pears that are slightly underripe are perfect for this salad, because they are still a little crunchy.
Start your salad by making the vinaigrette, so the flavors have time to blend together. The honey-balsamic vinaigrette is a combination of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, garlic, salt and pepper. Put everything in a jar or a salad dressing cruet and shake until it’s well emulsified.
Next, you’ll want to toast a few nuts for the salad. If you’re using peppery arugula or slightly bitter greens like spring mix, I recommend complementing those flavors with mellow pine nuts. If you’re using milder salad greens like spinach or leaf lettuce, you might want to go with walnuts, which have a slightly bitter taste to balance things out. Toast the pine nuts or walnuts in a dry frying pan over medium heat until they are slightly browned and smell toasty. Use your nose along with your eyes to judge when they are done. It’s easy to burn nuts, so go easy on the heat, keep stirring, and keep watching them!
I decided to use Parmesan shavings for this salad, because I like the way they look. It’s easy to make your own Parmesan shavings with a vegetable peeler. This works best if you allow the cheese come to room temperature before shaving.
Set the Parmesan shavings aside, and wash and dry the salad greens. Cut the pears in half lengthwise and scoop out the center of the core with a spoon.
Remove the stem and blossom parts of the core with a knife. I like to cut the pears into long, thin slices, but you can cut them any way you like. Pears are like apples and bananas, and they tend to become brown when exposed to air. If you aren’t going to eat the salad right away, you can prevent the pear slices from browning by dipping them in a mixture of half lemon juice and half water.
Now your beautiful salad ingredients are ready to assemble! Layer the salad greens, pears, Parmesan and pine nuts, and drizzle everything with the sweet-tart salad dressing.
My family loved this Italian salad with pears, shaved Parmesan, and honey-balsamic vinaigrette. I think I’ll be making it again soon, maybe with a different fruit like dried cherries (very Italian), dried cranberries or apples.
Italian Salad with Pears, Shaved Parmesan and Honey-Balsamic Vinaigrette
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ¾ teaspoon crushed garlic
- ½ teaspoon salt or more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more to taste
- 2 oz. Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup pine nuts or walnut pieces
- 8 cups mixed salad greens such as arugula, spring mix, spinach or leaf lettuce
- 2 pears
- ¼ cup lemon juice optional
- ¼ cup water optional
- Prepare the dressing by pouring the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, garlic, salt and pepper in a Mason jar or salad dressing cruet. Shake to combine thoroughly and set aside.
- Take the Parmesan cheese out of the refrigerator so it can reach room temperature.
- Toast the pine nuts or walnut pieces by heating in a dry frying pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until they are fragrant and beginning to brown. Set aside.
- Shave Parmesan cheese using a vegetable peeler. Set aside.
- Wash and dry the salad greens. Cut each pear in half, and scoop out the center of the core with a spoon. Remove the stem and blossom portions of the core with a knife. Place each pear half flat side down on a cutting board, and slice the pears thinly lengthwise.
- To keep pear slices from browning, dip in a mixture of ½ lemon juice and ½ water (optional).
- Assemble the salad by layering salad greens, pears, nuts and Parmesan. Drizzle with honey-balsamic vinaigrette.