This salad of tender leaves with grapes, walnuts, garlic and a lusty balsamic dressing makes a great starter or lunch dish in the autumn. Preparation takes less than 10 minutes — 15 if you’d like to add homemade croutons. Other possible additions include smoked duck breast, Parma-style ham or bacon.
For best results choose sweet grapes, preferably seedless. As for the tender leaves, use a mix your favorite varieties — arugula, lamb’s lettuce (mâche), oak leaf lettuce, curly endive (frisée), radicchio, whatever. And the walnuts should be as fresh as possible. Another key to success is to use a mix of olive oil and walnut oil in the balsamic vinaigrette.
The quantities below will serve 2 people.
2 large handfuls of tender greens (see above)
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. walnut oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
12-16 grapes, halved
2 small handfuls walnut pieces
1 cup cubed bread (for croutons), and/or
12 thin slices smoked duck breast (magret fumé), or
2 slices prosciutto or another dry-cured ham, or
2 thick slices bacon
Rinse the tender leaves. Spin dry. Peel and finely mince the garlic. Set aside.
In the bottom of a salad bowl, combine the balsamic vinegar and the oils. Season with salt to taste and grind on some black pepper. Stir well to blend.
Place the leaves on top of the dressing. Sprinkle with the minced garlic. Add the walnuts and halved grapes. Mix just before serving.
This is the basic salad. And by the way, it’s a perfect dish for vegetarians and vegans — who might also appreciate the addition of croutons.
To make croutons, preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (350 F, 180 C). Line a pie tin with parchment paper. Add the bread cubes. Bake for 5 minutes to dry out the bread, then drizzle with 1 tsp. olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Stir to blend. Bake another 5 minutes, or until golden.
For a more elaborate salad, top with smoked duck breast, or ribbons of Parma-style ham.
Or go for the bacon. Cut into thick sticks (lardons), fry in a little oil until golden brown, and add to the salad. A nice touch with this version is to wait until the end of the process to make the dressing, deglazing your frying pan with the balsamic vinegar. Discard most but not all of the bacon fat from the pan. Set the pan over medium heat. Add the balsamic, stirring with a wooden spatula. Pour the warm vinegar over the salad, drizzle with the oils, sprinkle with salt and grind on some black pepper.
Serve all versions accompanied by a fruity red. Serves 2.