This salad happened because of a fantastic first visit to San Francisco.
On our whirlwind San Francisco trip, we ate well. The food scene in San Fran is second to none. They really get it. If it’s fresh and in season, you will see it. They take the produce of the moment and incorporate into dishes, both sweet and savoury. And then, once the season has changed, so does the menu. Every restaurant we visited gave me so much inspiration, for what I wanted make at home. In some cases I wanted to totally emulate the dishes we enjoyed. This is one of them!
NOPA, a rustic and yet urban, farm to table institution in the Panhandle neighbourhood of the city had us totally mesmerized. It has a bustling, modern flair with an energy and attention to detail that is stellar. Priding itself on showcasing the hard work of local purveyors, it is a perfect example of California cuisine. The menu changes constantly, depending on what is in season, so every visit will be a new adventure.
On our visit I ordered the Little Gems Salad with peaches, bronx grapes, and walnuts in a blue cheese vinaigrette. It was brilliant. Such a balance of flavours, and contrasting textures. I was loving it. Jim put his fork in, and next thing I know, he had confiscated the plate! The server walked by and Jim quickly asked to order another salad! The second one was inhaled by both of us just as quickly. And they weren’t small portions!
He looked at me and asked, “Can you make this at home?” I thought about it, the lettuce, peaches and walnuts would be easy enough to source. The Bronx grapes are local to the San Francisco area, so I would need to replace those. It was really about the vinaigrette. Could I replicate it? It was a creamy (but not too creamy) blue cheese dressing. I would play with this aspect of the salad.
So back in Toronto, I got to work gathering the ingredients. Easy peasy, except for the grapes. I settled on Thompson grapes- they are also from California, are pretty sweet, and are the same colour as the grapes Jim would be expecting. The other grape I was thinking of using is the Muscat, also a super sweet candy of a grape, and the bestest colour of grape- that pale green/pinky colour is just grand. Or if you can source the more elusive and unique Finger Grapes, definitely try those!
For the dressing I picked out a medium strength blue cheese. You don’t want to go too strong for this application. You also don’t want too hard a cheese. A creamier one will blend up easier. Into a food processor (or blender) I put an ounce of the crumbled up cheese, some olive oil, white wine vinegar, a touch of kefir (or buttermilk) a chopped shallot, and seasonings. I played with the proportions until the consistency was right, and the flavour was smooth and yet had that specific blue cheese kick.
I watched as Jim put fork to salad. He grabbed another one. And another bite-ful. He looked up and smiled. Yep, it was just like the salad he fell in love with. Which in the end is what totally surprises me! Of course Jim loves vegetables and salads. But this is the first time he has ever made a point of requesting a replication of a salad at home. NOPA, you have a couple of fans!
Enjoy this salad for as long as the peaches are still around. And then wait impatiently until next year! 😀
Peach and Little Gems Salad with Grapes, Walnuts and Blue Cheese Vinaigrette
A wonderful summer composed salad featuring peaches and grapes with the crunch of walnuts all sitting on a bed of little gem lettuce. A tangy blue cheese vinaigrette is the perfect balance to the sweetness.
- 1/3 cup walnut halves
- 3 oz creamy blue cheese don't get too dry a cheese
- 4 tbsp EV olive oil
- 1 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp kefir or buttermilk
- 1 medium shallot finely minced
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- pinch of sugar
- 1/2 tsp each kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste
- 6 little gems lettuces or Boston, Bib or Romaine Heart lettuce will work as well. Just use enough that would satisfy the two people as a good side or main dish size
- 1-2 medium peaches
- 1/2-3/4 cup Bronx, Muscat or Thompson Grapes
Toast the walnuts, either on the stove top in a skillet, or on a baking sheet in a 375F oven till just starting to brown and the fragrance is nice and nutty. Remove and set aside.
Take 1 oz of the blue cheese and the ingredients through to the kosher salt and pepper, and blend (either in a food processor or blender) till completely smooth.
Taste and re-season if necessary, to your liking.
Trim, separate, rinse and dry the lettuce leaves.
Place on a platter. Spread a bit of the vinaigrette over the lettuce leaves.
Slice the peach into thinnish slices. Place the peach slices all over the lettuce. Do the same with the grapes and walnuts.
Take the remaining 2 oz of blue cheese and crumble over the fruit. Finally drizzle the salad with the remaining vinaigrette. Sprinkle with a bit more fresh cracked black pepper.
I say this serves two as a main meal.
It would easily serve 4-6 as a side salad.
Obviously you can play with the amounts to make enough for your crowd!
This makes just under 1 cup of dressing. You should have enough for two separate salads, or use it as a dressing over grilled veggies!