Spring is a delicate time for everyone going easy on carbs and fat in hope for renewal (and to eventually fit into bikini). This colourful salad is a great recipe to include in your transitioning menu and feel festive at the same time. The contrast between sweet pears, bitter arugula, sharp hits of blue cheese and the toasty crunch of slivered almonds makes this dish an instant hit. It travels really well too, in case you would like to include it into your picnic basket or to brig to the potluck party. This salad can be ready in 15 minutes and is excellent with some toasted bread. It was inspired by our trip to St. Benedict Abbey (Saint-Benoît-du-Lac)earlier this month and the specialties we brought with us from there.
Located in Eastern townships (around 150 km Southeast of Montreal), the monastery was founded in 1912 by exiled French Benedictine monks. A little more than 50 monks live there today under the Rule of Saint Benedict spending their days in ”vigilate” (watch & wait in Latin), divine reading, meditation, prayer and humble work. The impressive medieval-looking architectural complex perched on the hill overlooks the eerie lake of Memphremagog and is surrounded by forest, apple gardens, marshes and fields.
Receiving guests is in the faith of Benedictine monks, so visitors and those who decided to stay temporarily in their guest house feel welcome. The on-premise store sells their quality crafts like: fine cheeses, jams, jellies, apple cider and vinegar, ice wines and even CDs of their famous Gregorian Chants. If you manage to be there by 5PM, the time of the liturgy, you can listen to Gregorian Chants (Vespers) in their church: an incredible and thrilling experience in itself. In case you would like to learn how silence works or to live a life much different from yours for a short period of time, check their website on how to become a staying guest. Keep in mind though, it’s a community of men, although women can visit the monastery and attend the church any time.
The rhythm of cheese making combines well with the monastic life, and St. Benedict Abbey has been making cheese since 1942. It is the only cheese factory in North America managed by Benedictine monks, which is why you may have heard about them even if you are not Catholic. It is especially famous for their blue cheeses like ”Bleu Ermite” and ”Bleu Bénédictin”, which are made the same way, but are different at their ripening stage.
Blue Ermite, not so strong blue with herbal aroma, hints of sweetness and earthiness is perhaps their most famous one. It is aged for five weeks, then is removed from the ripening room and the natural mould rind that has formed is washed away. Because it is very mild blue, in today’s salad, I would pair it with Romaine lettuce, almonds and apple cider vinegar in the dressing (see below choices) for harmonious result.
Blue Benedictine, an award winner across Canada, is sharper and tangier: it stays in the ripening room for three months and the blue mould rind is kept on. This outer layer and longer aging help to add flavour and ripen the cheese further, making its texture smoother and creamier than Blue Ermite. Its tastes better combined with stronger ingredients, such as, bitter arugula, radicchio, rich walnuts and tangy balsamic (or even xérès) vinegar.
I personally find a special magic in the taste of this salad if you use some apricot preserve in your dressing. If not, honey works well too. And, by the way the blue cheese can be any of your choice including Gorgonzola:
Voila: bitter-sweet, salty, tangy and light – what else blue cheese and pear lovers can dream about?
ARUGULA PEAR BLUE CHEESE SALAD WITH NUTS
Yields 4 portions
3 cups baby arugula (or 1 head of Romaine lettuce rinsed, dried and chopped)
2 small heads radicchio (optional)
2 ripe but firm pears, cored and cut lengthwise into 1/4” thick slices (sprayed with lemon juice to prevent darkening)
3/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted* (or other nuts of your choice)
2-3 ounces of crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup almond oil (or olive, or walnut oil)
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (or apple cider or white wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons honey (or apricot jam preserve)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
In a large bowl, combine the arugula, radicchio, pear slices and nuts. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper until smooth. Mix well and pour dressing over salad. Toss until evenly coated. Spread crumbled blue cheese on to and serve.
*To toast nuts, arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in preheated 350 degrees F oven for 6-8 minutes until lightly toasted. Cool completely before using.
And here is more about Abbey St. Benoit du Lac should you decide to visit: