While cataloguing our featured recipes from the past several weeks, Tony and I discovered that we had nearly all the components for a lovely Italian menu: prosciutto and cantaloupe melon appetizer, pasta primavera main course, and tiramisu, the ultimate Italian dessert. The only item missing from this menu was a great spring salad.
Without missing a beat, Tony turned to me and said, “Honey Gorgonzola Hearts of Romaine.” I was delighted by his response, as this is one of my all-time favorite salads from our repertoire at Sarello’s. This salad has so much going for it: crispy hearts of romaine lettuce and asparagus spears, crunchy toasted walnuts, and a velvety-smooth honey gorgonzola vinaigrette create a wonderful balance of flavor and texture.
Hearts of romaine lettuce, the leaves located in the center of the head, are the featured green in this salad. The hearts are lighter and crispier than the outer leaves, with a delicate, sweet, and refreshing flavor. They’re also smaller, which means we can leave them whole for this recipe, thus creating an attractive bed of lettuce on which to host the other ingredients.
Hearts of romaine are available in the packaged salad section, already separated from the head. Our recipe calls for one package of romaine hearts, which comes pre-washed, but we give it another good wash at home for good measure.
If you prefer to buy a whole head of romaine, look for lettuce that is free of dark spots and cracked ribs, and avoid any heads that are wilted or browning. Be sure to wash the leaves well, as romaine lettuce can be very sandy.
The other main ingredient is an Italian blue cheese called gorgonzola, which is showcased both on its own and in the vinaigrette dressing. Gorgonzola originated in northern Italy over a thousand years ago, reportedly in the town of Gorgonzola, Milan. Today, most Italian gorgonzola is produced in the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy, but our American cheese producers also make excellent gorgonzola.
The cheese is creamy and pungent, and pairs beautifully with honey, nuts, and asparagus, all of which you will find in this salad. We use walnuts, and toast them beforehand for extra flavor. To toast, lay the walnuts on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Bake in a 350 degree oven for five to ten minutes, until they just start to brown and smell toasted. Watch them closely, as nuts can go from toasted to burnt in a matter of seconds.
This salad has a beautiful presentation which can be adapted according to your needs. For more formal occasions, serve it plated individually for each guest. For family-style settings, take a more rustic approach and serve it on a large platter – either way it’s easy to make, and the result is elegant and delicious.
NOTE: Recently we received a question from a reader about the use of raw eggs in our tiramisu recipe. This week’s recipe also calls for raw egg yolks in the dressing. While we have never had an issue, please use caution when preparing and consuming dishes with raw and lightly-cooked eggs due to the slight risk of Salmonella or other food-borne illness.
To reduce this risk, we recommend you use only fresh, properly-refrigerated, clean, grade A or AA eggs with intact shells, and avoid contact between the yolks or whites and the shell. You may also choose to use pasteurized egg yolks, in whole or liquid form.