The markets are filled with all sorts of pears this time of year. My children love them. We have a family tradition of starting our Thanksgiving meal with a winter salad that has slightly sweetened roasted pecans, sliced pears and a lovely maple vinaigrette. Just one bit of fair warning, getting the pecans to come out right takes a bit of patience. My father and I have a delightful song and dance routine we do every year as we prepare the pecans. “Is the simple sugar syrup ready yet??” “Not quite yet.” “Are you sure?” We check the syrup over and over again. A little white wine (not for the syrup - for you!) is a must. Rest assured that the salad will be good no matter how the pecans turn out. Just head into the process with a sense of humor and all will be well.
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
3 cups pecans
12 cups mixed greens
5 ripe pears (Anjou, Bartlett or other)
4 tablespoons maple syrup
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
½ cup walnut oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Get out a ½ sheet pan or large cookie sheet.
First make a Simple Syrup by placing 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water in a small pot. Bring the sugar/water mixture to a boil. Boil for approximately 15-25 minutes. Stir intermittently. The syrup should be slightly thick. Think light syrup on canned fruit, not heavy syrup. This is not a science, it is an art and in all likelihood your pecans will turn out a bit differently each time you make them because your syrup will be different each time. You may decide that you like the outcome with really thick syrup (it means the pecans will have a heavy sugar coating on them), or you may like yours better using quite thin syrup. You could do half a batch with thin syrup, and half with thicker syrup and see which makes you happiest. Just a thought.
Once the syrup is thick, but not too thick, turn off the fire. Add the pecans to the pot. Stir until they are coated evenly. Remove with a slotted spoon and spread the syrup-coated pecans evenly across the ½ sheet pan or cookie sheet.
The pecans should glisten with the sugar syrup before you put them in the oven to toast.
Place the pan in the center of oven. Cook until the sugar starts to bubble on the nuts but before the nuts start to brown. Stir the nuts twice so that they don’t stick together. The baking period should be about ten minutes. Remove the nuts from the oven. Stir one last time. Leave on sheet pan to cool.
The nuts can be prepared 2-3 days before and stored in an airtight container until needed. The only problem with this strategy is that once you’ve tasted them you’ll start snacking on them and by the time you need them for your salad there won’t be any left.
This batch turned out exactly the way I like them. The pecans have a nice, light, sugary crust.
Prepare salad dressing. Place all ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk to blend.
Immediately before serving, place greens in large bowl. Dress and toss. Plate the greens on salad plates. Core the pears and cut them into ⅛ths. I don’t peel the pears because I really like the look of the color of the skin against the color of the greens, but that is just my personal preference. Distribute the pears attractively on the mixed greens. Toss pecans on top. Eat all remaining pecans before anyone notices that there were any left. Serve salads immediately.