Fall Fest: Chop, Chop!

by paige on October 6, 2010

THOUGH I AM happy as a clam, or, more aptly, I suppose, a cow, in the rural world I now call home, somehow, my culinary self remains under the gravitational pull of Los Angeles.

Last week, I wrote about making dinner for a kinda famous foodie: to ease my anxiety, I turned to my comfort cuisine, always Mexican. This week, when I started thinking salads, I felt the nostalgia rising in me. Los Angeles, for reasons I don’t pretend to understand, is the unofficial world capital of the chopped salad. And they’re not all Cobbs, either, though I love those. No, there are Italian versions, Asian ones, and the superbly elegant salads made my very-French friend, chef Jean-Francois Méteigner. (Just buy his book. You won’t regret it.)

And then there’s the one that I make, one I learned in a magical evening cooking class I took more than six years ago. It was a birthday party for my sister-in-the-kitchen Chris; the night will stay in each of our memories for reasons of sisterhood way more than food. But the food was delicious, all created by a French-trained, Stanford-educated, handsome and cool chef who blew us all away with his effortless ease in the kitchen, and his fantastic way with combining flavors. (Did I mention he was handsome? He tells me he’s moving to San Francisco; you can keep up with the lovely Chef Tim by following him on Twitter.)

In the years since the class, more than once I have called Chris in a panic. “I can’t find the recipe sheets from Tim’s class! I need that spinach salad!” And Chris, three times now (bless her) has faxed those sheets to me. (I finally found my own carefully-preserved copy, just this year.)

This is a chopped salad. It’s also a finger food. I’ve never had anything quite like it. And it’s one of the most delicious, most praised hors d’ouevres I ever, ever serve. Thanks to Tim, thanks to Chris, it takes me back to a perfect Silverlake summer night, but it’s appropriate and appreciated any time of year.

Spinach, Onion Marmalade, Walnuts and Feta in Endive Leaves
adapted from Tim Ross
makes at least 4 dozen hors d’ouevres

10 ounces baby spinach (non-baby is fine, too, but if the stems are tough, pull them off and discard them)
8 endives, separated into individual leaves
1 5 oz package feta (I like sheep’s milk), rinsed and patted dry with a paper towel; cut into 1/4 inch dice or crumbled into pieces roughly that size
1 cup walnuts, toasted in a sauté pan and roughly chopped

Onion Marmalade:
4 cups finely chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

First, make the marmalade:
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, salt, pepper and cayenne and cook, stirring often, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the onions are golden. Add the sugar and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring constantly. Add the vinegar and cook for one more minute. Remove from heat, and cool. This can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week, and leftovers are delicious as a condiment served with cheese.

To make the salad:

Finely chop the spinach. This takes patience. Do it in batches. The goal is a nice, thin juliene. Toss the slivered spinach with the marmalade to coat, and stir in the walnuts and cheese. Place a scant tablespoon (or so–the actual amount will vary according to the fineness of the salad’s chop, the size of your endive leaves, and the phase of the moon) of salad on the end of each endive leaf (the root end, not the top) and serve chilled or at room temperature. These look beautiful arrayed in concentric circles on a round platter.

See what’s cooking on the other Fall Fest blogs!

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Ranjani October 6, 2010 at 10:24 am

I like the idea of making salad into a finger food, and that onion marmalade sounds really good!
This week I made a beet and apple salad:

Purple Cook October 6, 2010 at 10:37 am

For Fall Fest:
This simple Arugula and Mustard Salad captures the taste of fall.

Kathleen October 6, 2010 at 11:28 am

Souns great and easy. My fallfest salad contribution is a favorite I first had in Paris.‘s-salade-of-carrots-walnuts-and-bleu-cheese

Rachel October 6, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Sounds fabulous! I love spinach salads. The salad I made for fall fest is a Fall Salad with Apples, Walnuts, and Stilton

Alison @ October 7, 2010 at 11:34 am
hilary October 7, 2010 at 8:10 pm

oh i remember that night with tim and i remember that salad. yummmmmm. thank you for posting, paige. xoxo

diane/napa farmhouse 1885 October 9, 2010 at 11:46 pm

i am so late to the party, but i posted a recipe for roasted beet, fig and orange salad. the figs and oranges are roasted too…

Briana October 12, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Please try out my harvest orzo salad for a healthy and hearty fall entertaining dish:

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