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Kitchen Mailbox Countdown to Dinner Dining
Countdown to Dinner: Toasted pecans make a sublime spinach salad

Thursday, June 15, 2000

Tested by Nancy Anderson

Today's Countdown recipe for Spinach Pecan Salad contains an ingredient that makes any salad special -- toasted nuts.

You don't have to heat the oven, either. Nuts brown just as well in a skillet, sauteed in a little olive oil or candied in sugar.

But Jenny Estes, who sent the recipe, had this advice about a crucial step in the toasting process.

"The most important thing to remember is to turn the heat off after toasting the pecans," she said.

"I forgot that once, just let them simmer, and the pan actually caught fire."

The Ambridge resident believes in cooking nuts before putting them in anything.

"Toast walnuts before making chocolate chip cookies and they're in a different league," she said.

The salad recipe came from the days when Jenny lived in California and belonged to a food co-op.

The group met once a month and bought wholesale health foods in lots, splitting the cases.

At the same time, they would talk and swap recipes.

Spinach Pecan Salad was a keeper that survived the move to Pittsburgh.

The addition of pears to the greens and nuts is a delicious and refreshing change of pace.

Finding a ripe pear in a supermarket, however, can be a challenge.

"I plan ahead and buy the pears a few days in advance," she said. "I use Bosc because they don't have to be completely ripe to be eaten."

Following her advice, we bought our pear in advance and ripened it in a paper bag on the counter.

Jenny also recommends Bragg's Organic Cider Vinegar in this recipe because "the flavor is more pungent than commercial brands."

It can be found at health food stores in Shadyside, the Strip and at the East End Food Co-op.

Not being a vinegar aficionado, we used a bottle off the grocery shelf and have no complaints about its soft tang. In fact, we like using apple cider vinegar in general because of its milder, gentler flavor.

The recipe easily can be doubled for a luncheon or dinner party.

A student at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, Jenny is working on a certificate in video production and editing, while her husband, Jack, is studying at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministers. They are the parents of a daughter, Zoe, 9.

Spinach Pecan Salad

4 to 5 cups chopped fresh spinach
1 ripe pear, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Combine the chopped spinach and pear in a salad bowl.

In a small skillet, toast the pecans in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Stir frequently. When the pecans are lightly browned and fragrant, turn off the heat and stir in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and both tablespoons of vinegar.

Immediately pour the pecan mixture over the spinach and toss gently to combine. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes to let the flavors combine. Then serve immediately. Serves 4.

Do you have an entree, salad or vegetable side dish recipe (no desserts, please!) that can be made in 30 minutes or less from six ingredients or fewer (not counting water, salt and pepper)? Share it with Countdown to Dinner.

The PG tests all recipes and if we select your recipe for publication, you'll receive a free selection from our cookbook grab bag of current releases.

Send your recipe to Countdown to Dinner, Post-Gazette Food, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, or fax to 412-263-1313. Please include your name, neighborhood and daytime phone number. Or e-mail to: nanderson@post-gazette.com. Questions? Call 412-263-1760.

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