Friday, December 15, 2006

The Perfect Winter Salad?

It seems like every visit to our favorite London gastropub, the Anglesea Arms, is a memorable experience. A recent evening found us slumped on the worn leather couches, warmed by the fire and a couple of pints of bitter, and grazing on a dozen briny Irish rock oysters; a plate of buffalo mozzarella, tomato, basil and red peppers; and a salad that combined strong, wintry flavors so successfully that we decided to try it at home.

Winter Salad with Sweet Potato, Shallots & Feta and Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon quatre epices*
4 echalions** or 8 shallots, unpeeled
1 head garlic, unpeeled
1 cup 1/2 inch cubes of good-quality feta cheese
1 lb mixed greens
4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 425 F. Sprinkle sweet potato with salt, pepper and spice mixture. Add shallots and head of garlic and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Spread on baking sheet and roast, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and sweet potato is browned, about 30 minutes.

Mix remaining olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a large bowl. Cut the top off the head of garlic and squeeze its flesh into the oil and vinegar mixture. Cream it with a fork and beat it into the mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Peel shallots and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Toss greens with dressing and divide among 4 plates. Arrange sweet potatoes, shallots and feta around or on the salad, grind fresh pepper over the top, and serve immediately.

Makes 4 first-course servings.

*Quatre epices is a French spice blend, available at some specialty shops. If you can't find it, substitute a blend of pepper, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.

** Echalions, sometime called banana shallots, are a kind of long, oval-shaped shallot grown in the eastern regions of England. They have an especially sweet taste, but regular shallots would also work fine!

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