This summer I’ve been making a simple salad with arugula, cherries, and pecorino dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. My salad and I were getting along just fine, and I certainly had no intention of trying to improve upon it. But that all changed when my husband shared the menu of the meal he recently had at Paulee in the Willamette Valley. The first thing that caught my eye was a roasted beet and cherry salad with greens and a cherry-sherry vinaigrette. I’d never had roasted beets with cherries but it’s one of those combinations that makes so much sense and seems so obvious that you wonder why in the heck you’ve never thought of it before. With no specifics on the Paulee salad (my husband hadn’t ordered it), I decided to wing it and build off the salad I’d been making – and the result is quite possibly one of the best, most beguiling salads I’ve made or had in a long time. While the following ingredients work really well together, this is the type of recipe that’s open to improvisation. Any salty cheese would work well, as would walnuts in place of the almonds or basil in place of the mint. Some thinly sliced prosciutto would be a nice addition if you want to make it more substantial. Definitely roast extra beets while you’re at it so you can make this salad all week long. —EmilyC
FOR ROASTING BEETS:
2 golf ball-sized beets
kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper
FOR CHERRY VINAIGRETTE:
About 5 sweet cherries (I used Bing cherries), pitted
2 T finely minced shallots
2 T sherry vinegar
1 T balsamic vinegar
7 T extra virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt + freshly ground black pepper
FOR ASSEMBLING SALAD:
A couple large handfuls of baby arugula
2 roasted beets, roughly chopped
Handful of sweet cherries, pitted and chopped (you want roughly equal quantities of beets and cherries)
To roast beets: Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Cut off the tops and roots, then scrub if they’re dirty. Lay a large piece of foil on a baking sheet, leaving half the foil hanging off one end. Place the beets on top of the foil on the baking sheet, and sprinkle the beets with olive oil (just enough to coat them) and salt and pepper. Fold the foil to make a packet and crimp the edges. Bake until tender (you can check by piercing a fork through the foil) for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on their size. Let them cool in the foil packet. When the beets are cool enough to handle, remove them from the foil and peel off the skin with your fingers.
To make cherry vinaigrette: Pound the pitted cherries to a coarse puree using a mortar and pestle, or pulse in a mini food processor. You should have about 2 tablespoons of cherry puree. Transfer the puree to a small bowl, then add the minced shallot, sherry and balsamic vinegars, and a pinch of sea salt. Whisk in the extra virgin olive oil. Taste for seasoning and balance.
To assemble salad: In a large bowl, toss together arugula, cherries, beets, cheese, almonds, and mint.
Drizzle in the vinaigrette a little at a time and gently toss. Sprinkle in some sea salt, then add more vinaigrette if needed. (You probably won’t need the full amount – store any leftover vinaigrette in the fridge.)