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Watercress, Endive and Pear Salad

Also known as filberts, hazelnuts are small, spherical nuts with a sweet, rich, robust flavor, never so welcome as in autumn. They have hard shells that are difficult to crack and are usually sold already shelled. Toasting not only develops the flavor but also helps the cook remove the tough, bitter-tasting skin from the nuts. Hazelnuts make one of the most assertive nut oils, which adds a pleasant depth of flavor to green salads. Once opened, refrigerate the oil to maintain its freshness.

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup hazelnuts
  • 3 large bunches watercress, about 1 1/2 lb.
     total, tough stems removed
  • 3 heads Belgian endive, about 1 lb. total,
     cored and separated into leaves
  • 5 Tbs. hazelnut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, plus more as needed
  • 3 Tbs. pear vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper, plus more
     as needed
  • 3 small, ripe but firm pears, preferably
     red Bartlett

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 375°F.

In a shallow metal pan, toast the hazelnuts, stirring once or twice, until crisp, fragrant and brown, about 10 minutes. Wrap the hot nuts in a clean kitchen towel and let steam for 1 minute, then vigorously roll the wrapped nuts between the palms of your hands until most of the dark brown skins are removed. Pick the nuts out of the debris of the peels and coarsely chop them.

In a large bowl, toss together the watercress and endive. Drizzle with the oil and toss again. Sprinkle the 1/2 tsp. salt over the greens and toss again. Add the hazelnuts, vinegar and the 1/2 tsp. pepper and toss well. Taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.

Divide the greens among individual plates. Halve and core the pears and cut each half lengthwise into 8 slices. Garnish each plate with pear slices, tucking them into the greens. Serve immediately. Serves 8 to 10.

Make-Ahead Tip: The nuts can be toasted and skinned 1 day ahead; store in an airtight jar at room temperature. Chop them shortly before completing the salad.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Thanksgiving, by Michael McLaughlin (Simon & Schuster, 2001).