This is a lovely fall/winter salad to enjoy when the air turns chilly and the fall walnut harvest has arrived in the market. I crave it when the air turns cool and make it over and over throughout the winter months.
Mache, also known as lamb’s lettuce or corn salad, is a small, soft, silken green with a mild nutty taste. For such a small and seemingly delicate green it provides a lot of texture in your mouth and in a salad. It partners well with butter or bib variety head lettuces which have a delicate texture and are sweeter in taste.
I add shelled, chopped, untoasted walnuts to provide a complement to the nutty-flavored mache. In cooking school, I learned to toast and peel walnuts before adding them to salads; they’re delicious that way. Their flavor is concentrated and brought out by the toasting, but it’s more work. When I added them fresh and untoasted to this salad it was a revelation. Fresh fennel adds additional texture and a pleasant anise flavor. A mild, clean tasting walnut oil and fresh lemon juice make up the vinaigrette.
Mache, Butter Lettuce, Fennel, & Walnuts with Lemon Walnut Vinaigrette
Ingredients for the Salad:
3 cups mache leaves, approximately 3 ounces
1/2 head of butter lettuce, 3-4 ounces
10 walnut halves, 1 ounce, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sliced fennel, 2 ounces
freshly cracked black pepper
Ingredients for the Vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon finely minced shallot
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons good quality walnut oil*
Begin making your vinaigrette. Place the shallots in the lemon juice in a small bowl or jar. Add a good pinch of salt and stir or shake the bowl or jar to dissolve the salt. Let the shallots rest in the lemon juice while you prepare the rest of your salad.
Wash the mache and lettuce in a large amount of cold water. Dry the greens well. Any water left on the leaves will only dilute the dressing and thus dull the taste of your finished product. Place the washed greens in a large bowl. Add the walnuts and fennel to the bowl.
Finish the vinaigrette. Add the mustard to the lemon juice mixture, whisking or shaking to do so. Add the walnut oil. Whisk or shake vigorously to make an emulsion of the vinaigrette ingredients. Taste the vinaigrette by dipping a piece of lettuce or mache into the vinaigrette. Correct the balance of flavors and seasoning by adding more lemon juice or walnut oil as desired.
Dribble the emulsified vinaigrette over your greens just before serving. Toss gently and well. This is a fairly delicate salad, so I like just enough dressing to lightly coat the leaves, fennel, and walnuts. Divide the tossed salad onto serving plates. Much of the walnuts and fennel will be gathered at the bottom of the bowl. Make sure they are tossed well with the dressing and scatter them over the plated salad. Finish the salad with freshly cracked pepper if desired and serve immediately.
*All nut oils are fragile and spoil easily. Smell and taste your walnut oil before you use it. Toss any rancid oil. Store the oil in the refrigerator once opened.