Last week we introduced a new dinner menu at Sarello’s, and our son, Giovanni, and I have only just begun working our way through the new selections, many of which are inspired by the autumn season.

In fact, I’ve only made it through one item, Chef Ben’s Fall Flavors Salad, which I’ve enjoyed twice already since its debut a week ago.

While a salad may sound a little unexciting with all of the comfort food cravings that emerge this time of year, comfort is exactly what I’ve found in Chef Ben’s salad, which is creative, pretty and full of flavor.

Showcasing a variety of dried fruits, this mixed greens salad also features smoked Gouda cheese, toasted pine nuts and a lovely white cranberry vinaigrette.

Dried fruits have a long shelf-life and are a quick and easy way to add color and sweetness to a salad. You’ll notice our local grocery stores are already beginning to stock up on a great variety to get us through the fall and winter seasons when the variety of fresh produce in season is more limited. Dried fruit retains most of the fruit’s nutritional value, but some varieties use added sugar to sweeten the fruit so check the packaging or visit a local health food store if this is a concern.

The salad features dried figs and apricots, and Tony added dried cranberries and pineapple chunks today for additional color and flavor. I appreciate the careful consideration Chef Ben has given to the overall balance of this salad, with each ingredient seeming to have a purpose in the dish.

The smoked Gouda cheese, grated into shreds, adds a creamy softness to the salad’s texture, and the smokiness provides a welcome contrast to the sweetness of the fruit. If you can’t find a smoked Gouda, any good, semi-hard cheese will work like plain Gouda, white cheddar or fontina.

With their gentle crunchiness, small size and unique flavor, pine nuts enhance this salad in myriad ways, even nutritionally. Rich in healthy fats and full of antioxidants, pine nuts are a great addition to any healthy diet. While they are more expensive than other nut varieties, keep in mind that a little goes a long way when it comes to pine nuts. Toasting any nut enhances its overall flavor, and for a small amount like this (⅓ cup) I prefer to toast them on the stovetop, in a dry pan over medium heat for about three to five minutes until they are golden brown.

Mixed greens are just the right weight for this salad as heavier greens like romaine or iceberg would compete with the texture of the other ingredients. You could also use spinach, green leaf lettuce or even a bitter green like arugula, which would offset the sweetness of the dried fruit well.

Chef Ben dresses the greens with a white cranberry vinaigrette, another thoughtful gesture as the dressing reflects the flavor of the season while keeping neutral in color so that the dried fruit remains the star of this salad.

We recommend pairing this salad with pork or poultry and a slightly sweet white wine like a Riesling.

Chef Ben’s Fall Flavors Salad

Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients:

1 package mixed greens

¼ cup dried figs, quartered

¼ cup dried apricots, sliced

¼ cup dried cranberries (optional)

¼ cup dried pineapple chunks (optional)

¼ cup smoked Gouda, shredded

⅓ cup toasted pine nuts

¼ cup white cranberry vinaigrette (see recipe)

Vinaigrette Ingredients:

½ cup white cranberry juice

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

¼ cup white wine vinegar

Directions:

Prepare the vinaigrette first. Use a whisk or food processor to mix all vinaigrette ingredients together, except the olive oil, until well combined. Continue to whisk or blend while adding the oil in a slow, steady stream until the oil is fully incorporated into the mixture.

Toss the greens with the vinaigrette until leaves are evenly coated. Refrigerate any remaining vinaigrette for up to one week.

Arrange the leaves on individual serving plates and then top first with the dried fruit, then the shredded cheese, finishing with the toasted pine nuts.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello’s restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 10-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com

Great Sarello’s Soup-Off finalists announced

The finalists are in for the first Great Sarello’s Soup-Off competition:

  • Walleye Chowder, Tom Shorma, Fargo
  • Tuxedo Bean Soup, Renee Crary, Detroit Lakes, Minn.
  • Beer Cheese Soup, Sarah Ann Miller, Fargo
  • Italian Sausage & Cheese Tortellini Soup with Spinach, Michelle Erdmann, Fargo
  • Valley Borscht, Kristen Berg Rheault, Fargo
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We appreciate everyone who submitted a recipe, and we hope you’ll join us from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. today in the Sarello’s Wine Lounge to help us pick our winner.

The Great Sarello’s Soup-Off will feature five soup recipes submitted by our readers and prepared by our Sarello’s team.

Taste each and vote for your favorite. The winner will be announced in our column and on our blog Nov. 12.