Winter has been greedy this year, sinking its hungry teeth into most of us with a vengeance. And after last year's long (long) winter, some days it's almost impossible to imagine life without the hassle of bulky layers, mucky boots and constant sniffles.
Good nutrition is especially important this time of year and can go a long way toward boosting our overall feeling of well-being.
Spinach is one of our favorite winter super foods. Considered to be one of the world's healthiest vegetables, spinach is rich in vitamins and nutrients, and is also a great source of fiber, protein and iron.
The bounty of health properties in spinach can help to improve eye health, strengthen bones and even bring relief to dry, itchy skin - always a plus for those of us living in these northern climes.
One of our favorite ways to enjoy this leafy green vegetable is my mother's Apple Spinach Salad.
My mom has been making this salad for years, and it has become a family favorite. For this recipe, she uses baby spinach leaves, which are tender and better than larger, more mature leaves that can become tough and stringy.
While spinach is the main ingredient, what makes this salad so delicious are the other components: thin slices of red onion and Golden Delicious apple marinate for two to three hours in a vinaigrette made of cider vinegar, whole grain mustard, extra virgin olive oil and honey. This process actually creates the dressing and removes any bite from the red onion, leaving it with a sweet, mellow spiciness.
These ingredients all bring their own punch to this dish, contributing not only flavor, color and texture, but another great dose of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to help you cruise through the rest of winter.
While any Dijon mustard will work, my mom prefers to use a whole-grain variety, which enhances the texture and appearance of the salad.
To prevent the apple slices from browning, she recommends preparing the vinaigrette first as the acid from the vinegar will help the apple retain its color. The apple and onion should be sliced as thinly as you can manage, as this will allow them to absorb the full flavors of the vinaigrette.
For the onion, remove the peel, cut off the ends and set it upright on a cutting board. Cut it straight down (from top to bottom), then lay one half flat-edge-down and cut it into the thinnest slices possible, moving from right to left; once finished with each half cut the slices into half again. Do the same thing with the apple (removing the core, too), then transfer the onion and apple slices to the vinaigrette mix.
When asked, my mom said her favorite thing about this recipe is that most of the work can be done ahead of time so that you only have to toss the salad before serving, which makes it ideal for entertaining. Today's recipe serves eight people, but you can easily halve it for smaller groups.
This rustic salad is versatile enough to enjoy with almost any main course, but we particularly like it with pork or ham, as the mustard in the vinaigrette pairs so well with those meats. Serve the salad immediately and enjoy!
Apple Spinach Salad
2 tablespoons honey
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 bags baby spinach leaves
2 golden delicious apples, thinly sliced
½ red onion, thinly sliced
Use a whisk to combine the honey, vinegar, mustard and olive together until mixed well. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours but no more than 4 hours; the apple and onion will become too soft if left longer than 4 hours.
Toss the dressing mixture with the baby spinach leaves and serve immediately.
To store: This salad is best when served immediately, but leftovers may be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
Tony's Tip: For smaller groups, simply halve the recipe.
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 9-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com