Croce’s Warm Spinach Salad

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When John Campbell was managing San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina in the early ’90s, he asked restaurateur Ingrid Croce if he could use her warm spinach salad recipe on the menu. Now general manager of La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, John says he was amazed by how many guests raved about the salad. This recipe is taken from Ingrid Croce’s, Photographs and Memories, which won the 2013 San Diego Book Award in the published cookbook category.


Croce’s Warm Spinach Salad
Serves 4-6

Warm Vanilla Bean Dressing
Makes 2 cups

1/2 lb. (2 sticks) butter
1 vanilla bean, split in half and seeds scraped
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 c. light brown sugar
1/4 c. honey
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil


Poached Figs

1 c. white wine
1 c. water
1 c. dry sherry
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/2 lb. dried black mission figs


Salad components

1 c. walnut pieces
1 to 1 1/2 lbs. baby spinach leaves, room temperature
2 red apples, cored and sliced
1 c. crumbled Gorgonzola 
1/2 c. canned Mandarin orange segments
1/2 c. red grape halves


For the dressing
In a small saucepan, slowly melt the butter with the vanilla bean, vanilla extract, brown sugar and honey. Remove the vanilla bean and purée the mixture in a blender. Add the lemon juice and pulse the blender once or twice. Then with the blender running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream to emulsify. 

Note: Will keep refrigerated up to one week. Refrigeration will solidify the dressing; so when you are ready to serve, reheat slowly in a double boiler, stirring often to keep the dressing from separating. 


For the poached figs
In a saucepan, bring the liquids and sugar to a boil, reduce the heat and add figs. Simmer gently until the figs are softened and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Remove them from the poaching liquid, cool, cut off the stems and cut into quarters.


Assembling the salad
Toast the walnuts. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. Let them cool completely. In a saucepan, gently warm the dressing. Toss the spinach with dressing. Top with figs, walnuts, apple slices, Gorgonzola, oranges and grapes.


Recipe from Photographs and Memories: Recipes from Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar by Ingrid Croce with Executive Chef James Clark (Avalanche Publishing, 2012).

Categories: Food & Drink