spinach salad

Taking Salads Beyond Summer

Don’t say good-bye to salads when you say adieu to summer! You can take salad tastes into fall and winter with these simple tips from a Panera chef.

When it comes to salads, very often we think of summer’s bounty: fresh-picked greens, tomatoes on the vine, a handful of just-snipped herbs. But true salad lovers know, there is a cornucopia of seasonal salad ingredients readily available during the fall and winter months too.

“As the weather begins to cool off in many parts of the country, our tastes turn to bolder flavors,” says David Kos, a chef and member of the Panera Bread® Food Team. “When it comes to salads, that often means substituting delicate field lettuces for heartier greens, like spinach and kale, and adding apples, pears, and even root vegetables to the mix.” 

Our Roasted Turkey Harvest Salad is a prime example of how seasonal items - like pears, dried cherries, and toasted pecans - mix perfectly with the robust taste of Gorgonzola cheese and cherry balsamic vinaigrette.

It’s also a great inspiration for a make-at-home salad. “Salads with heartier flavors are easy to create,” says David, who suggests slicing apples or pears into a simple green salad as a good place to start. “It’s a perfect late summer-early fall idea. If you want to spice it up a bit, you can add crumbled blue cheese and candied nuts - and, of course, nothing says ‘fall’ like roasted turkey!”

A few other seasonally smart ideas, courtesy of David: 

  • Swap out light and citrus-based dressings for rich and flavorful red wine and balsamic vinaigrettes.
  • Add roasted vegetables - including diced carrots, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes - to hearty greens. If you’re using tomatoes, try roasting them first to bring out the intensity of their flavor.
  • Keep packages of dried cranberries and cherries in your pantry, and containers of good quality Gorgonzola and blue cheese in the fridge. These flavor-rich ingredients are tasty add-ons to almost any mixed salad.
  • Top your greens with satisfying, good-for-you grains like quinoa, wheat berry, and couscous.

“Warm, wilted salads are also a welcome addition to the table during the cooler months,” says David, who recommends this recipe to try at home. 

Warm Winter Salad

3 strips bacon 

3 tablespoons olive oil 

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar 

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional) 

1 small garlic clove, minced 

1/8 teaspoon salt 

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper 

1 bunch (10 ounces) spinach, coarse stems trimmed (about 5 cups loosely packed) 

1 McIntosh apple (4 ounces), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces 

8 shavings (3/4 ounce) Romano cheese, each about 1 inch by 2 inches 

Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium-low heat, turning the slices occasionally until crisp and browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate and keep warm. Measure the fat in the pan (there should be 2 to 3 tablespoons). Add enough oil to equal 5 tablespoons of total fat in the pan. Whisk the vinegar, mustard (if using), garlic, salt, and pepper into the fat in the pan. Keep warm. 

In a large bowl, combine the spinach and apple. Spoon the warm dressing over the spinach and apple. Toss to coat. Divide among four warmed plates, crumble the bacon over the spinach, and top with the cheese.