I’ve noticed that Southern women put plenty of time and care into their food, so it’s nice to respect that by taking a bit of time to slice the apples for this salad delicately and make them look beautiful. This is such a light and colourful salad, but it’s also a wonderful base, which you can manipulate into a more substantial meal by adding things like crispy bacon, shredded pork, blue cheese, slices of clementine, chervil, tarragon or basil. Any of these things stirred through will build on what is already an absolutely delicious salad.
Spend a bit of time washing and preparing your salad leaves and dry them either in a spinner or by swinging them around in a tea towel above your head like a lunatic. This will make a big difference to the way the dressing sticks to the salad leaves, so it’s well worth doing.
Lightly rub a baking tray with some olive oil and put to one side. Put a large pan on a low heat and add your butter and sugar. Leave on a gentle simmer for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally to stop it catching, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture starts to darken. Gently stir in your pecans until they’re well coated in the caramel syrup. Be careful not to splash yourself, and don’t be tempted to have a taste because hot caramel can burn quite badly. Once coated, tip the nuts on to the oiled tray and use the back of a spoon to separate them out into one layer. Leave them to cool so the caramel can harden on the nuts.
Meanwhile, make your dressing. Put your orange zest and juice, Dijon mustard and white wine vinegar into a large salad bowl and add a good lug of extra virgin olive oil. Whisk them, then have a taste – you want to get a nice balance between the sharpness of the vinegar and the smoothness of the oil, so add a little more oil if needed, then season carefully with salt and pepper.
Core, quarter and finely slice your apples and add to the bowl with all your leaves. Break the cooled pecans apart, add half of them to the bowl, and use your hands to delicately toss and dress everything. Serve on one big platter, or divide up between plates, and finish by crumbling over the rest of your beautiful caramel pecans.