This is a guests are coming for dinner salad, fancier and more labor intensive than most, but the extra effort really pays off. My husband, the salad hater, scarfed it down so enthusiastically that I added extra arugula to the recipe to stretch it. All the parts can be made ahead, Just toss them together at the last moment.
I tend to prefer so-called bitter greens like arugula to milder ones like romaine and Boston lettuce—but if you don’t, just substitute the lettuce of your choice.
For the praline:
1/3 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more to taste
3 tablespoons sugar
For the dressing:
1/2 teaspoon grainy Dijon dressing
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
For the salad:
8 cups loosely packed arugula
3/4 cup coarsely grated aged Gouda, Manchego, Asiago, or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/3 cup dried cranberries
To make the praline, lightly oil a large baking sheet. Toss the pecans with the salt and cayenne in a small bowl. Place the sugar in a heavy skillet or saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring gently, until the sugar starts to melt. Stop stirring and continue cooking, swirling the skillet or pan often, until the sugar cooks to a dark golden caramel. Add the pecan mixture and carefully stir to coat the nuts with caramel. Pour onto the baking sheet and spread evenly with a knife. Cool completely. Crack the praline into pieces, then finely chop on a cutting board.
To prepare the dressing, whisk the mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to form a smooth dressing.
Arrange the arugula in the center of a large serving bowl. Sprinkle on the cheese, cranberries, and praline. Toss with just enough of the dressing to thoroughly coat the leaves.