Spring Salads

goat-cheese-baked-w-salad-3

Every spring , without fail, I become almost tear-eyed that we are eating great bowls of arugula, spinach, mache, sorrel, chicories and the very first of the lettuces – all planted last fall, all growing again with the milder temperatures… and the rain.Brave greens braving the still chilly weather, they show us winter’s over.

Greens make wonderful companions to fried eggs, poached eggs, omelet, lard-fried croutons, bacon, lardons, duck-fat fried potatoes, duck breasts, thinly cut steaks, any meat really… any thing really. Early spring greens are just glorious, so alive. And I am glad I have them, because, I have to wait at least 30 days before I’ll be able to harvest from the just planted seeds. And with spending so much time out, we definitively need a lot of those quick lunches.

One of my favorite quick meals is a green salad topped with warm breaded goat cheese on a croute (a croute is a French crostini – or vice-versa). I like to marinate the goat cheese ahead of time for added flavor – and I’ll often marinate a lot more than what’s immediately needed – they’ll keep well in the fridge for a few weeks. In a pinch,  if you did not marinate the cheese but want that salad right now, just brush the freshly cut rounds with oil before breading them.

Of course, the salad is quite versatile –  you may have any green and herb combination that strikes your fancy. Sometimes I had very finely chopped parsley or fresh rosemary to the breading. Or rub the croutes with a garlic clove. Sometimes not.

Green Salad with Baked Goat Cheese on Croutes

SERVES 2 AS LIGHT MAIN COURSE, 4 AS APPETIZER

  • 1 4-oz log of fresh goat cheese
  • peppercorn, freshly ground
  • ¼ teaspoon thyme leaves
  • Olive oil to marinate
  • salad greens mix, washed and dried
  • ¼ cup dried cherry tomatoes
  • 2 slices of rustic bread, from a large boule-type loaf, for making breadcrumbs
  • 4 slices of baguette or one large rustic loaf slice, cut in 4 pieces slightly larger than the goat cheese rounds
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

For the vinaigrette dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 6 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (or walnut, pecan or grape seed oil). Use the oil where the cheese has marinated for extra flavor.
  1. Slice the goat cheese into four even rounds.  Dust the rounds with black pepper and sprinkle with thyme. Cover with oil and marinate at least two hours up to two days (if more than two hours, refrigerate and remove from the fridge an hour before baking to ensure the oil liquefies again).
  2. Preheat t he oven to 375F. While preheating, toast the bread slices on a baking sheet slipped into the oven. Remove the small ones as soon as dried out (these are the croutes) but bake the larger ones until pale golden. Let cool for a few minutes.
  3. Drizzle olive oil over the croutes (leave them on the baking sheet).
  4. Pulse the other slices in food processor until you have fine crumbs (a sturdy mortar & pestle will do too – which is what I use).  Transfer to a small bowl. Gently lift the goat cheese rounds from the oil (reserve for the dressing).  If you did not marinate the goat cheese, brush the rounds with olive oil. Gently press each round into the crumbs until completely coated. Arrange each round on a top of a croute.
  5. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes until the croute edges are golden brown.
  6. Meanwhile, in a large salad bowl, whisk vinegar and oil until well blended. Toss with the greens and tomatoes. then distribute the salad evenly among the plates. Top each with the hot goat cheese croutes as they come out of the oven.
  7. Serve immediately. ( the charm of that dish is the airy souffle-like texture of the cheese when it’s hot. If the goat cheese cools, it hardens back)

A version of this recipe was originally published in the March/April 2011 issue of Flavor Magazine as part of my Seasonal Table Column.

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