Thursday, March 22, 2012

Watercress and Pear Salad with Cashew-Coated Goat Cheese and Citrus Vinaigrette

Watercress is really a stunning salad leaf.  It has a pleasantly mellow and slightly peppery taste (not to mention, it looks so pretty on the plate!).  In addition, Watercress has been touted as a “superfood” for all of its nutritional benefits – a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition even found that a daily serving of Watercress can significantly reduce DNA damage to blood cells, which is considered to be an important trigger in the development of cancer.  

With all of its wonderful health benefits, I love pairing Watercress with something a little bit decadent – in this case, Cashew-Coated Goat Cheese!  Haystack Mountain has been making their Boulder Chevre since 1991 and it has been a staple in my kitchen for years.  It has that signature goat’s milk tang and pleasant notes of hay with a wonderful, creamy texture.  The fried goat cheese patties make a rich and flavorful accompaniment to this salad and give the dish enough heft to be a meal, in itself.  

Watercress and Pear Salad with Cashew-Coated Goat Cheese and Citrus Vinaigrette
serves 4

2 Watercress bunches, rinsed well and cut from the root ball *see presentation note
1 pear (any kind), thinly sliced
4 oz (1 small log) Haystack Mt. Boulder Chevre
¼ cup Flour
1 egg
1 T milk
3 T panko bread crumbs
3 T finely chopped cashews
peanut oil
salt and pepper

1 garlic clove, chopped
Pinch of Meyer lemon zest
3 T Meyer lemon juice
Pinch of blood orange zest
3 T blood orange juice
1 T D’Anjou Pear Vinegar (may substitute Champagne vinegar)
½ tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp honey
3 T extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste

Assemble the goat cheese patties:  Allow chevre to come to room temperature (let stand, unrefrigerated, for at least 30 minutes or longer, if possible).  Divide log into four equal portions.  Roll portions into little balls and then flatten, slightly, into a small patty.  Arrange the ingredients for the crust:  Place flour on a small plate, crack the egg into a bowl and lightly whisk together with milk, and mix together the bread crumbs, cashews, and a little salt and pepper in another bowl.  Working one at a time, dredge each cheese patty in flour, then quickly dip the patty into the egg mixture, allowing any excess egg to run off.  Place the patty in the bread crumb mixture and gently press the crumbs into the patty to coat well.  Allow to chill in the refrigerator until you are ready to fry.

Make dressing: Add all the dressing ingredients except the olive oil and salt to a blender.  Pulse a few times to blend, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil with the blender running.  Add a generous pinch of salt (or to taste) and blend.

Place a large, shallow pan over medium heat and add enough peanut oil to coat the bottom of the pan well.  When oil is hot, add goat cheese patties and fry until golden and crispy, about 3 minutes per side.  Remove from pan and allow to drain on a paper towel. 

Place Watercress in a bowl and drizzle with dressing (recipe makes more dressing than you will need - the leftovers will keep in the fridge for at least a few days).  *Presentation tip:  If you want to create a "bouquet" on your plate, as pictured, cut the watercress greens from the root ball while holding the stems together above the cut (kitchen scissors work best for this).  Place the leaf bunch in the bowl so that the stem bottoms are to your left and leaf tops to your right and gently roll the bunch into the dressing as though you were pushing a French rolling pin, making sure to get dressing on each leaf.  Arrange watercress on each plate, then dress the pear slices in the same bowl.  Place the fried cheese on the base of the stems and arrange pear slices in a fan formation.  Serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Herbed Farro and Chickpea Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

It is the first day of Spring!  Visions of farmer's markets, CSA shares, and herb seedlings perched in the windows are dancing through my head and yet, here in Colorado it is still too early for local produce.  Soon we will all be inundated with so many salad greens, spring onions, fiddleheads and asparagus spears that we won't know what to do with them, but for now we are patiently waiting...

But no matter, you can still make a dish that invokes the spirit of Spring using some of our friends from the late-winter produce family.  This wonderfully fragrant salad is bright with the flavors of blood orange and meyer lemon.  The farro is cooked in aromatic Herbs de Provence and tossed with locally-grown carrots (one of the few Colorado items available right now!) and sweet, chopped spinach.  The ensemble makes for a light, wholesome, and decidedly springy dish that is sure to cure your Spring Fever, if only for a day!

Herbed Farro and Chickpea Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
serves 6

3/4 cup Farro
3 cups water
1 T Herbs de Provence
cups cooked chickpeas
2 large carrots, shredded
2 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped

1 small garlic clove, grated on a microplane (or very finely minced)
Juice of 1 medium blood orange
1 tsp. meyer lemon zest
Juice of 1/2 meyer lemon
1 T D'Anjou pear vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
4 T extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium-sized pot, add farro, water and herbs de provence and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat, slightly, to maintain a low boil and cook, uncovered, until tender and fragrant, about 20 minutes.  Drain farro in a colander and toss with a handful of ice cubes to cool the grains down.  Set aside.

Assemble the dressing.  In a small bowl, add the garlic, citrus juices and zest, vinegar and mustard.  Whisk ingredients together.  Continue to whisk and slowly drizzle the olive oil into the mixture so that it emulsifies.  Season with salt and pepper.

Toss remaining salad ingredients together in a large bowl and add as much dressing as desired.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  You may serve immediately, or, for a better depth of flavor, allow to chill for several hours before serving.  Garnish with citrus slices, if desired.