Friday, August 29, 2014

My First True French Salad with Goat Cheese in Puff Pastry

I remember so vividly the night I was introduced to my First True French Salad. We were in France, in Paris even, where everyone should probably experience their First True French Salad. It was June and we had spent a gloriously sunny day touring the city - the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame - on foot and via metro, a 9 month old babe strapped to my front.

We had been on our feet all day and I was exhausted and ready to collapse, but my husband had other ideas. He urged "just one more stop," a trip to the highest point in Paris, the Sacré-Cœur, a gleaming white church situated atop the butte Montmartre. I hesitantly agreed and after catching the metro across town, lugged my jet-lagged self up the many steps to the church. Our timing was perfect and what had seemed like madness to me suddenly began to make sense. It was early evening and the sun was beginning to make it's way down in the sky, creating a breathtaking glow as it reflected off the buildings of the city below. I was awestruck and grateful for my husband's wisdom in pushing me to just one more site. We savored the scene for as long as our hungry bellies would allow before heading back down the hill, this time down the steps on the side of the church, a different way from which we came. 

We had no idea where we were going, just hopeful we would happen upon a café that would strike our fancy. Graham, forever the lover of eating outdoors, was of course drawn to a small place with an even smaller patio crammed with drinking and smoking college students, a common sight in Paris. I wasn't too keen on the idea of dining with these comrades given that we were also traveling with a baby but it was getting late and we were hungry and it seemed our options at this point were either to eat there or wander for hours and potentially go without dinner. So we sat, with twinkling lights overhead, my stubborn nature warming yet again to my husband's gut instincts. He has a way of unearthing the amazing, if I just will let go of my way and let him.

I'll bet you know where this story is going. We placed our drink order (wine of course - we were in Paris!) and I began to relax. As was typical with our ignorance to the French language, we had no idea what we were reading as we perused the menu. With some effort, I had determined that a haricot vert was a French version of the green bean, slender and delicate. I spotted them amidst other words on the menu and figured I would order whatever it was, at ease knowing that it would at least include a vegetable.

When the dish arrived, I was delighted to discover it was actually a large salad. There were haricot verts, yes, but also lots of other tasty morsels - olives, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes - finished with a perfectly-browned pastry balancing on top. And it got better. When I cut into the warm pastry, I realized it was filled with French cheese, melted and soft. I don't remember much else about the meal other than that I was in heaven. White lights, a warm evening, the best company (and by that I mean my husband and child, not our neighboring tables who did eventually put out their cigarettes), a cool glass of rosé in hand. And the most amazing salad. My First True French Salad.

As soon as we returned to the states I did everything in my power to try and figure out how to recreate the beloved dish. Of course I had no idea what it was called, no idea the name of the café we were at even. I did my best to come up with my own version, working from memory and using the American ingredients available to me. I must confess, my replication tastes pretty accurate though I would never discourage you from going to Paris yourself to try and real thing. Just look for that little café with the white lights down the hill to the right of Sacré-Cœur.

In the meantime, I cannot urge you enough to MAKE THIS. The recipe is pretty straight forward but it does require things like hard-boiled eggs and cooked haricot verts that add to the process if you don't have them made ahead of time. I recommend preparing dishes earlier in the week that call for haricot verts (or green beans are fine too) and hard-boiled eggs and cooking a few extras to set aside for this salad. Then it will come together quickly on the day you choose to serve it. You will not be disappointed that you went to the extra effort. Trust me. Bon Appétit!

My First True French Salad with Goat Cheese in Puff Pastry

1 egg
2 Tablespoons water
6 ounces of goat cheese, cut into six (1 ounce) round slices
Frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
10 ounces mixed greens
3 cups haricot verts, cooked and cooled (or green beans)
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut into wedges
6 Roma tomatoes cut into wedges
¼ cup Kalamata olives
Freshly ground pepper
French Vinaigrette Dressing (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Crack an egg into a small bowl or custard cup and whisk with water to create an egg wash. Unroll 1 sheet of puff pastry, trimming as needed to create a square that fits around your goat cheese round with some overlap. Brush the edges of the puff pastry with egg wash and then wrap around goat cheese, pinching to seal. Brush the top with egg wash and then place onto a greased baking sheet. Repeat with remaining 5 goat cheese rounds. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until pastry is golden brown.

Meanwhile, divide salad greens onto 6 plates. Distribute haricot verts, hard-boiled egg wedges, tomatoes and olives evenly over the plates. Drizzle with French Vinaigrette a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Top eat plate with a warm goat cheese pastry and serve with a fork and knife!

Serves 6
French Vinaigrette Dressing
(from David Lebovitz)

1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 of a small shallot, minced (about 1 Tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 to 4 Tablespoons olive oil
Fresh herbs, if desired (I usually use chives but thyme or basil would be nice too)

In a small bowl, mix together the salt, vinegar, and shallot. Let stand for about ten minutes. Mix in the Dijon mustard, then add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Stir well, then taste. If too sharp, add the additional olive oil and more salt, if necessary. If you wish to add fresh herbs, it’s best to chop and mix them in shortly before serving so they retain their flavor.

Makes about 1/4 cup, enough for one large green salad

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posted by kelsie