Here's a very simple, yet elegant salad that works well as a first course at dinner or as a light lunch. Warm goat cheese, crusted in toasted walnuts and bread crumbs is baked and paired with crisp Asian pears, baby greens, candied walnuts and an easy-to-prepare Honey Walnut Vinaigrette.
My second-year culinary students made this salad just last week. I'm especially proud to say that both platings pictured here were done by my high school students.
Asian Pear Walnut Salad with warm Goat Cheese
1 cup walnut halves
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
Warm Goat Cheese
1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
6 slices goat cheese
1 egg white, beaten
Honey Walnut Vinaigrette
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon honey
1 Tablespoon minced shallots
¼ cup walnut oil
½ cup vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped candied walnuts
1 thinly sliced Asian Pear (sliced just before serving)
Mixed Greens (4-6 cups)
1. Prep Goat Cheese: In a food processor, pulse bread crumbs, walnuts, salt, pepper and cayenne until nuts are ground (being careful not to over-grind). Place in a shallow dish. Dip cheese slices in egg white, then into bread crumb mixture, turning to coat on all sides and pressing to adhere. Place on a plate and refrigerate 30 minutes.
2. Candy the Walnuts: Heat butter in a medium non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add walnuts and sugar. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. When sugar begins to melt, stir constantly so nuts are evenly coated and do not burn. Transfer immediately to a sheet of parchment and separate the walnuts immediately. Set aside to cool. Once cool, chop enough walnuts to yield 2 tablespoons for the vinaigrette.
3. Make the vinaigrette: In a mason jar, add vinegar, honey and shallots. Tighten lid and shake to combine. Add oils. Shake vigorously till emulsified. Add 2 Tablespoons chopped candied walnuts. Shake again for at least 1 minute. Adjust with salt and pepper. Set aside to rest until ready to use. Best after 1 hour in the refrigerator.
4. Warm the Goat Cheese: On a small, lightly greased baking sheet, bake goat cheese rounds at 400 degrees F until golden brown and softened, about 5-7 minutes.
5. Assemble: While goat cheese is warming, slice the pears thinly and assemble salad: Toss 4-6 cups baby greens with desired amount of dressing. Plate (4 -5 plates) , then top with pear slices and candied walnuts. Serve each salad with a slice or two of warm goat cheese.
There will be walnuts and dressing to spare. Dressing can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. Walnuts can be stored in an airtight container for 6 weeks.