Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Arugula Salad with a special dressing and a Potato-Goat Cheese Gratin...

I knew tonight's main dish for dinner was going to be pretty filling, so I searched through the salad section of our to-try recipe piles to see if anything sounded good. I had an open container of dried figs that needed some attention, so when I saw them called for in this Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese, Bacon, and Balsamic-Fig Dressing, I snatched it out.

Tangy and sweet, the dressing for this salad is definitely the star. To create the dressing, dark balsamic vinegar and chopped Black Mission figs are heated together until the vinegar boils - the pot is then covered, taken off the heat and then set aside to let the figs stew. Those two, along with a bit of water, broth, a couple tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, a squirt of sticky honey, mild shallots and a (literal) pinch of fresh thyme are blitzed in a food processor (a blender would work too) to smooth out the figs, giving the dressing a robust texture.

For the greens, we used a combination of bitter arugula and tender leaves of baby spinach - we tend to gravitate to that combo, but you can certainly use all arugula. Since the dressing is fairly heavy and thick, we portioned the greens out onto the plates and added some sliced red onion, rather than tossing all of the salad ingredients together in a bowl, weighing down the delicate greens. We drizzled the dressing over the top, sprinkled over crisp crumbles of salty bacon and topped it off with a few nuggets of creamy goat cheese. There was not a speck left on our plates when we finished this salad! Good enough as is, I bet a few toasted pine nuts would be a pleasant addition, bringing a textural crunch to this exquisite salad.

The other dish I made tonight, Potato-Goat Cheese Gratin, is more likely to be served as side, but as we are potato fiends, we just made the portions bigger!

There is a surprise layer in the middle of the sliced buttery Yukon Gold potatoes. Inside is a blanket of softened leeks that we slowly cooked until the mild onion-y strips began to caramelize. So the goat cheese would stay moist, a cups worth is scattered with those leeks and hidden underneath another layer of potatoes. Those potatoes should be sliced about 1/8" thick - if you have a food processor, use the 4mm slicing disc to make very short work of them. A mandolin would also help quicken the preparation, but if nothing else, use your trusty sharp knife and try to get the pieces roughly the same size.

Before the second layer of potatoes was laid on top, we poured over a combination of milk, flour, fresh grated nutmeg and a clove worth of minced garlic. You'll only want to add about half this time as the rest will be poured over the final layer. Once the dish is covered and put in the oven, it will take quite a long time to bake... so grab a glass of your favorite drink and set a timer so you don't forget about them! About halfway through, the cover is lifted and the layers of potatoes continue to cook until the liquid begins to thicken and the potatoes can be easily pierced with a knife. When they test done, the potatoes are given a shower in coarse panko breadcrumbs that we tossed with Parmesan cheese and are left for a few more minutes, letting that topping crisp up and brown. Ready for a rough baking time? An hour and 25 minutes, plus you'll want to let them sit about 10 minutes after being pulled from the oven. Eek... so we finished dinner a little late as it was definitely pushing it as a weeknight meal for us.

We portioned this out into four servings as a main dish, but it could definitely stretch up to 8 as a side. The potatoes were tender enough to easily slice into rectangles, but still had a firm enough texture so they didn't turn into mashed potatoes when eating. That little touch of nutmeg doesn't come through as "why is there nutmeg in my potatoes?", but adds just an inkling of spice that made this extra special. I was intrigued by how much we both loved how the pleasant, creamy surprise the goat cheese added - I'll have to remember that trick the next time we make a layered potato dish!


  1. Goat cheese + potatoes sounds like heaven to me! I've been trying to come up with an interesting side dish to take to my family's Thanksgiving gathering, but I can't prepare it there. Do you think this Gratin would still be good if I baked it the night before, then transported it the two hours to my grandparents house in the morning, and stuck it in the oven just until it's reheated? Or should I keep browsing recipes?

  2. Ohh, double goat cheese! Yum!!
    The potato gratin looks delicious, and I love the Mickey Mouse bowl you used for the salad, cute!

  3. Joe, whiel the salad and gratin look fantastic, I noticed and love your Mickey Mouse bowl! Way too cute.

  4. Tasha - We had the leftovers the next day and they were still good. You may want to wait to do the crumb topping until you reheat it though.

    Ana and CM - Thanks! Jeff had to have those...

  5. Mmmm yum! That looks fantastic. My family often makes a version of that for xmas but with some slices of tomato on the top under the bread crumb mix.