I resorted to blowing the dust off from one of my old culinary schoolbooks the other night while canvassing for confirmation of a culinary fact in dispute. Welcome to my world. As I cracked the spine and thumbed through pages of notes (I’m a big advocate of writing in my books), an unexpected kick of nostalgia provided inspiration for that night’s dinner plans.
One of my culinary school’s go-to “beginner” recipes was a super simple but amazingly satisfying beet salad tossed with mustard vinaigrette and topped with a crispy round of goat cheese. It’s a salad with a bit of everything going on: roasted vegetables, a basic vinaigrette and a warm and crispy garnish. It was a total benchmark of achievement to go from having it served to you as a freshman to preparing it for others as a sophomore.
What I love about it right off the bat is that it’s made with beets and goat cheese. Do I even need to continue? If you’ve got the time and can roast your own beets, I heartily invite you to do so — an hour or so at 400 degrees while wrapped in foil with a drizzle of olive oil should do the trick. Those more time-crunched should reach for the packs of already roasted and sealed baby beets that are popping up in the cold case of your local supermarket’s produce section; they’re a lifesaver for the beet obsessed.
As my husband and I sat together savoring nerdy culinary school memories (he’s a grad, too), I was reminded of how many times he’d asked if I’d ever really use all of the books that stock the shelves of our office. A simple “How’s your meal, Dear?” was all the answer I needed.
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
For the beet salad:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon honey or agave
1/3 cup high-quality extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
2 pounds roasted baby beets, quartered
1/2 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
For the crispy goat cheese:
1 cup flour
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 (10-ounce) log goat cheese, sliced into 1/2-inch discs, chilled
Canola oil, as needed
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
For the beet salad
In a medium bowl, whisk together the mustard, lemon juice, honey and olive oil until emulsified. Stir in the tarragon, beets and almonds, then season as needed with salt and pepper. Let the salad marinate at room temperature for 10 minutes.
For the crispy goat cheese
Set up three shallow bowls on a work surface: one with the flour; one with the eggs, beaten lightly with 1 tablespoon of flour added; one with the breadcrumbs. Dredge the chilled goat cheese rounds first in the flour, then in the egg paste, and finally in the breadcrumbs. Set aside.
Place a large skillet over medium-high heat with just enough oil to cover the bottom by about 1/8 inch. Once the oil is hot, fry off the goat cheese rounds until deep golden brown, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer the crispy rounds to a paper towel-lined plate, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and allow them to drain briefly.
Serve the beet salad topped with the warm crispy goat cheese rounds.
Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Bobby Deen and Paula Deen, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following his latest tweets on Twitter at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at patrickwdecker.com.