Last year for our Easter dinner, Annie and I served a lovely little salad of mixed greens, roasted beets, goat cheese and walnuts accompanied by crostini. I don't recall what the dressing was but I do remember loving the sweet soft beets which Annie had roasted in the oven. It seemed like such a sophisticated starter. The following Monday when I told a co-worker about the meal Annie and I had designed and put together, I was shocked by his response. "I hate to say this," he told me, "but goat cheese, beets, and walnuts? It's a little obvious."
OBVIOUS. God, a year later and that word still haunts me. Damn him for being right. It WAS obvious.
So this year, when Annie and I were discussing what to make, what to do for a salad weighed heavily on me. In the back of my mind I considered different ingredients that could possibly anchor the salad. "Something with tarragon?" I pondered. "Tarragon is springy. Or something with shaved fennel perhaps? Maybe with blood oranges. That's a classic combination. Or is it OBVIOUS?"
As Easter drew near and the rest of the menu was finalized Annie kept badgering me about what we were going to do for the salad. She needed to know so she could print up the menu. (Yes, we're that geeky that we make print up menues and make place cards. Or rather, she is) "I'm really busy at work," I told her impatiently over the phone. "I can't even think about a salad right now." "Well do we even need a salad?" she asked, pointing out that in addition to the soup, the lamb, the dessert and the appetizer, it might be a bit much. "YES!" I snapped, the pressure pushing me to the edge. "Of course we have to have a salad. We're civilazed human beings." I told her I would figure something out.
Once I got home I looked through almost every cookbook I have looking for the perfect salad, but found nothing that struck my fancy. (Well I did, but they were more appropriate for Thanksgiving or Christmas) So I turned to the internet. Doing a keyword search for tarragon on, of all places, Foodnetwork's website led me to this recipe. I'm a little ashamed to say that it comes from Emeril, rather than a celebrated and wise cookbook author, and as such, I didn't have very high hopes for it. I didn't even bother to take pictures of the process. You can imagine my surprise when the results were kind of genius. And a little bit unexpected.
(For the Blackberry Vinaigrette)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 small clove minced garlic
1 pint fresh blackberries
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/3 to 1/2 cup light olive oil
(For the salad)
6 cups mixed baby greens, well washed and spun dry (I used a mix of bagged baby greens and Mache)
2 heads of endive, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
1/4 cup roughly chopped toasted pistachios
handful of blackberries
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
First make the dressing. In a large skillet, heat the oil over a medium-high heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the blackberries and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the vinegars and cook until reduced by half, about 30 seconds.
Remove from the heat and transfer to a blender. Add the sugar, mint and tarragon, and process to a smooth paste. Add the salt and pepper. With the machine running, add the light olive oil through the feed tube and process until smooth.
If you want to, you can strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove the little tiny blackberry seeds. I did not, however do this and it was fine. I was afraid that using a sieve would also strain out the fresh herbs. When I make this again, I think I might go ahead and strain the vinaigrette and then add the fresh herbs last.
Refrigerate until completely cool, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, combine the greens, endive, tarragon, and mint in a large salad bowl and toss to combine. Mound a large handful on individual salad plates. Scatter with the pistachios, blackberries, and small chunks of goat cheese. Drizzle with the vinaigrette. The dressing is pretty thick so you may want to add a couple tablespoons of water to thin it out.
Makes 2 cups of dressing.
From the looks of the vinaigrette, it sort of seems like it ought to be spooned over ice cream or something. The tart sweetness of the berries is heightened by the balsamic vinegars and cleverly balanced by the shallots and garlic while the mint and tarragon bring a springy freshness. The salad is a fantastic mix of textures and flavors - the crunch of the nuts, the creamy mellow goat cheese, the tart berries, all tied together by the tangy sweet vinaigrette.
Tonight I had the salad again, this time as an entree with the addition of some shredded roasted chicken that I had left over from last week.