Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Goat Cheese and Ratatouille Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette

Ruth Reichl, editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine came to the Bay Area this week to promote her new book, Gourmet Today, and recounted her cooking adventures as an editor, food critic, restaurateur, and parent of a picky eater. Too much to re-tell here, but I did glean a few juicy tidbits: It’s OK to use pre-chopped onions (shocking!), she always went back to restaurants as herself after going in disguise (“It only seemed fair.”), and Gourmet tests all its recipes 12 times (can I have that job?). I bought the book and will share some of the recipes in upcoming posts.
RuthReichl at a Commonwealth Club Presentation

I’ve cooked hundreds and possibly a thousand of Gourmet magazine’s recipes over the years, but this goat-cheese salad is one of my all-time favorites. The warm ratatouille smothered in goat cheese combined with the tangy pesto vinaigrette is a winner. I’ve cooked it for family and friends and always, always receive rave reviews.

The salad makes a great first course, and a lovely special-occasion lunch served with a piece of rustic bread. If I have any leftover, Jeff and I will eat it with grilled salmon, which is pictured below. 
Goat Cheese and Ratatouille Salad with Pesto Vinaigrette

Serves 8
(You’ll need 8 pastry rings, they can be different sizes. You’ll also need parchment paper.)
Ingredients
Ratatouille
1 Japanese eggplant or small eggplant, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 yellow squash, diced
1 red pepper, diced
3 tbls. olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
2 medium tomatoes, seeded ad pureed
2 tsp. minced garlic
3 tbls. finely chopped parsley leaves
2 tbls. finely chopped basil leaves
1 tbls. finely chopped thyme leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Pesto vinaigrette
¾ packed basil leaves
½ tbls. minced garlic
½ tbls. minced shallot
1 tbls. toasted pine nuts
1 ½ tbls. white-wine vinegar
½ cup olive oil

12 oz. goat cheese (place in freezer one hour before preparation)
8 oz. mixed baby greens

Garnish red and yellow cheery tomatoes, halved

Preparation
Ratatouille
In a large, heavy skillet, cook eggplant in 1 tbls. oil over moderate heat, stirring until tender and transfer to a bowl. In a large skillet cook zucchini, yellow squash, and onion in 1 tbls. oil until crisp-tender, about 3-5 minutes, and transfer to bowl. Cook bell pepper in remaining tbls. of oil until soft,  and transfer to bowl. Stir in tomato puree, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper to taste and cool ratatouille to room temperature.
Diced and minced ratatouille ingredients

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place rings on parchment paper. Fill each ring 2/3 full with ratatouille, pressing evenly and tightly to bottom. Cut goat cheese into 8 slices (the goat cheese will naturally crumble a bit). Top ratatouille in ring with goat cheese, pressing pieces together to cover the ratatouille completely. Bake rounds in oven for 10-15 minutes until heated through. (We made this salad for 8 people, so I made a little extra to have some leftovers.)
Ratatouille rounds topped with goat cheese 

Pesto Vinaigrette
In a blender or food processor, blend all vinaigrette ingredients with salt and pepper to taste until smooth. Vinaigrette may be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring vinaigrette to room temperature before using on salads.

Toss greens in a large bowl with 3 tbls. vinaigrette and divide onto plates. With a spatula transfer a round to center of each salad. Drizzle each salad with about 2 tsp. vinaigrette and garnish with tomatoes. Gustare il cibo!


Tips and Tidbits
If you don’t want to dice all the veggies, you can use a Cusineart to finely chop them using the pulse mode. They won’t look quite as uniform and pretty, but the salad is so delicious, no one will notice, and if they do, don’t invite them to your house again!

You can use reduced calorie/fat goat cheese and cut the oil in the salad dressing in half, replacing it with chicken stock, for a slightly lighter version of the dish.


The goat-cheese rounds reheat really well. Great for leftovers!




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