Monday, February 22, 2010

Fresh Herb Salad with Shallot & Truffle Vinaigrette

It was April of 2009 and I had just finished brunch in a French bakery on the outskirts of Darmstadt, Germany. You won't find this bakery in any tourist guide book, so you'd do best to leave your English at the door. The menu, abundant with fresh seasonal cheeses, dairy, and eggs, was written entirely in French. The aroma of fresh breads and pastries was so thick, you could almost taste the yeast in the air. It was 9am and there was not an empty seat to be found. Strangers had begun sharing tables with those around them, groups of six crammed elbow to elbow around tables meant for four, and in the middle of it all was a 27 year old Chef from North Carolina who couldn't have wished to be anywhere else in the world.
It was in this bakery that I was lucky enough to get my hands on a bottle of Vinaigre aromatise a la Truffe, vinegar flavored with truffles. Truffles are one of the rarest and most expensive foods in the world. They are exceptional mushrooms that grow 3 to 12 inches below the ground nearby to the roots of Oak trees. The temperature has been unseasonably warm this week, so I thought I'd construct a salad to compliment the refreshing weather. While rooting through my pantry for ingredients I came across this magnificent vinegar that has been aging in a dark corner for almost a year. The smell of this vinegar can really only be described as buttery velvet.

2 Tbsp. Mustard
2 Tbsp. Honey
1 Shallot, brunoise (finely minced)
1/2 tsp. Truffle Vinegar*
6 Tbsp. Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

1/4 C. Pumpkin Seeds, toasted

2 Radishes, paper thin slices
2 Tbsp. Bleu Cheese, crumbled
1/4 C. Cherry Tomatoes, halved Salad Greens**

*[The Truffle Vinegar in this recipe can be substituted with White Balsamic Vinegar]
For the herb salad, I've combined a mixture of salad greens with some fresh dill, rosemary, and endive.]

Over medium high heat with a touch of oil, salt, and pepper, toast the pumpkin seeds for about 2 minutes. Set aside to cool. For the vinaigrette, combine the mustard, honey, shallot, vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Whisk to incorporate and set in the fridge until ready to plate the salad. I don't like to toss the salad in the dressing because it will wilt the greens and I really like the greens to be light and crisp. Instead, in a bowl, drizzle the salad greens with a touch of olive oil and a hint of vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and toss to lightly coat. This is will give a bit of zest to each bite without overpowering the greens. To plate, I like to spread the dressing on the plate first and then pile the greens on top of the dressing. Scatter the tomatoes around, place the radish slices around the sides and top with pumpkin seeds and bleu cheese. All the raw flavors of these vegetables really make this salad light and aromatic.

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