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Recipe: French Walnut Salad with Goats Cheese Croutons & Vinaigrette
As we’re properly into autumn now, I’m after a bit more of a substantial salad at lunchtime. When I was in Sarlat in the spring one lunchtime after a morning exploring caves we settled down in front of one of the cafes on the main square, ordered a demi-bouteille of the local Bergerac wine and a big, French-style salad each. I had my heart set on a big duck confit or cassoulet for dinner so I wanted to go for something sans-canard (not easy in the Perigord) so I settled on a salad where Rocamadour, the local goats cheese I fell in love with visiting a Rocamadour cheese farm a few years ago was the star of the show.
The massive bowl of leaves was generously piled with roughly chopped cherry tomatoes and cucumber, local walnuts (one of the main crops in the Dordogne valley, a bright, zingy vinaigrette and big croutons of French bread topped with lightly toasted, slightly melty slices of Rocamadour. Not the sort of thing I usually order, I remember that salad as one of the most exciting things I ate on the trip.
Back home, a normal log of goats cheese still tastes great on pieces cut from the heal of San Fransisco-style sourdough that had gone hard on the kitchen counter. Lots of walnuts and cucumber yes, but fiery slices of spring onion join the vinaigrette tossed leaves instead of tomatoes, because that is usually what I do when I’m making a big salad (usually to go with barbecued veal chops) with French lettuce at the Brittany house.
In this recipe I’ve included the measurements to make a classic French vinaigrette in a small jam jar to keep in the fridge for whenever you need it, but the truth is I never do this. I make it as and when I need it in a ramekin, tasting as I go along to know if it needs any more olive oil, red wine vinegar or Dijon mustard. Do whatever works for you. Once you know how to make this classic dressing I don’t think you’ll every buy dressing again.
An autumnal, French-style salad inspired by a lunch in Sarlat in the Dordogne Valley, tossed with a Classic Vinaigrette.
For the Vinaigrette
4 tsp Dijon Mustard
1 tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
For the Salad
45g (1.5 oz) Walnut Halves
Heal Old Bread, in small slices
75g (2.5 oz) Goats Cheese, sliced from a log
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Cucumber, peeled and cut into batons
1 Large Spring Onion, thinly sliced
2 Large Handfuls French-style Lettuce Leaves
Pre-heat the grill to 200 degrees (390 fahrenheit). Meanwhile, make the vinagrette by whisking together the mustard, oil and vinegar. If you think it is too mild, add more mustard. If you don’t think it has enough zip, add more vinegar. If you think you have gone overboard and you want to dampen down the flavour a little, add more oil.
Once the grill is hot, on a baking tray toast the walnuts for 3-4 minutes until they’ve started to brown a little and their skins have started to crack. Remove from the tray and set aside to cool.
Arrange the goats cheese slices on the bread slices and top each with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Grill for 10 minutes until the cheese is slightly brown and bubbly in parts, but the bread has not yet burnt around the edges.
To assemble the salad, in a large bowl toss the cucumber batons, spring onion and lettuce leaves together with enough vinaigrette to coat them. Transfer to a bowl and arrange the walnuts and goats cheese croutons on top. Drizzle with a little more dressing and then serve straight away.
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