EMMANUELLE’S BAKED CHÈVRE ON MESCLUN
For three summers I cooked in the south of France, in Languedoc, on the western side of the Rhône from Provence. The local goat cheese is Pélardon, a rustic disk usually eaten fresh; we found them in the open market aged as well. You can’t find Pélardon here, but fresh chèvre logs cut into thick disks approach it. Emmanuelle, the housekeeper, showed me how to make this dish, using aromatic herbs from the garrigue—the rocky, moorlike terrain of the region. Thyme, rosemary, sage and lavender thrive in thatdry climate with harsh winters and hot summers.
Emmanuelle served the chèvre on mesclun, a word Americans use now but often misunderstand. In the local dialect mesclun means tender baby greens of several varieties sowed and harvested together—“mixed up,” to use our
English cognate. The distinct leaves with their exquisite contrast of colors, texture and flavors rank high on my list of favorite foods. With Emmanuelle’s chèvre, this recipe is my kind of souvenir—to enjoy in New England with our own fine local produce
This dish is a course, not a pickup hors d’oeuvre, so the cheese should be thick. It’s perfect for a spring lunch, first course, or combined salad/cheese plate, and virtually all done ahead.
Makes 2 servings.
2 rounds of fresh chèvre, each ½ to ¾ inch thick 1 sprig each fresh thyme and rosemary (or other fresh herbs), chopped 1 small clove garlic, minced 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil (use your best here) Grating of fresh pepper About ¼ cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs 4 handfuls of mesclun Simple vinaigrette (3:1 ratio of olive oil to vinegar; use your finest quality)
Cut the chèvre across into rounds about ½ inch thick. For a lot of servings, chill the cheese thoroughly for easier slicing.If it crumbles apart, just push it back together again.
Mix together the herbs, garlic, pepper and olive oil on a saucer. Press both sides of the chèvre into the seasoned oil, then into the breadcrumbs. Set the coated cheese rounds on a baking sheet and scrape any remaining oil on top; cover loosely and let it sit (chilled if the weather is warm) for 30 minutes or more.
Preheat the oven to 325° or 350° F. Bake the chèvre rounds for 20 minutes or more, until the breadcrumbs begin to turn golden, the cheese to melt and the seasonings to fill the air with their heady fragrance.
Spread the mesclun on serving plates. With a spatula, put a chèvre round in the middle of each. Shake up the vinaigrette and sprinkle it over the mesclun.
Serve immediately, while the cheese is still soft and warm.
Serve more bread on the side if you wish.