This is a variation on a salad we served at Bistro Moncur many years ago – sadly, none of us can remember the precise ingredients (and so much the better in many ways). Originally, we used a very fresh, lovely cheese that was presented as a sample by a wonderfully honest farmer who knocked on the back door of the restaurant one day. He formed the cheese into cylinders so that all we had to do was slice off discs, then crumb and fry them to order. Like many pure and original products, this cheese is no longer available, so I now use a matured goat’s cheese such as the delicious Holy Goat Mature Skyla brand. The crust should be sliced off before the slices are crumbed. To ensure that the fritters don’t collapse completely when deep-frying, look for a firm log of goat’s cheese, but not the hard matured type, since this will take away from the freshness of this salad.
- 18–24 baby beetroot, with 2cm stalk attached, scrubbed
- 5 fresh figs (preferably the Honey variety)
- 2 handfuls (or whatever is available) small beetroot leaves, washed and spin-dried
- 3 handfuls small frisée lettuce leaves, washed and spin-dried
- 1 handful small rocket or watercress sprigs, washed and spin-dried
- 2 tbsp lemon thyme leaves
Goat’s cheese fritters
- 500 g fresh goat’s cheese (in log form)
- plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper for dusting
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten with ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3 cups dried breadcrumbs (Japanese panko crumbs give a light crunchy crust)
- 1½–2 litres peanut oil, for deep-frying
- 1 small clove garlic, any green shoot removed, finely chopped
- 1 eschalot, finely chopped
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 60 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 2–3 tsp aged red-wine vinegar, such as Forum Cabernet vinegar
- sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Preheat the oven to 160°C. Wrap the beetroot individually in foil, then bake for 30 minutes or until they are tender when pierced with a fine skewer. Unwrap the beetroot, then peel and remove the stalks. Cut any larger bulbs in half. Cover and set aside.
To make the goat’s cheese fritters, slice the goat’s cheese into 1 cm-wide discs; there should be at least 12 pieces. Dust the cheese with the seasoned flour, then pass through the beaten egg and then the breadcrumbs. Lay the fritters on a baking tray lined with baking paper and refrigerate until ready to fry; don’t crumb the cheese more than 2 hours ahead as the crumbs will soften.
To make the vinaigrette, whisk together all the ingredients, then taste and adjust the seasoning.
When you are ready to serve, cut the figs in half lengthwise to display their pretty interiors.
Heat the oil in a large deep saucepan until it registers 180°C on a candy thermometer.
Meanwhile, quickly moisten the beetroot with half the vinaigrette and, in a separate bowl, the salad and thyme leaves with the remainder. Assemble the beetroot and leaves on 6 flat entrée plates, then top with 3 quartered figs per serve, cut-side up.
Fry the fritters in batches until crisp and pale golden, draining them on paper towel as they are cooked. Tuck them into the salads against the beetroot to give the salad some height. Serve immediately.
This is an edited extract from the book Salades by Damien Pignolet, published by Lantern, RRP$59.95.