Mar 022014

Everyday Arugula & Goat Cheese Salad

Don’t you love those nights when you’ve carefully sourced all the needed ingredients for that recipe you’ve been itching to try, and you’re happily chopping and stirring while increasingly promising aromas waft from the simmering pot on the stove? Glass of wine in hand. Maybe a bit of music going while you set the table and uncork the wine…

Yeah, me too. But most nights, dinner preparations look more like this: I’ve worked later than planned. I am equal parts hungry and tired. I need something quick for dinner, because tomorrow’s to-do list is alarming and I’ve got to get some sleep. Now… what’s in the fridge?

The answer to that question almost always includes a tub of baby arugula and some kind of cheese. And I almost always have a bit of onion or a shallot, or even a leek, on hand for a quick sauté. If there’s bread, I toast some. If not, a handful of toasted almonds gives me the crunch I crave. The entire thing can be assembled in under 15 minutes, from start to sofa.

Pairing: Pinot Noir

Just because the plate is simple, doesn’t mean the wine has to be. In fact, I have no qualms about opening something very nice to go with my everyday arugula salad. And more often than not, Pinot Noir is what speaks to me on those evenings, because I find its silky delicacy to be gentle and soothing to my work-frazzled self. And I think it pairs nicely with goat cheese, so that worked out well here.

Here are a dozen examples, at a range of prices, that I’ve enjoyed lately:

Inman Family 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Olivet Grange Vineyard ($63). Gorgeous, complex, layers of subtle tart cherry, red raspberry, floral, sweet earth, cola, lavender, the merest touches of toast, brown spice and vanilla. Should age beautifully. Find it!

Stoller 2009 Pinot Noir Dundee Hills SV Estate ($45). The sturdy, masculine side of Pinot Noir, this was a nice match for a vegetable pot pie and arugula salad studded with a goat’s milk cheddar this Friday night. With loads of concentrated plum and black raspberry fruit, accented with dried fig, cola, toasted whole spice and a dash of espresso. Find it!

Calera 2010 Pinot Noir Mt. Harlan Ryan Vineyard ($42). Elegant and layered with the mineral notes that I love about Calera, with ripe red cherry and tangy red berry, touches of anise through the pretty finish. Find it!

Calera 2010 Pinot Noir Mt. Harlan de Villiers ($42). So nice, managing to be both ripe and delicate, with plush black and red raspberry and cherry fruit, touches of baking spices, toasty vanilla, and a dash of sweet earth. Find it!

Davis Bynum 2011 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Jane’s Vineyard ($40). Plenty of ripe red cherry and red berry fruit is forward and bright, but complex layers of cola, anise, toast, and sweet earth emerge and evolve through the elegant finish. Lovely stuff. Find it!

MacMurray Ranch 2010 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($27). I got a ton of campfire smokiness at first, but once that settled down, there was appealing bright, ripe raspberry, brown spice and sweet vanilla beneath. Find it!

Stoller 2011 Pinot Noir Dundee Hills Estate Grown ($25). This was actually my New Year’s Eve wine, and it was a lovely way to usher in 2014. With fleshy red raspberry and plum flavors that pick up baking spice, toast, vanilla and spiced tea notes on the polished finish. Find it!

Toad Hollow 2011 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Goldie’s Vineyard ($20). Not sure this is for everyone, but I really liked it. Tart, bright, dry, with a core of tightly-wound pomegranate and tart cherry. Super food-friendly, and opens up after a bit of breathing. Find it!

Viña Ventisquero 2011 Pinot Noir Casablanca Valley Queulat Gran Reserva ($18). Achieves a nice balance of delicate varietal character and oomph, with pretty black raspberry, anise, and an earthy note. Find it!

Buena Vista 2010 Pinot Noir Sonoma County ($15). Best of three $15-ish Pinot Noirs I tasted one night, with juicy red cherry and raspberry jam notes balanced with spice and toast. Find it!

Murphy-Goode 2011 Pinot Noir California ($15). On the light and simple side, but certainly drinkable, with sweet red berry and cherry fruit, baking spices, and a touch of crème brûlée. Find it!

Matua 2011 Pinot Noir Marlborough ($14). Outstanding value here, with lovely fruit, complexity and deliciousness wrapped up in a bargain price. Find it!

Recipe: Everyday Arugula Salad with Herbed Goat Cheese & Sautéed Onion

This is really less recipe and more improvisation. I start by slicing some onion (I’d say about a quarter of a medium-sized onion is what I typically use) and getting that going in a skillet with a glug of olive oil and a bit of salt. Also start the bread toasting under the broiler — or the slivered/sliced almonds in a dry skillet.

While that’s all going, I pile some baby arugula on a dinner plate. Season with a pinch of kosher salt, a bit of olive oil (more is coming later), and a few drops of aged balsamic (the super-concentrated, syrupy stuff). I don’t mix the dressing separately, I just keep adding things to the plate.

In this case, I did have some fresh goat cheese, which I sliced into a couple of rounds and rolled in a pinch or two of herbes de Provence right out of the spice jar. But any cheese will work here — from blue to cheddar to Parmesan. Just shred or dice or whatever you like.

When the onion is cooked to your liking (I like a bit of char), spoon that over the arugula, along with the oil from the pan. Put the goat cheese on the warm onion so it softens a bit. Sprinkle with almonds and/or serve with toast.

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