Lauren Groveman a recipe for delicious living

Mesclun with Dried Figs, Butter-Toasted Walnuts, and a Raspberry Vinaigrette...with Pan-Fried Goat Cheese

(November 2, 2006)

Jim asked Lauren:
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I am married to a woman who is a great cook, she follows recipes to a Tee and often does one step better. However, I only barbeque, so when she is away on the golf course or takes out our boat for a spin, I have a few hours to myself when I could prepare something more romantic and sophisticated. I don't cook very much, but what meal could I prepare before she gets home, one that shows effort, but at the same time, easy? Thanks.

Lauren says...

For a great, easy (and elegant) entrée you can't beat lamb chops. I like to serve double-rib lamb chops which are the most tender and make the most sophisticated presentation. Although, in your house, you're the king of barbecue, I'd like to "turn you on" to a great way to get a very similar result, while cooking indoors. It's a pan-searing, oven-roasting method that not only produces magnificent results with all kinds of chops and butterflied poultry, but this method of cooking will enable you, when wanting to serve a first course, to start your chops before you sit down and then finish them after you've finished your first course (and all of this is done without having to put on your coat and go outside to the grill). So, for the entrée, I suggest that you click on a past column, to read the recipe for my Herb-Scented, Double Rib Lamb Chops. On the side, with the chops, serve some green beans that are sautéed in some Garlic Confit Oil or regular extra-virgin olive oil, with minced garlic, cooked yellow onions, and strips of red bell peppers. Also, if really hungry, some small, scrubbed, unpeeled, and quartered new potatoes, brushed with the same mixture used for the lamb and roasted at 425°F for about 30 minutes, would be terrific. (Just make a doubled batch of the seasoning mixture for the lamb and split this between the chops and the potatoes.)

Now, to really show your wife a good time at the table, I'm going to give you an equally elegant (and still easy) recipe, for a first course, that will go perfectly with the lamb. It's breaded and pan-fried goat cheese, served with a wonderful salad of mixed baby greens tossed with slivered red onions and, on top of the salad, you'll scatter on some walnuts that are sautéed with some diced dried Calimyrna figs. Just before serving, the cheese gets shallow pan-fried and the greens get lightly tossed with a great raspberry vinaigrette. And, for dessert, make the Strawberry Sauce, given in last week's column, and serve it with any of the following: vanilla ice cream, frozen yogurt, over a dollop of thick crème fraiche or a favorite fruit sorbet that's flavor would compliment the strawberries (mango, raspberry, blackberry, peach are all good choices).

A recap of the menu:

First Course:

Main Course: Dessert: Now, just to help you to organize the meal, timing wise...

For A Great Dinner on Sunday night:

Do Saturday:
  • Season and chill the chops (if making the potatoes, leave the extra seasoning mixture in the refrigerator until tomorrow)
  • Clean, dry, and chill the salad greens
  • Trim and blanch the green beans (give them a partial "precooking" in boiling salted water for 4 minutes, then drain and immediately refresh the beans in a large bowl of ice water. Drain, dry and chill the beans, covered
  • Slice the onions and red pepper (for the green beans) and keep them refrigerated, separately, well covered
  • Cut the figs and keep covered on the counter
  • Cut, bread and chill the goat cheese until just before you're ready to pan-fry, drain and serve.
  • Make the salad dressing and chill
  • Scoop your choice of frozen dessert and place in the freezer on a tray lined with wax paper (cover scoops with plastic wrap)
  • Set the table (remember the candles and flowers)
  • Toast almonds for the strawberry dessert, if desired, and leave them at room temperature, covered.
Do Sunday
  • Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place in a turned off oven, for now, which you'll use to finish the lamb chops, after your first course. (At least 1 hour before dinner, you'll preheat the oven to 425°F)
  • Scrub, quarter and season the potatoes and place in a covered baking dish, at room temperature until ready to roast (make sure potatoes are well seasoned)
  • Make the strawberry sauce and either chill or let sit at a comfortable room temperature for 2 hours before serving
  • Make whipped cream, if serving with dessert
  • Pan-toast the walnuts for the salad and leave them on a plate lined with paper towels (before serving, you'll add fresh butter to a clean skillet and, when warm, you'll add the toasted nuts and the diced figs and sauté just until warm throughout
  • Sauté the onions for the green bean dish and take off the heat after they've become very tender but not too brown (which makes them too sweet for this dish). Stir in some chopped garlic and the red bell pepper strips and remove the pan from the heat until you're ready to add the green beans. At that time, you'll raise the heat to medium and add the green beans and cook them, with the other vegetables, stirring occasionally, until hot and the beans are nice and tender and the tips become a bit caramelized (While you're having your first course, you should have already begun to sauté the beans. When you sit down, turn the heat to low to avoid scorching.
  • If working with one oven, and including the potatoes, you'll be sharing oven space with the chops, at the end, when finishing them off after searing. If so, the baking sheet for the chops should be in the upper third of the oven and you'll cook the potatoes on the bottom third shelf. Stir the potatoes once or twice while they roast at 425°F for 35 minutes. If they are becoming overly brown before they become tender, cover the dish with aluminum foil.
  • Take the meat out of the refrigerator 1 to 2 hours ahead of cooking the chops. You'll sear the chops before you sit down to eat your salad (at that time the oven should be preheating, with the baking sheet in place).
  • To finish the salad, first pan-fry the breaded cheese and drain, as directed in the recipe. Then, gently sauté the toasted nuts with the diced dried figs, stirring frequently. Lightly dress the greens and ration them between individual plates. Top with some hot walnuts and figs and place one or two rounds of cheese to one side of the salad. (If including the potatoes, only offer one round of cheese per person.) Give the whole thing a light sprinkle of Kosher or sea salt and off to the table you go!
  • After you've finished your first course, clear the table and place your seared chops directly onto the hot baking sheet and follow the rest of the recipe instructions. While the chops finish, you'll raise the heat under the green beans and get them piping hot throughout. Serve the chops with the potatoes, if using, and the sautéed green beans.
  • Clear and enjoy dessert!

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Mesclun with Dried Figs, Butter-Toasted Walnuts, and a Raspberry Vinaigrette...with Pan-Fried Goat Cheese

Yield: serves 6 as a main course

Mesclun Salad

Savory butter-toasted walnuts, bathed in the sweetness of chewy dried Calimyrna figs and perched on top of a pile of greens dressed in fruity vinaigrette, is just sensational. The addition of breaded, pan-fried goat cheese not only makes this meal more substantial but also makes for a very impressive presentation. If seasonally available, toss a handful of juicy pomegranate seeds into the salad when adding the dressing. If you don't feel like breading and pan-frying cheese, omit that step entirely, and simply place a generous slice of creamy Saga blue cheese or the decadent French cheese, called "Epoisses," to one side of the salad, just before serving.

    For the salad:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 generous cup walnuts
  • 1 generous cup diced dried but supple Calimyrna figs
  • 1 pound (14 to 16 cups) mesclun, rinsed and spun dry
  • 1 small red onion, sliced into thin wedges (optional)
  • Raspberry Vinaigrette (see accompanying recipe), close to room temperature

1) To bread the cheese: Mix the egg and water in a shallow bowl. Whisk the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese together, on a plate, and place it next to the egg. Season the crumbs with salt and black pepper. Place a sheet of wax paper on a shallow tray and place it next to the crumbs. Take the logs of goat cheese out of the refrigerator and unwrap them. Using unflavored dental floss, cut the goat cheese into generous 1-inch thick slices. Dip each slice in the beaten egg, coating on both sides, then coat each slice evenly in the crumb mixture. As each slice is coated, place it on the prepared tray. When finished, cover the plate with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour and as much as 24 hours, before continuing.

2) To sauté the nuts and fruit: Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch skillet, over medium heat. When the butter is hot and bubbling, add the walnuts and sauté them, stirring constantly, until light golden, about 2 minutes. Add the figs and cook them, with the nuts, until the figs are very warm throughout, about 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle the nuts and fruit lightly with salt. Cover the pan, loosely, to keep the contents warm.

3) Just before you're ready to serve, pan-fry the cheese:
First place a wire cooling rack on a shallow baking sheet and place the sheet close to the stove. Heat a 12-inch heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet over high heat and, when hot, add a thin layer of olive oil, or melt a few tablespoons of clarified butter. When the fat is hot, add the breaded goat cheese, in a single layer, without crowding. Fry on both sides until golden and hot throughout, turning once. When golden, transfer each slice to the wire rack. (Don't use paper towels, as any oozing cheese will stick to it.)

4) To assemble the salad: combine the greens and the onions, if using, in a large mixing bowl and add enough dressing to coat the greens lightly. Sprinkle the greens lightly with salt and gently mix the dressing throughout. Divide generous portions of salad between six dinner plates and scatter each serving with an equal amount of sautéed nuts and figs. Place 2 slices of fried cheese to one side of the salad and serve immediately. Pass a pepper mill at the table.

Timing is Everything

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  • The cheese can be breaded one day ahead and kept refrigerated, well covered.
  • The dressing can be made and chilled and the greens can be cleaned and dried two days ahead, and kept refrigerated in a jumbo plastic bag, lined with paper towels. For best flavor, let the dressing sit at room temperature for 1 hour, before using.

  • To assemble the raspberry vinaigrette: Mix 1 generous teaspoon Dijon mustard with 1 large minced shallot, 1/3 cup raspberry vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar (or to taste) and 1 teaspoon salt. Whisk in 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon pure olive oil (not extra-virgin). Add black pepper to taste. Makes about 1 cup.

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Lauren Groveman recipes have been featured in many national magazines and local newspapers. Her books "The I love to Cook Book: Rediscovering the Joy of Cooking for Family and Friends" and "Lauren Groveman's Kitchen, Nurturing Food for Family and Friends" are available through Lauren hosts an hour-long, "live" weekly radio show, Food Family & Home "Matters," on 1460 WVOX.

For in depth information on Lauren Groveman as a writer, teacher, TV & radio host, as well as her recipes and cooking tips visit her website at

Lauren is a Larchmont resident. She is happily married and blessed with three wonderful children.