This elegant and unusual salad showcases some of our favorite harbingers of spring. Piquant, nutty arugula is the perfect foil for sweet English peas, juicy strawberries and peppery radishes. Sliced goat cheese marinated in tarragon and walnut oil, warmed and served atop a croute, adds a creamy, earthy note. Finishing it all is a very light, fruity and slightly sweet Verjus Vinaigrette, which balances the salad's many flavor notes.
Verjus is French for "green juice." It's made from unripe grapes, and its natural acidity is used to heighten the flavor of marinades, sauces and dressings in the same manner as vinegar, but without the bite. If you're unable to find verjus in your area, an alternate Champagne Vinaigrette recipe appears below.
Note that the goat cheese rounds are marinated for 3-4 hours ahead of time, so plan accordingly.
Place the goat cheese rounds in a small, shallow dish and drizzle with the walnut oil, coating both sides of the rounds. Sprinkle both sides with tarragon, salt and pepper, and marinate at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours, turning once.
Meanwhile, lightly toast the sliced baguette rounds to make croutes. Set aside.
To make the vinaigrette, combine the verjus, balsamic, salt, oil, and tarragon in a small jar, cover tightly, and shake vigorously to emulsify. Add pepper to taste and set aside at room temperature.
Fifteen minutes before serving the salad, set a rack 6 inches below the broiler and preheat. Arrange the croutes on a baking sheet and top each round with a slice of goat cheese. Broil until the cheese is warm and begins to soften slightly at the bottom, about 4 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven and set aside while you finish assembling the salad.
Place the arugula in a large salad bowl and toss with the Verjus Vinaigrette. Divide the dressed greens among 4 plates. Arrange one-quarter of the radishes, strawberries and peas on each bed of greens. Top each salad with 2 of the warm goat cheese croutes, and serve immediately.
If you can't find verjus, try this simple champagne vinaigrette (then use it as directed for the verjus in the dressing above):
1-1/2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
4 tablespoons good-quality walnut oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Per serving: Calories 710, Fat 33 grams, Cholesterol 20 mg, Sodium 1,150 mg, Carbohydrates 81 grams, Fiber 5 grams, Sugars 9 grams, Protein 23 grams.
Percentage Daily Values per serving (based on a 2,000-calorie diet): Vitamin A 30%, Vitamin C 70%, Calcium 20%, Iron 35%.