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Dining Tip: Fennel and Pear Salad with Goat Cheese Toasts

This dish makes for an elegant holiday starter.
Photo by: Evi Abeler
This dish makes for an elegant holiday starter.

Harvey Steiman
Posted: December 12, 2017

Note: This recipe originally appeared in the May 31, 2017, issue of Wine Spectator, "Matching Food & Wine."

Fennel and Pear Salad with Goat Cheese Toasts

• 1 fennel bulb, cored, halved and sliced as thinly as possible
• 1 Bosc pear, peeled, cored, halved and thinly sliced
• 1/4 cup parsley, thinly sliced
• Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
• Habañero vinaigrette, or a variation, to taste (recipes follow)
• Goat cheese toasts (recipe follows)

1. Place the fennel and pear in a large bowl and toss with the parsley, salt and pepper. Using tongs, mix with the habañero vinaigrette (or a variation). Let stand for at least 15 minutes.

2. Divide the salad among 4 medium-size plates, and garnish with a few toasts. Arrange the remaining toasts on a serving platter. Serves 4.

Goat Cheese Toasts

• 1 baguette, cut 1/4-inch thick into about 24 slices
• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 5 ounces fresh goat cheese, at room temperature
• 2 ounces green olives, pitted
• 1 or 2 large pinches parsley leaves
• Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Arrange the baguette slices on a sheet pan. Brush with olive oil and bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

2. In a blender or food processor, combine the goat cheese with the olives, parsley, salt and pepper. Process until coarsely pureed, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. If necessary, stir to combine evenly. Spread mixture on toasts.

Habañero Vinaigrette

• 1/4 to 1/2 habañero chile, seeded and membrane removed, very finely chopped
• 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
• 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
• 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a small bowl, whisk together the chile, mustard and vinegar. Slowly whisk in the oil to create a light emulsion.

Recommended wine pairings

Wine Spectator pick: Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2014 (90, $20)

Changing the components of the salad dressing is all it takes to point more directly to other styles of wine.

Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2015 (90, $24)
The calling card for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is its citrus component, often showing itself as lime (or juicy notes of grapefruit and passion fruit), as opposed to lemon in California versions. Dressing the salad with lime vinaigrette aims at those flavors, and the goat cheese toasts smoothe the connection.

Lime Vinaigrette
In the habañero vinaigrette recipe, omit the habañero and substitute the juice of 1 lime for the vinegar.

Ladoucette Pouilly-Fumé 2014 (90, $24)
Pouilly-Fumé's aromatic profile centers on the herbal, grassy end of the spectrum. The fresh tarragon makes a natural connection, adding complexity to the wine's herbal aspects. I also tried this dressing with chervil, basil and oregano; they all make fine links with the wine.

Tarragon Vinaigrette
Stir 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon into the lime vinaigrette recipe.

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