Friday, May 22, 2015

Flashback Friday: Salad with Warm Sausage Vinaigrette, Walnuts, and Goat Cheese

This post was originally published on September 9, 2013
Salad with Warm Sausage Vinaigrette, Walnuts, and Goat Cheese

Way back in 1999, my friend LaRaine and I went to Disney World for eight long days. They were made even longer by the fact that I had left my fiancé home while I was off gallivanting on teacups and monorails and watching god-awful animatronic bears and presidents and shit. We also ingested a good number of Calippo ice pops to beat the enervating heat and ate entirely too many buffet meals - both for breakfast and dinner.

We did have one very good non-buffet meal, at my instigation. At the time, I was absolutely enchanted by Emeril Lagasse. I had never had access to cable television until Mr Minx and I started dating, and whenever I was at his house, I made him sit through endless episodes of Emeril Live! as I day-dreamed about eating at one of his restaurants. That dream came true at Emeril's Orlando.

LaRaine and I basically ordered one of each - soup, salad, appetizer, entree, and dessert. There were gumbo and turtle soups, fried calamari with olive salad, barbecue shrimp, roast chicken, a "study of duck" with seared breast, confit leg, and foie gras, and banana cream pie. We were able to finish the soup and salad courses, but slowed down once the appetizers came and said uncle at the entrées. We took a shopping bag full of leftovers back to the condo, and they made for a couple of tasty lunches over the next few days. I even took the confit leg home to my sweetie, because I knew he had never eaten anything like it before.

There were some low points to the meal, but not many. The banana cream pie was a gummy mess, with floury custard and an underbaked crust. On the other hand, the mushroom bread pudding accompaniment to the duck dish was outstanding, and I've made variations on that theme many times at home. Another dish I've recreated is the salad of spinach with a warm andouille sausage dressing and rounds of nut-crusted goat cheese. It was hearty and meaty and probably why I couldn't eat very much after that.

The first time I made this salad, I couldn't find andouille sausage, so I substituted sweet Italian sausage. I also skipped the nut-crusting bit, choosing instead to add the cheese and the nuts to the salad separately. The next time I made the salad, I used andouille and found that I preferred the flavor of the Italian, so that's what I use every time now.

It had been a while since I made this dish - seven or eight years at least. But it popped into my head recently and I decided to make it as an entrée, topping it with pan-sautéed seafood to give it a bit more substance. It was as delicious as ever.

Salad with Warm Sausage Vinaigrette, Walnuts, and Goat Cheese (adapted from a recipe by Emeril Lagasse)

2 links sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
3/4 cup chopped onion
olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups each fresh baby spinach and baby arugula, washed and patted dry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
3 ounces goat cheese, cut into small pieces (I like Purple Haze, flavored with fennel pollen, which goes nicely with the Italian sausage)

In a large sauté pan, cook the sausage over medium heat, breaking it up with the back of a spatula until it's in small pieces. If the sausage starts to stick to the pan, add some olive oil (pork is so darn lean these days!) After about 5 minutes, add the onions and garlic and cook for 7-10 minutes longer, stirring frequently, until onions have started to brown and the sausage is fully cooked. Add the vinegar, scraping the pan to loosen any stuck sausage or onion bits. Whisk in about 1/8 cup of olive oil and remove from heat. Taste dressing and add salt and pepper.

Toss the spinach and arugula with the warm dressing in a large bowl. Season with more salt and pepper. Mound the salad on serving plates, top with walnuts and goat cheese. Serve immediately.

Serves 2 as a main dish.

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