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M. Evans Salad with Warm Goat Cheese and Roasted Shallots

(serves 4)
1 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, quartered
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh thyme
(if you use dried, just use a pinch-
it gets all stuck to the cheese and looks kinda weird)

2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary, plus 1 6-inch sprig fresh rosemary

(I've used dried rosemary before)

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 12 ounce log of goat cheese,
cut into one-inch thick medallions
1 pound shallots, peeled
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup pine nuts
(original recipe calls for pecans)
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 lbs. mesclun
(or stemmed spinach)

1. Marinate the cheese: In a glass or ceramic dish, combine the olive oil, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, basil, chopped rosemary and peppercorns. Add the goat cheese, cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Cook the shallots: Preheat the over to 400 degrees. Transfer the cheese to a plate. Strain the oil through a fine sieve set over a non-reactive 9 by 13 inch baking dish. Add the shallots, balsamic vinegar, water, sugar, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and the rosemary sprig. Cover with foil and bake for about 55 minutes or until the shallots are tender. (make sure there's essentially no "crunch" left in the shallots-the more tender the better, because they soak up the vinegar and are very "sweet and sour" tasting-sometimes I poke a little slit into them with a paring knife so they soak up more juice)

Make the dressing: Discard the rosemary sprig. Pour the contents of the baking dish (this will be the salad dressing) through a strainer set over a small non-reactive saucepan. Return the shallots to the baking dish. Season the dressing in the saucepan with salt and pepper and keep warm over very low heat.

Toasting the pinenuts: Toss the pine nuts with the vegetable oil and a little salt. Toast on a baking sheet until they just begin to color (this may happen in a little as a couple minutes--keep an eye on them!)

Warm the cheese: Place the goat cheese in the baking dish with the shallots. Warm in the oven for about 2 minutes, until heated through; don't let the cheese melt.

Assembling and Serving: Mound the greens on 4 large plates. Set the goat cheese on the greens. Drizzle the dressing over the spinach and scatter roasted shallots and pine nuts on top.

This sounds kind of complicated, but really the most time-consuming aspect of it is peeling all those shallots! As far as all the herbs in the cheese marinade, the one that seems to me to have the most impact on the final flavor is the garlic, so I wouldn't go out in search of all the herbs if they're not on hand--I would think it will be perfectly good if you just used one of the herbs in addition to the garlic.

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