Culinary trends have always been as responsive and influential as any other artistic genre mirroring social, political, and economic change. And the leftovers, as usual, are even better.
Consider the 1920s. Prohibition spurred an unprecedented upheaval in American dining. Restaurants and hotels, stripped of liquor profits, went out of business. Vineyards stopped producing wine, and turned out grape juice. Much of that juice became home-brewed wine. My father, who grew up in a building shared by Jewish and Italian families, remembers the scent—and the taste—of his neighbor’s personal label.
“The Delessios didn’t let the Prohibition bother them. He did what all the other Italian families did. He made it out of fermented juice and huge bunches of grapes in the tub. Everyone stomped on it. My mother only had carp in our tub before she put it through the de-flavorizing machine. But Mrs. Delessio’s cooking! I went there for dinner every chance I had.”
My Dad sums it up: Hard-wired cultural taste combined with an eye for opportunity gave rise to thousands of Italian owned speakeasies. Papa’s wine served with traditional cooking, like Mrs. Delessios, gave Americans exposure to, and a taste for, authentic Italian food. And in a country where meat was plentiful, Sicilian cooks added protein to their pastas: meatballs, rich sauces, chicken, with results that became American favorites. And there you have it: Prohibition’s culinary legacy writ large.
Fast forward to the 1980s, another snapshot of social, political, and economic transformation: Out with the lower income hippie, in with the skyrocketing income Yuppie; crunchy granola, out, expensive restaurants, in. Suddenly, there’s an onslaught of ubiquitous, tenacious, and patently uninteresting food fads: endless quiche, balsamic everywhere, blackened everything, and at every party, runny Brie and cloying Zinfandel. In a nutshell, haute couture marries haute cuisine and they give birth to the most expensive singular porcini ravioli on an oversized plate—hardly the stuff of legend.
However, there was goat cheese. There was baby arugula. And there was truffle oil. Even the hedonistic ’80s left behind some culinary perks, writ small, but with a largesse I find indispensible.
And so, I give you Truffle Scented Crispy Goat Cheese Medallions over Baby Arugula Vinaigrette.
What You Need
1 10 oz. log fresh goat cheese
8 oz. baby arugula
Flour for dredging, seasoned with salt and pepper
Finely ground dry breadcrumbs, seasoned
Non-stick sauté pan
Medium mixing bowl
Unwaxed dental floss
Sharp paring knife
Olive oil for browning the medallions
½ C. extra virgin olive oil, best quality
¼ C. fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. sugar
Salt to taste
2 T. finely chopped shallots
½ tsp. minced garlic
Dash hot sauce
¼ tsp. Dijon, optional
What To Do
Unwrap the chilled log of goat cheese. Keep the log intact, carefully removing wrapper by cutting edges with a sharp paring knife. Cut a piece of dental floss, about 10 inches long. Using the floss, slice the log into eight or nine medallions just shy of one half inch wide. Place the medallions on a wax paper lined tray and place in freezer for at least 20 minutes.
Set up your dredging station. Put about one cup of flour into the first bin or dish, the two eggs, beaten with a dash of salt and a teaspoon of water in the second dish, and about 1 cup of the fine bread crumbs into the third.
Coat each chilled goat cheese medallion with seasoned flour, egg wash, and then breadcrumbs. Coat thoroughly, but avoid pressing the crumbs into the cheese medallion. As with basic dredging, the goal is to create a seal with the flour, an adhesive with the egg, and a topcoat of crumbs. In the browning process, the egg will expand, creating a slightly puffed, crisp exterior.
Return the coated medallions to the freezer for 30 minutes.
Prepare the dressing by blending the lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic, hot sauce, sugar and shallots thoroughly before adding the oil in a stream, beating as you go. To assist the emulsification process, you can add a small amount of prepared Dijon mustard.
Clean and thoroughly dry the baby arugula, removing any discolored leaves. Place in the mixing bowl and toss with as much dressing as suitable. Adjust the seasoning. Plate the seasoned greens either individually or on a serving platter.
Heat several tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet. When a drop of water sizzles, the oil is ready for the medallions. Carefully place the medallions on the hot oil, slightly lowering the heat as necessary to avoid burning the delicate outer crust. Brown to a dark, golden color and carefully turn. I find that using a narrow spatula and a fork allows me to turn the medallions without piercing the crust.
When they are done, arrange them on top of the greens. Use two per individual plate. Grind some fresh pepper over the top, sprinkle a dash of salt according to your taste, then drizzle lightly with truffle oil. Serve immediately.
Goes well with a chilled white Zinfandel, wide shoulder pads, and anything Norma Kamali.
By Lisa Reitman Dobi