The glorious weather pattern we’ve had for the last week or so—eighty-fifty, eighty-fifty, eighty-fifty—won’t last forever, I know. This time of year, I try to appreciate every beautiful day, because tomorrow it might be snowing (also beautiful too, of course, but not. Quite. Yet.). I also know that with every passing Indian summer day, I might be getting my last shot at summer produce. I look at every heirloom tomato as a candidate for canning and every even-halfway-decent peach I eat as a bonus. That’s why I was so excited to get some almost perfect specimens last weekend at the farmer’s market. I used them to make peach pancakes and one last jar of peach chutney and even had enough to assemble this lovely, easy midweek meal.
What I especially love about salads like these is that they can be de-constructed for the picky eaters among us. Actually, it’s more like pre-constructed—unless you forget and dump everything in a bowl together. At that point, it’s still not too late to pick out a sufficient meal for a seven-year-old who doesn’t like her foods to touch—unless of course you’ve already tossed in the dressing. Because at that point the little “supertaster” won’t touch any of it… But you get the idea. Construct and deconstruct at will.
This way my husband and I can have healthy grown-up salads for dinner; my son can have one too, minus the dressing and mushrooms and with some leftover sliced steak on top; and my daughter can have separate piles of chicken, tomatoes, peaches, and spinach on a plate. And, since none of this has required any extra work or cooking on my part, I can still tell myself we’re all eating the same thing.
I made a delicious new dressing for this, which included a tip I got from one of my cooking class clients. (It’s so fun sharing ideas and recipes with other moms, and I love that I get to do it while I’m supposed to be” working!”) Instead of crumbling cheese (like goat or Feta) on top of a salad, add it to the vinaigrette beforehand, so it marinates the cheese and infuses the dressing with more flavor. What you end up with is more flavor-bang for your cheese buck, which is always a good thing.
Chicken Salad with Peaches, Roasted Tomatoes, & Goat Cheese Vinaigrette
Boneless-skinless chicken breasts (approx. 1 per adult, 1/2 per child)
3/4 cup olive oil (or more as needed)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Pinch of sea salt or kosher salt & pepper
2-3 large ripe peaches (Sorry to keep banging this drum, but peaches are among the “Dirty Dozen,” so try to buy organic.)
1/2 pint grape tomatoes
Large bunch spinach leaves (Same applies to spinach as peaches)
1/2 pint sliced mushrooms
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the tomatoes on a baking sheet and toss with a cap-full or two of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Roast for 20 minutes. Let cool. Marinate the chicken breasts in olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper for a few minutes. Grill until cooked through. Rinse spinach thoroughly (If you’ve never bought fresh organic spinach, you’ll soon see why I say “thoroughly”; it takes at least two trips to the cool-water bath to get all the sand and dirt out.) and dry in a salad spinner. Slice the peaches, and make the dressing (see below). Assemble salads and toss with dressing (or not). Serve with toasted ciabatta rolls or French bread and butter (which I’m pretty sure everyone likes).
For the Vinaigrette (This makes more than you’ll need, but it keeps.)
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine or white balsamic vinegar
Juice of one large orange (or juice of the other half of your lemon from above)
1 small shallot, finely minced
Pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper
1-2 tbs. goat cheese, crumbled
Combine all the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake well. Allow to sit for at least 20 minutes to marinate the cheese. Toss with salad. Store leftovers in the refrigerator and allow to warm up enough so you can shake it again before using.