Asparagus and Fried Goat Cheese Balls: A Love Affair
When making a composed salad, I like to begin with a single vegetable. Preferably not a lettuce, it serves as the anchor to the dish. This can then become a foundation for the extras that can take it from feeling like a same-old salad and into a dish that is craveworthy. Whether it is the nearly ubiquitous roasted beet salad, or a surprising pumpkin salad, there is an endless variety of additions and toppings to make them shine, from sharp or salty cheeses to toasted nuts to meaty additions like bacon or duck cracklings.
One of my favorite bases for a composed salad in season is asparagus. I love asparagus, and the season is short, so I make the most of it. I sometimes garnish with a punchy lemon chive oil, and rough torn sourdough croutons. I sometimes serve it with shreds of pickled rhubarb and toasted pistachios. Dijon vinaigrette and parmesan crisps are a favorite iteration, as is a version with a creamy lemon dressing and crispy chunks of bacon.
But the version I have had in rotation this spring is an asparagus salad with fried goat cheese balls and frizzled capers and chive blossoms. You get the fresh sweetness from the asparagus, barely dressed with Champagne or white wine vinegar and super fresh extra virgin olive oil, both crunch and creamy from the goat cheese balls, pops of salt and crisp from the capers and subtle onion flavor from the chive blossoms.
It is a relatively easy dish, the hardest part being the goat cheese balls. Once you know how to make them, they can also be a fun to nibble all on their own.
Place your steamed asparagus on a platter and drizzle with vinegar and olive oil and season with salt and pepper and set aside at room temperature, covered.
To make the capers, warm a half cup of olive oil in a skillet and when the oil shimmers, add a couple tablespoons of drained, dried capers, frying until they bloom open and get crisp, just a minute or so. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel and set aside. Save the oil for future salad dressing.
For the goat cheese balls you’ll need:
- 1 8-oz. log fresh goat cheese or chevre, left at room temp for about 20 minutes
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups plain bread crumbs
- Salt and pepper
- Peanut oil for frying
Set up a breading station with three shallow dishes, one with the flour, one with the eggs beaten with a tablespoon of water, and one with the breadcrumbs. Season the breadcrumbs with salt and pepper. Make balls of about one to two teaspoons of goat cheese. Roll each ball first in flour, then in the egg, then in the breadcrumbs. Then repeat with the egg and breadcrumbs to make a thicker coating. Set the prepped balls aside on a plate or small sheet pan and refrigerate uncovered until you are ready to fry.
Pour about 3 inches of peanut or canola oil into a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, and heat over medium high heat to about 350 degrees.
Fry the balls in batches until deeply golden brown and drain on a pan or plate lined with paper towels. Hold warm in a 200-degree oven on a rack over a sheet pan until you want to serve.
Place the goat cheese balls around the dressed asparagus, then garnish the dish with the frizzled capers, and some chive blossoms or chopped chives.