You probably would never have guessed that Alice Waters and her “delicious revolution” crossed paths with Craig Claiborne and his butter counterreformation, but indeed they did. In 1981, Claiborne, who covered most of the twentieth century’s best culinary stories, also covered the early stages of what would become its most important crusade.
“Where American gastronomy is concerned,” Claiborne wrote, “there is one commodity that is rarer than locally grown black truffles or homemade foie gras. That is a chef of international repute who was born in the United States. Even rarer is such a celebrated chef who is a woman.”
Claiborne described Waters, whose name, he added, “may not be a household word,” as “a modest, diminutive, gamine-like figure with fingers that are astonishingly small, considering her métier.” As we now know, she wasn’t really destined for the kitchen anyway.
One of the dishes Claiborne ate the day he met Waters at Chez Panisse, which he called “a cunningly designed, somewhat raffish establishment,” was baked goat cheese with salad, which later became one of the iconic dishes of the decade. He included the recipe in his story and, two years later when reporting with Pierre Franey on the growing popularity of goat cheese, offered a slightly different version from Waters’s book "The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook." I made both, and while both are good, this one is marginally better (thyme in the bread crumbs, red wine vinegar rather than balsamic).
This dish can easily be mishandled, and it often is in mediocre restaurants, where the salad is soggy and the cheese a molten wad. This is not the occasion for bagged “mesclun.” Take the time to find great baby greens from a local farm or sturdy bunches of arugula, red leaf lettuce, mizuna and/or baby watercress.
This recipe was originally published in 1983.
Adapted from "The Essential New York Times Cookbook' by Amanda Hesser."
Place the rounds of goat cheese in a flat dish and add ¼ cup oil. Add the thyme sprigs or sprinkle with 1 teaspoon dried thyme. Let stand for 8 hours, or longer refrigerated.
Blend the remaining teaspoon of dried thyme with the bread crumbs; set aside.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the cheese rounds from the oil and coat them all over with the bread-crumb-and-thyme mixture. Put them in an oiled baking dish and place in the oven. Bake for 6-10 minutes, or until the cheese is lightly bubbling and golden.
Meanwhile, blend the remaining ¼ cup oil with the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Pour this over
the salad greens and toss.
Serve the cheese on warm plates, surrounded by the garlic toast, with the salad.