Wilting fresh spinach leaves just slightly is a really nice alternative to serving them utterly raw. Here, the wilting is done by dressings the leaves with heated oil, which cooks them slightly upon contact, tenderizing them perfectly. The oil is spiked with garlic and hazelnuts for flavor and texture, beautifully balanced by creamy-tangy goat cheese and the subtly sweetness of golden raisins. As you can see, this is a salad with no separate dressing, per se. Instead, the dressed salad comes together as you go, right in the bowl. Once assembled, this salad doesn’t keep well, so aim for putting it together just before serving. You can peel the garlic and chop the nuts well ahead of time, making the final preparations very quick.
- About ¾ pound baby spinach leaves (two 6-ounce bags), washed and well dried
- 4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts (also known as filberts)
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic (about 1 good-sized clove)
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons golden raisins
- 1/3 cup crumbed goat cheese (a 5-ounce package)
- 3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
- Freshly ground black pepper
1. Place the spinach leaves in a large bowl. Break them into bite-sized pieces, if necessary, and remove the stems (or not, depending on your preference).
2. Pour the olive oil into a medium-small skillet and place it over low heat. Add the hazelnuts and cook, stirring intermittently for 5 to 8 minutes, or until they begin to turn golden. Add the garlic during the last minute or so, cooking it slightly but not “frying” it. (Browning the garlic causes it to taste unpleasantly bitter.)
3. Drizzle this hot mixture directly over the spinach, scraping in as much of the oil as you can. (You can also toss some of the spinach back into the hot pan stirring it around to swab up any extra oil left behind.) Use tongs to toss the spinach until it is completely coated with the oil, and the nuts and garlic are well distributed. Sprinkle with the salt as you toss. Add the raisins and goat cheese, and mix well.
4. At the very end, sprinkle in the vinegar and toss until it is thoroughly distributed. Serve immediately, passing a pepper mill.
Nutritional information is based on using 4 tablespoons of olive oil.