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Grilled Peaches with Goat Cheese: Thoughtfully Casual

Grilled peaches with fennel and goat cheese

Grilled Peaches and Fresh Goat Cheese as a stacked salad is a bit challenging. At least to me, it is. I don’t mean it’s challenging to love. Summer peaches are a marvel. Make grilled peaches the center of a summer salad and the only challenge the eaters in your life will face is stopping at just one stack.

No, for me the challenge in this salad comes in presentation.

As a cook, I’m big on presentation. Fabulous food sloppily presented seems half-baked to me. That’s not saying I don’t love a casual presentation. Family-style lasagna. Bread fresh from the oven torn into chunks. Meticulously made cocktails spilling over the sides of the glass. I love this sort of casualness– as long as it’s thoughtfully casual. I’m not saying I’ll succumb to the burlap napkins or rusty forks that some food stylists prefer, but thumb your way through most cookbooks these days and you will see page after page of thoughtfully presented food. All of it is so casual I’d be tempted to put my elbows on the table.

Grilled Peaches

So as summer comes to an end I have grilled peaches in a thoughtfully casual summer salad. We can’t let summer slip away without enjoying the last of ripe, juicy peaches. The combination of fruit and slightly licorice-tasting fennel is a winner. The creamy goat cheese ties all the elements together.

The challenge comes when stacking. Work carefully and quickly, the warm peaches are intended to melt the goat cheese. This can quickly cause your stack to tumble from thoughtfully casual to deliciously sloppy.

Of course, you could serve this salad deliciously sloppy– of course, you could. But I couldn’t (I just couldn’t). GREG

Grilled Peaches with Fennel and Goat Cheese

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Grilled peaches with fennel and goat cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 fennel bulb (with some fronds attached)
  • 1 bunch watercress (stems trimmed and leaves rinsed and dried)
  • canola oil (as needed for grill grates)
  • 4–5 ripe but firm peaches
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic (peeled and lightly crushed)
  • 2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoon fennel seeds (toasted and lightly crushed)
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper (to taste)
  • 8–12 slice fresh young goat cheese (about ⅓‑inch thick each)

Directions

Remove the fronds and stalks from the fennel bulb. Set them aside to use as garnish if you like. Peel off and discard the tough outer layer then cut the bulb in half lengthwise and cut out the cores. Use a mandoline or a very sharp knife to shave or slice the fennel as thinly as possible. Transfer to a large bowl and toss with the watercress.

When ready to serve preheat a grill to medium-high. Carefully oil the grates using an old thick clean towel. Cut peaches into ½‑inch-thick rounds. Cut inward from sides, cutting 2–3 slices off of each side just until you reach the pit. You’ll need at least 12 to 16 uniform slices so keep slicing until you are confident that you have what you need for the stacks. There will be leftover peach flesh at the top and bottom of each pit, consider that a treat for the cook!

In a medium bowl whisk together olive oil, vinegar, crushed garlic clove, brown sugar, fennel seeds, sea salt, and plenty of black pepper. Add the peach slices and mix well to coat the fruit on all sides. Let the slices sit in the marinade 3 or 4 minutes then use tongs to move them to the heated grill. Don’t throw away the marinade; you’ll need it when serving. Grill the peach slices until they soften and nice grill marks appear.

Divide fennel/watercress mixture evenly onto 4 plates. Working quickly while the peaches are still warm, create a stack of 3 or 4 alternating layers of the larger grilled peach rounds and the goat cheese slices on each plate. Remove and discard the crushed garlic clove from the reserved marinade and drizzle some onto each stack. Garnish with fennel fronds if you like. Serve immediately.