- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 9, 2004

One of my good friends is the talented chef at a local restaurant where hundreds of delectable dinners are served every day. So when I was looking for an opener to begin a dinner for out-of-town guests, I turned to my friend for advice.

Do a fall salad, he said.

When he mentioned a spinach salad with roasted fingerlings and creamy goat cheese, I told him to go no further. That would be a perfect beginning to the menu I had in mind.

Fingerlings are those small, slender potatoes that are currently the darlings of the food world. They come in a variety of colors, but red and yellow are the most common. They can vary in size but typically are 1 to 2 inches in diameter and 2 to 3 inches long, resembling fingers, thus their name.

Most fingerlings have thin skins that cover moist, waxy flesh. When cooked, they hold their shape well. They can be parboiled or grilled, but I think they are best when roasted. For my salad, I used red-skinned fingerlings, which I drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with coarse salt and pepper, and then roasted.

This versatile salad can also be served as a side dish and would work particularly well in this role at a large buffet.

Spinach salad with potatoes and goat cheese

SHERRY VINAIGRETTE DRESSING:

2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup chopped shallot (about 2 large shallots)

SALAD:

pound (about 6) red or yellow fingerling potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled (see note)

1 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 to 5 cups (about 4 ounces) baby spinach, cleaned and patted dry

2 ounces creamy goat cheese, broken into small pieces

For the dressing, whisk together vinegar, mustard, teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Whisk in the olive oil and add the shallot. (Dressing can be prepared one day in advance. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature and whisk well before using.)

To roast potatoes, arrange an oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Slice the potatoes lengthwise in half and then in half again so that you have wedges that are about inch or more thick.

Drizzle potatoes with olive oil, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, then toss gently. Roast until golden and tender when pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes.

Remove and cool 3 to 4 minutes. (You can roast the potatoes 2 hours ahead and let them cool, but they are best when eaten soon after they come out of the oven.)

Put potatoes in a salad bowl, toss with half the dressing. Add spinach, toss again, adding just enough additional dressing to coat the leaves lightly. (You may not need to use all the dressing.) Taste and, if needed, season with more salt and pepper. Mound potatoes and spinach onto four salad plates, and sprinkle each serving with some goat cheese. Makes 4 servings.

Note: If you can’t find fingerlings, substitute small red-skin potatoes, halve them then cut into -inch-thick wedges.

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