Toasted Goat Cheese Salad with Smoked Bacon
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large sprigs of fresh thyme
2 large sprigs of fresh oregano
1 large sprig of fresh rosemary
1 large sprig of fresh savory (optional)
8 peppercorns, coarsely cracked
8 whole coriander seeds, coarsely cracked
3/4 pound fresh goat cheese, cut into 3 small round disks, 1 inch thick X 2 1/2 inches in diameter and cut in half horizontally to make 6 pieces
6 ounces thickly smoked bacon, 1/2-inch dice
4 thick slices rustic country-style bread, cut or torn into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large handfuls of mesclun or mixed salad greens
1 1/2 cups fine dry bread crumbs
Place the olive oil in a saucepan and heat until warm. With the back of your chef's knife, tap the sprigs of herbs to bruise the stems and release the flavor. Add the herbs, peppercorns, and coriander seeds to the oil and remove from the heat. Let the oil cool. Pour two-thirds of the oil over the goat cheese rounds. Reserve the remaining oil. Let the goat cheese marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours or up to 1 week (see Note).
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Combine the bacon and bread cubes and place on a baking sheet. Bake, tossing occasionally, until both the bread and bacon are golden, 7 to 10 minutes. Leave the oven on.
Combine the mustard, garlic, and red wine vinegar. Add the reserved olive oil and whisk together. Season with salt and pepper.
Tear the greens into salad-size pieces. Wash well and spin dry.
Season the bread crumbs with salt and pepper. Remove the goat cheese from the oil and coat with the bread crumbs. Place on a baking sheet and bake until the cheese is slightly bubbling around the edges, 4 to 5 minutes.
Toss the vinaigrette with the greens. Arrange the greens on a salad plate and place the cheese in the center. Surround the cheese with croutons and bacon.
Note: This cheese is best when marinated at least 3 to 4 days before using. The oil can be reused.