This dish, like so many of my recipes, was born because some of my produce was about to go bad. In this case, it was peaches.
I had grabbed a few peaches at the store over the weekend, and they were ripe. Like, really ripe. They were soft and had that super-sweet smell that’s basically a telegraph: Use me in the next day or I will rot.
I had been eating lots of sweets over the past few days, so I knew I wanted to do something savory and somewhat healthy. Thus, the salad greens.
Some type of cheese was basically a forgone conclusion. But I wanted something a little different and really special. What I really wanted was a fresh farmer’s cheese like one I had at a hotel breakfast in London. It was fluffy, impossibly creamy, and not too tangy, like the best possible version of cream cheese.
While you can make your own fresh cheese, it’s hard to find in stores, as U.S. regulators are much more strict about raw-milk cheeses than those in other countries. Woe is us. But a good stand-in for fresh cheese is sheep’s cheese. It’s soft and not as tangy as goat’s cheese, which will also work in a pinch.
I opted for a honey vanilla sheep’s cheese at one of our fancier grocery stores. It was not cheap, but man was it worth it. The honey played off the peach and balsamic perfectly.
Which brings me to the vinegar. A balsamic reduction is one of the most underrated dressings in the world. It’s so simple, and it is literally just one ingredient. I take it slow, so I don’t have to worry about burning the vinegar. It takes longer, but it’s less stressful. I like my reduction especially thick, so I reduce it by three-quarters instead of by half.
I also added walnuts (don’t forget to toast them!) and shallots for added depth of flavor and texture. Arugula brought a peppery sing to the greens, and my Balsamic Peach Salad was born.
Everything in this dish complements everything else really perfectly, but the stars of the show are the peaches and the cheese. Make sure your peaches are really ripe (they should be soft and sweet-smelling), and if you can splurge on anything, splurge on the cheese.
This salad would be the perfect thing to bring to a summer cookout or potluck (just wait til you arrive to cut the peaches). You could even grill the peaches, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous.
Balsamic Peach Salad
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
- 4 peaches, skin removed and sliced
- ½ cup honeyed sheep’s or goat’s cheese, crumbled
- ½ cup shallot, sliced thin
- 3 ounces arugula
- 6 ounces spring mix or spinach
- Heat vinegar in saucepan over medium until it begins to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, stirring occasionally. Gently simmer until liquid is reduced to ¼ cup and has a syrupy consistency, about 20 minutes. Be sure to turn on your fan or open your windows while this reduces, and take care not to inhale the fumes!
- Meanwhile, heat large cast iron or heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Spread walnuts evenly in pan and toast about 5 minutes, stirring once or twice.
- Prepare your salad ingredients and add everything but peaches and vinegar to a large salad bowl. Toss gently to combine. Serve salad and top with peach slices and a drizzle of the balsamic reduction.