Salads: an undeserved bad rap


Salads tend to get less love than other meal courses. It's what people who are trying not to eat food usually end up eating. The typical restaurant salad is boring: a bunch of iceberg lettuce and you consider yourself lucky when there's a tomato or crouton tossed in. I mean, no wonder no one gets excited about eating that.

However, today, I'm going to plant myself firmly in the minority camp of salad lovers, and I'll show you why with a salad that my foodie friend (who usually treats salads with disdain) proclaimed to be the best salad he's ever had. How's that for setting high expectations?

One thing I love about salads is that you can be really creative. There's a huge gamut of colors and textures to work with. You can have savory, sweet, or better yet, a little of both. There's really hardly any food that you can't throw into a salad, so don't limit yourself to the standard fare at the buffet salad bar. A salad is only as boring as you let it be.

The trick is in pairing your ingredients well so that they complement each other. Some of my favorite salad combos are beets with goat cheese, roasted fruit with nuts, tomatoes with fresh herbs, and adding some bacon never hurts. There's also lots of interesting greens and bulbs that you can use as a base (so feel free to give the iceberg lettuce a break): arugula, asparagus, beets, bibb lettuce, endives, fennel, herbs, mache, and radicchio are just a few that you can try. Lastly, there's the dressing. I tend to prefer light vinaigrettes that complement the flavors of the other components in the salad (as opposed to layering on the heavy Ranch dressing).

Today's salad isn't too difficult but looks impressive. It 's based on a salad that was once featured in Gourmet Magazine (RIP):

Pancetta-wrapped Peaches and Arugula Salad


Prep time: 40 min
Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 Tb champagne vinegar
  • 1 Tb lemon juice
  • 1 Tb honey
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • 3 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 ripe but firm peaches
  • 18 very thin slices of pancetta (can substitute thinly sliced bacon)
  • 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 oz (6 cups) arugula
  • 1/2 cup ricotta salata cut into 1/2" cubes
  • 3 Tb toasted pecan pieces

Directions
  1. To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the first 6 ingredients (vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt, pepper, evoo) until emulsified.
  2. Wash the peaches and cut each into 6 wedges. Then wrap each wedge with a slice of pancetta (if your pancetta is round, then unwind the circle into a strip). You can use a toothpick to help hold the pancetta in place if necessary.
  3. Heat the remaining 1 Tb of olive oil in a medium sized skillet and then cook the wrapped peaches in 2 batches. Rotate the peaches every couple of minutes so that each surface of the pancetta is browned and cooked through. This should take around 6 minutes per batch. Set aside on a towel lined plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
  4. In a large bowl, toss the arugula with the vinaigrette.
  5. Plate the salad by diving the arugula amongst 6 plates and then topping each with 3 slices of the pancetta-wrapped peaches. Sprinkle each plate with the ricotta salata and toasted pecans. Serve immediately or else the arugula will start to wilt from the heat of the peaches.
Give this a shot and see how it compares to some of your favorite salads!
Kevin  – (October 16, 2010)  

Thanks for pointing this out -- salads to have an undeserved bad rap. I love throwing in a handful of candied pecans (easily obtained from you local Trader Joe's), sunflower seeds, and some sweet/bitter dried fruits like cranberries.

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