Christmas Party Recovery: Warm Pancetta Spinach Salad

It’s the month of Christmas, the month of cookies (as I’ve moaned about before) and party food and gluttony. And we’ve still a week to go! When I hit the grocery store this weekend to find fixin’s for a few weeknight dinners, I wanted minimal effort, something hearty but healthy (at least healthy sounding) and warm.

Isn’t it great when you’re scratching your head for recipes, standing in the aisles, and an old favorite comes to mind? There I was, standing next to the bacon and, Woila! — Warm Spinach Salad came to mind. I remember my mom making it when we were kids, and I remember thinking, “How on earth are you going to make bacon fat into a salad dressing? Aren’t bacon and salad like oil and water?” Oh contrare. I didn’t know how it worked, but I loved it, especially once she told me the salad was something my Papa had made when she was growing up (that was so like him, to add bacon where it didn’t belong).

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The recipe is also a great one for those nights when you want to eat healthy but be sort of sneaky about it. I mean, a dish that has bacon-like goodness in it? That can’t be too healthy, right? But most dressings are fat-based (or at least they should be if you like real food), so with this one you’re just making your own fat instead of using an oil- or cream-based one. The best part is it’s a way to have your bacon and eat (its fat) too! You don’t have to do the gag-inducing coffee can full of bacon drippings (how can something so good get so gross?). You just add some sherry and you’ve got a salad that’s barely a salad. A salad served warm with cooked onions, garlic and mushrooms (all of which are better cooked, right?) and spinach that’s just-wilted in those crunchy, bacon-y drippings, with goat cheese to top it off if you like! And it takes maybe 15 minutes to make. Have I sold you yet?

In an extra burst of laziness, I mean, fanciness, I opted for the already-chopped pieces of Pancetta instead of bacon for the salad this week. If you use bacon, I recommend using kitchen scissors to cut it into bite-sized pieces before frying.

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{Warm Pancetta Spinach Salad}

You’ll Need:

  • 1 package Pancetta or Bacon, cut into small, bite-sized pieces
  • 1 package baby spinach leaves (or 6 cups), organic if possible
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 onion sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 cup pecan or walnut pieces
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • olive oil on hand
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar (or a sherry that’s been opened for a while, like the bottle my husband brought home from Spain, pictured below, that I really only use for cooking)
  • A 1/4 log of goat cheese if desired, or Parmesan (but remember, you’re recovering from Christmas here)

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Do This:

  • Cook the pancetta or bacon over medium heat in a cast iron or medium skillet, with your mesh screen on hand in case of spitting oil. Let cook until crispy, 8 to 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, chop your garlic, onion and mushrooms. Place spinach in a big bowl.
  • Once meat is cooked, strain it with your mesh screen so that the liquid fat drains into the bowl and the pancetta/bacon stays on the screen.
  • Add garlic, onion and mushroom to the hot pan, still on medium heat, and sauté until onions are translucent, 5 minutes. Add additional olive oil to help coat the mushrooms, which like to soak up liquid. You could also add thyme or other spices at this point.
  • Add the cranberries and nuts to the mixture and brown for a couple more minutes. Then add the liquid fat back to the pan.
  • Add the sherry to the pan — it will fizzle and bubble. Cook for a couple minutes, until liquid thickens slightly. Add olive oil if the fat doesn’t amount to enough dressing (but you want to dress the salad very lightly).
  • Pour the dressing and toppings over the spinach leaves, tossing to coat. You want a light dressing so that the leaves are wilted but not withered. You can always add more.
  • Spoon onto plates and enjoy!

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What are you making for dinners this week? Do you have your own warm spinach salad recipe?

And Merry almost Christmas!

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