A few Thanksgivings ago I was trying to find an alternative salad to my family’s traditional lettuce, chive, mayo and garlic salt salad. Yeah I know it sounds oh so exciting (sarcasm intended) but it actually does taste yummy. It just gets boring after awhile, especially when it is served at every single family get together. Plus, as I am sure you have figured out, with the mayo, its not all that healthy.
As I was saying, I was trying to find an alternative salad. It had a set of strict requirements – no bell peppers (I’m allergic), no tomatoes (cousin allergic), no yellow, red or white onions (other cousin allergic), no dairy or nuts (nephew and cousin in law allergic). And this was pre me finding out I was also allergic to pineapple and garlic. I’m starting to feel like a really bad joke right about now. With all of this in mind, I happened upon one salad that Giada De Laurentiis from the Food Channel had prepared. Since I generally find her food quite appealing, I thought I would use it for inspiration. So I modified the salad to fit my family’s tastes and food needs.
I am happy to say it was a resounding success, a hit that everyone loved. So much so I have enjoyed making it from time to time for my family and friends. Over the years I have modified it further to balance the sweet and sour and bitter. That said, pancetta can get pretty expensive for not a lot of meat and often extremely difficult to find. Pancetta is basically Italian bacon. So if its out of your price range or can’t seem to locate it, then substitute thick cut and low fat bacon or streak of lean pork fatback. Just chop it up in to really small cubes and you are good to go.
Fennel is a great root vegetable. Its extremely aromatic and has a great licorice smell to it. Again, this can be sometimes difficult to find but not because of rarity. Rather its just going incognito. You can often find it labeled as anise. Technically two separate root veggies, they are often lumped in as one and are considered interchangeable. The other cool part is the price. Typically right around $2, it can be a nice little treat without breaking the bank.
2 – fennel bulbs
10 ounces of pancetta bits or substitute bacon
1 tablespoon minced garlic or imitation garlic flavoring
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of fine sea salt
dash of fresh ground pepper
one small heads of butter lettuce
one small head of arugula lettuce
3 tablespoons red wine or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon of fine sea salt
dash of fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
Putting It All Together:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Chop fennel into small one inch cubes. If using bacon or whole pancetta, chop it into small bits. Mix the fennel, pancetta, brown sugar, olive oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper until the fennel and pancetta are completely coated.
3. Place the mixture on a parchment lined baking sheet in a single layer and cook until the pancetta is crisp, about 20 minutes. When done, remove and cool for about 5 to 10 minutes so it is warm but not cold.
4. Tear the butter lettuce and arugula in to mouthful sizes. Mix and set aside.
5. Combine the wine vinegar, lemon juice, honey, sea salt, pepper and olive oil in a large sided container such as a mason jar and mix until well incorporated. I highly recommend using an emersion blender for this.
6. Mix fennel, pancetta and lettuce mixture together. Pour vinaigrette over the salad and serve.
All in, its about 30 minutes from start to finish. I find that it pairs well with any Italian sausage meal as fennel seed is typically used to make the sausage. Also a dessert of mango gelato or fresh mango slices go well with it too. If you give it a try, I’d love to know what you think!
Until next post!