As we ease into these cooler months, we tend to crave warm, heartwarming comfort foods like roasts, stews, casseroles and soups. Though it probably doesn't first come to mind when thinking of autumn and winter foods, salad certainly shouldn't be an option that's taken off the (dinner) table. Sure, iceberg with ranch dressing will be a little out of season to serve, but there are many other roughage and topping ingredients that are plentiful in the produce aisle during these next two seasons. Apples, avocado, citrus, beets, figs and grapes are great fruit and vegetable options, while arugula, spinach, escarole, baby kale and endive all make great lettuce bases.
A great example of a salad that's fit to serve in fall or winter is the following recipe that features citrus, crisp and salty pancetta, hearty baby kale greens and a tangy, salty, sweet vinaigrette. Best of all, this salad can be served warm, as the vinaigrette is essentially cooked, and rewarmed on the stovetop just before serving if need be.
Orange, Pancetta and Baby Kale Salad with Honey-Pancetta Vinaigrette
Makes about 2 servings
Olive oil, as needed
3 slices pancetta, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons golden balsamic vinegar (substitute white wine vinegar if needed)
3 tablespoons honey
Salt and pepper, to taste
2-3 cups baby kale mix or seasonal salad greens (mixed greens, arugula, baby kale, etc.)
1 navel orange
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
Heat a small saute pan over medium-low heat and just enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of it. When the oil is hot, add in the chopped pancetta, spreading it out in an even layer. Stir only occasionally and cook for a few minutes, until the pancetta is crisp. Turn off the heat and remove pancetta with a slotted spoon or spatula, reserving the oil in the pan, placing it on paper towels to drain excess oil.
Whisk the vinegar and honey into the warm oil in the pan. If the vinaigrette is too tangy, add a little more olive oil. Season with pepper and set aside.
To segment the orange, cut about 1/2 inch off the top and bottom of the orange to fully expose the fruit. Place the orange on the cutting board on one of its flat ends. With a knife, shave off the skin of the fruit, all the way down to the flesh, rotating as you cut (be sure to cut off all of the white pith as it is bitter). Holding the orange over a small bowl and with a paring knife, cut in between the white lines of the membranes, releasing the orange segments in between them. Set aside.
In a large bowl, add the salad greens, some of the orange segments (without excess juice) and some of the walnuts. Add the reserved orange juice to the vinaigrette and drizzle some of it into the bowl, tossing to coat the ingredients evenly. Add more vinaigrette if necessary. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Plate salads immediately, topping with reserved orange segments, walnuts and sprinkles of crispy pancetta. Serve immediately. (Note: For a warm salad, reheat the vinaigrette over very low heat before tossing with the greens, but it's also great served at room temperature.)