Recipe: Spinach and Arugula Salad with Fennel and Crispy Pancetta
In my household, we often eat salad after we have finished dinner. It may seem unusual, but many European cultures do this. It is said that eating salad after the main meal helps aid digestion and cleans the palate. Eating a salad is also a light and refreshing way to end a meal, especially if it has been indulgent.
I was asked to bring a salad to a Labor Day dinner with my husband's family earlier this month, so I came up with this Spinach and Arugula Salad with Fennel and Crispy Pancetta. My grocery store has a varied selection of pre-washed, organic salad greens and one of my favorites is their Spinach and Arugula blend. I love the convenience of pre-washed greens and I also love the fact that they are certified organic.
Fennel is a wonderful vegetable that I have been eating my entire life. It is widely used in Italian cooking, and is delicious raw or cooked. It has a licorice flavor and is sometimes labeled "anise." Since fennel can sometimes be a bit tough when eaten raw, it is best to slice it very thin. I used a mandoline to get equally thin slices, which make it easier to eat and still give the salad a crunchy component.
For extra flavor and a little indulgence, I took thinly sliced pancetta (Italian bacon) and baked it in the oven to render the fat and crisp it. Once the pancetta was cooled, I crumbled the pancetta on top of the greens and fennel and tossed it with a light balsamic vinaigrette. On the side, I served crumbled Gorgonzola cheese to add even more flavor. All the components of this salad are very Italian and make for a delicious end to any meal.
Spinach and Arugula Salad with Fennel and Crispy Pancetta
- 10 slices pancetta (sliced at #2 thickness)
- 1 fennel bulb
- 3 cups baby spinach
- 3 cups arugula
- Gorgonzola crumbles (optional)
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay out the pancetta slices (it is ok if they touch, but do not overlap them). Bake the pancetta until the fat has been rendered and they have crisped, about 15-20 minutes. Remove the pancetta from the oven and cool them to room temperature on the baking sheet. Once they are cooled, use your hands to break the pancetta slices into small pieces and place them in a bowl. Set aside.
To prepare the fennel:
Cut off the long top stalks and fronds and discard. Use a sharp knife to trim the base off the bulb. Remove the thicker outer layer of the fennel and discard. Use a sharp knife to cut the bulb in half lengthwise and then use a mandoline (or very sharp knife) to slice the fennel crosswise into very thin slices. Use your hands to separate any slices that stay attached to each other. Set aside.
Place the baby spinach and arugula into a large salad bowl. Add the fennel and the pancetta. Add in the Gorgonzola if using (or serve it on the side if some people do not like Gorgonzola). Toss gently to incorporate the ingredients throughout the salad. Dress with balsamic vinaigrette or any vinaigrette of your choice.
To make ahead:
The salad can be made a few hours in advance and kept in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Place the baby spinach, arugula and fennel in the salad bowl and cover with a slightly damp paper towel. Refrigerate. Add the pancetta and Gorgonzola crumbles right before dressing the salad.
Flavia Scalzitti is a food blogger based in Houston, Texas. She is originally from Maryland and comes from an Italian family. Flavia grew up around people who used food and cooking as a way to keep their traditions alive, celebrate their Italian culture, express their love for their family, and nourish the people they cooked for with the freshest and best quality ingredients. She is entirely self-taught and is also passionate about baking. In addition to cooking and baking, Flavia enjoys learning about and practicing photography, reading, traveling, practicing yoga, and spending time with her husband, Peter. She blogs at Flavia's Flavors: http://www.flaviasflavors.com