Dressed in a warm cherry pancetta vinaigrette, this spinach salad is packed with amazing flavor and texture. Almond-crusted goat cheese and crisp fennel make the salad a substantial side to any main course (especially a flakey white fish). The cherry flavor of the vinaigrette is not overwhelming. The cherry vinegar adds a wonderful depth of flavor that is sure to satisfy your palate. Continue for the recipe.
Warm Spinach Salad with Cherry Pancetta Vinaigrette
Adapted from Epicurious.
5 pancetta slices (about ½ pound), cut into ½ inch pieces
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup cherry vinegar (or you could use balsamic vinegar)
3 tablespoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup sliced almonds
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
1 11 oz. log soft fresh goat cheese, cut crosswise into 6 rounds
6 cups (packed) baby spinach
1 small fennel bulb, sliced into sticks
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Cook pancetta in a heavy, large skillet over medium heat until crispy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the crispy pancetta to a paper towel covered plate. Remove skillet from heat. Reserve 2 tablespoons drippings in skillet and add olive oil. Whisk cherry vinegar, shallots, garlic and brown sugar in a small bowl and add to the skillet. Stir over medium-low heat just until warm. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Use warm.*
Spread the sliced almonds on to plate. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, 1 tablespoon water and a couple turns of freshly ground black pepper. Dip the goat cheese rounds in the egg mixture, let any excess egg run off, then coat with sliced almonds. Place rounds on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until warm (about 10 minutes).
Combine greens and fennel in a large bowl. Add dressing and toss to coat. Divide salad among 6 plates. Top each serving with a sprinkling of pancetta bits and 1 goat cheese round.
* The vinaigrette can be prepared earlier the same day. Just reheat right before you are ready to dress the salad.