This salad was on the Tra Vigne menu for many years. When all was said and done, I must have eaten a hundred pounds of it, because each time I made it, I couldn't resist taking a bite. Entertaining Notes: To make this ahead of time, cook right up to the point where you add the vinegar and remove the skillet from the heat. Reheat the dressing and then reduce the vinegar just before serving. Have the greens and cheese ready. Then toss and serve. With crostini it is an awesome first course. Wine Notes: I developed this salad for Laura Chenel and Dan Duckhorn. Laura makes goat cheese and Dan makes Sauvignon Blanc wine. The cheese and wine make a classic match, but the challenge was how to incorporate them into a salad with vinegar, which can overwhelm wine. I discovered that if you cook the vinegar, getting the acetic acid down, and the flavor of the vinegar up, then it works beautifully with wine.
- 6 cups loosely packed stemmed baby spinach
- 1/2 cup (5 ounces) fresh goat cheese (recommended: Laura Chenel)
- 1/3 pound thick-sliced pancetta, cut into strips about 1 inch long and 1/4 inch wide
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
- 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
Put the spinach in a large bowl. Crumble the cheese over the spinach. Cook the pancetta in a medium skillet over medium heat until crispy, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain the pancetta in a sieve set over a heatproof measuring cup, reserving the rendered fat. You will need 1/4 cup for the dressing. If necessary, add enough olive oil to make 1/4 cup. Pour the fat back into the pan and add the pancetta. When the pancetta is warm again, add the garlic and cook until light brown, about 30 seconds, stirring occasionally. Add the thyme and let it crackle in the fat for about 10 seconds. Add the vinegar, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook for about 30 seconds to lower the acidity of the vinegar. You should see tiny drops of vinegar dispersed throughout the fat. Add the dried cranberries and stir. Pour the dressing over the spinach and cheese. Toss to coat the leaves evenly and melt the cheese a little. Serve immediately.