Crispy Cheese Salad with Pancetta and Pine Nuts

Food options on business trips tend to be a mixed bag from upscale restaurants for working dinners or dine and dash runs through fast food joints between meetings and airplane flights.  There are usually more fried foods and cocktails than usual and rarely enough fruits and vegetables to balance things out.  That is why when I get home from business trips my first meal is usually a big crunchy fresh salad with as many colorful vegetables as I can muster up.  It is my atonement to my body for the less than ideal fuel I provide it on the road.

This week’s travels took me to beautiful sunny San Diego, CA – a whole continent of food away from my normal life and diet.  Tomorrow I will sit down and blog about my gustational adventures on the west coast, but today all I want to talk about is the massive salad I made upon my return home.

My salad started in the usual way with lettuce, cucumbers, red bell peppers, shredded carrots and beautiful hunks of fresh avocado.  I added fresh white corn for a touch of sweetness and then accented the salad with pine nuts and pre-made crispy fried onions. (I am weaning myself off the fried food habit of the week rather than going cold turkey!)

The real interesting unique ingredient for this salad though is Halloumi cheese “croutons”.  I seriously love this cheese!  If you have never tried this cheese it is typically found in the specialty food section of grocery stores near goat cheese, brie or fresh mozzarella (not all retailer carries it).  Halloumi has a salty mild flavor, but its big claim to fame is that you can fry it in a pan with just a tiny bit of oil (no bread or coating required!).

For this particular salad I cut the cheese into cubes, pan sautéed the cubes with just a touch of olive oil until they were golden all over and then add the cubes to my salad like gourmet crispy little croutons.  These salty little bites of cheese are just heaven on a salad! I highly recommend that you give Halloumi a try if you haven’t already.

My final salad topper was the dressing.  Instead of globbing it up with traditional oil or mayo based dressing (which are definitely not what I am craving today), I created a sweet balsamic reduction which adds no fat but tons of rich sweet flavor to a salad.  I used a fig infused white balsamic vinegar for my reduction (I have seen this vinegar in almost every grocery store I have ever been in right in the regular vinegar section) but you could easily swap in regular balsamic vinegar and reduce it and it would be just as delicious.  The key to this dressing is taking a few minutes to simmer it on the stove so the balsamic reduces by about half.  This makes the balsamic thicker and concentrates the flavors so it is more sweet than vinegary.  Yes, you could swap in a pre-made salad dressing that this point if you wanted to save time, but I guarantee you it won’t be a deliciously light and fresh as a simple balsamic reduction would be on this salad!

I declare this salad deliciously perfect whether you atoning for travel food, balancing out a stressful week with marginal eating or you are just in the mood for a fantastic salad at home!  I hope you give it a try and let me know what you think!

 Crispy Cheese Salad with Pancetta and Pine Nuts

Prep time: 12 minutes  -  Cook time: 10 minutes  -  Makes: 2 dinner salads or 4 side salads

  • 1 ear of fresh corn
  • 1/2 head romaine lettuce
  • 1 medium to large sized carrot
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 3 tablespoons pre-made crispy side fried onions
  • 1 (8.8 0z) package Halloumi Cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (or substitute canola oil)
  • 1 oz pancetta, diced
  • Balsalmic reduction dressing (recipe below) or dressing of choice

Put corn in a pot of water and boil for 10 minutes.  Remove corn from heat, drain and set aside to cool.  When cool enough to touch cut the kernels off the cob.

While corn is cooking, chop lettuce and vegetables and portion into serving dishes.

Place 1 tablespoon of oil into skillet and heat on medium high heat.  Dice Halloumi cheese and add to pan.  Saute until golden brown on all sides stirring periodically (approximately 4-5 minutes).

Once cheese is golden brown remove from skillet and portion on top of salads.  Add diced pancetta to skillet and saute for 1 minute.  Add pancetta to salads.

Top salads with pine nuts and crispy onions.  Drizzle with dressing if desired.  Serve and enjoy!

White Balsamic Reduction Dressing

  • 8 oz of white balsamic vinegar (I used fig infused white balsamic for this salad)

Place vinegar in a pot and simmer until reduced to about 1/3 cup for 15-20 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool until ready to serve.  Store any unused portion in an air tight container (after cooling completely) at room temperature.

Other recipes you might enjoy!

Grilled Cobia over Spicy Napa Slaw

 

Zucchini Oven Fries with Spicy Sirracha Roasted Garlic Sauce

 

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3 Responses to Crispy Cheese Salad with Pancetta and Pine Nuts

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