spinach, basil, and roasted fennel salad with candied bacon and feta

When springtime rolls around, there are so many beautiful, fresh green vegetables to choose from - a welcome change from the root vegetables and hearty fare of the Boston winter season. This salad features a unique combination of spinach and whole basil leaves, candied bacon, fennel, feta cheese and a pesto-like dressing also made with fresh basil. The blend of textures and flavors, along with the creaminess of the cheese, make this a filling yet refreshing spring salad that you can serve as a side dish or as an entree, perhaps topped with a fillet of salmon or roasted chicken breast. I would suggest serving with a creamy white wine such as a Chardonnary.

 

  • Asparagus (1 small bunch)

  • Fennel (2 large bulbs)

  • Olive oil (3 tablespoons total; 1 tablespoon for fennel, 2 tablespoons for pesto dressing)

  • Sea salt (1 teaspoon total; 1/2 teaspoon for fennel, 1/2 teaspoon for bacon)

  • Ground black pepper (1 teaspoon total; 1/2 teaspoon for fennel, 1/2 teaspoon for bacon)

  • Bacon (8 slices)

  • Brown sugar (2 tablespoons)

  • Fresh spinach leaves (4 cups)

  • Fresh whole basil leaves (2 cups; 1 cup fresh for salad, plus 1 cup for pesto dressing)

  • Feta cheese (1 cup, crumbled)

  • Toasted pine nuts (1/4 cup)

  • Fresh garlic (1 teaspoon, finely minced)

 

  1. To start, prepare each separate component of the salad - including asparagus, fennel, bacon, and dressing.

  2. For the asparagus, chop the spears into 3/4-inch pieces. Steam the asparagus pieces in a steamer basket until just cooked through. As soon as the asparagus is cooked, blanche with cold water to stop the cooking and ensure bright green color. Set aside.

  3. For the fennel, chop the fennel bulbs into very thin slices. Toss the fennel slices with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1/2 of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, or until wilted, fragrant, and lighltly golden. Remove from the oven and set aside.

  4. For the bacon, lay out 8 slices of bacon on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Place the brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper on top of bacon and rub into the slices with your fingers. Ensure that each slice is evenly coated. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes, flipping the slices with tongs halfway through baking. Remove from heat when deeply browned and crispy. Beware that sugar can burn so watch at end of baking time to make sure the bacon doesn't burn. 

  5. When the bacon has cooled, slice into bite-sized pieces.

  6. For the pesto dressing, blend in a food processor 1 cup of fresh basil, 1/4 cup of pine nuts, 1 teaspoon of garlic, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper as needed.

  7. To compose the salad, in a large mixing bowl, toss the spinach, 1 cup of basil leaves, feta, candied bacon, fennel, and the salad dressing until evenly coated. 

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