December 2, 2011

Spinach Salad with Bacon-Shallot Vinaigrette

Happy Friday! Make this salad.

I love a good spinach salad. I've tried all sorts of combinations: blueberry spinach salad with goat cheese; strawberry spinach salad with red onions; apricot spinach salad with stilton cheese. See the pattern? Spinach is my favorite salad palette for combinations of fruit and onions or sweet peppers and bold cheese. A good spinach salad with homemade vinaigrette goes with anything. It's the veritable "little black dress" of food. But this spinach salad with sweet bacon-shallot vinaigrette can stand all alone. It needs no main dish to complement its truly delicious flavors. Warm bacon dressing is poured over a bed of cold spinach, wilting its leaves ever-so-slightly and giving the salad a distinctive autumn-comfort quality.
I made this salad for a late-night, post-Wednesday-rehearsal supper and accompanied it with chunks of fresh soda bread. Served in my beautiful red Le Creuset serving bowl (which my fiancee gave me as a Valentine's Day present - one of the many reasons I'm marrying this man), this salad was the perfect balanced dinner to assuage the day's demands. 
Like any good spinach salad, this one can be adapted and modified to fit all taste buds. Oil can be used in the place of bacon grease, and the bacon and eggs in the salad can be exchanged for cheese and peppers. But I found that the bacon's smokiness really brought out the sweetness in the balsamic vinegar, mustard, and shallots to make a really stand-out dressing. Any kind of balsamic vinegar may be used, but I highly prefer this 25-year aged balsamic from Hilton Head Island. It's richer and sweeter than most balsamics and can stand up to both sweet and savory flavors. 

Spinach Salad with Bacon-Shallot Vinaigrette
Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish

About 3 cups fresh baby spinach
3 hard-boiled eggs, warm or cold
5-6 slices low-sodium, thick-cut bacon
2 shallots, diced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette
2 teaspoons sugar

Place spinach in large serving bowl. Chop eggs into rounds and add to spinach. Place strips of bacon on cold skillet and warm to about 400 F. Allow to cook very thoroughly on both sides, about 10-15 minutes, until brown and crispy. Let cool on paper towel then chop into small, 1/2" bits and add to spinach and eggs.
Add diced shallots to still-hot bacon grease and sautée until soft and slightly caramelized, about 3 minutes. Pour shallots and bacon grease into medium-sized bowl (you should have about 2 tablespoons of grease). Add sugar and mustard and whisk thoroughly, until mustard is completely emulsified in the liquid. Toss lightly. Serve with soda bread!

Also please forgive the amount of times I said "grease" in this recipe. If you have used bacon grease in cooking you know that it tastes way more appetizing than it looks in print. Trust me - this vinaigrette will not let you down! However, it is best used when fresh and warm. If refrigerated, warm it back up in a shallow pan.
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