Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Chicken and Bacon Salad with Nectarines and Pecans

When it is as warm as it was here last week (in the high twenties Celsius), you want something that tastes cool and delicious but that is also filling and nutritious. This salad fits the bill perfectly.

The nice thing about salads is that you can make them pretty substantial without a lot of effort. I bought some chicken breasts from the butcher first thing last Thursday morning and cooked them before it got too hot. I then cooled them down and kept them in the fridge until supper time. I also used a big bag of ready washed and prepared lettuce in this salad just to keep the effort involved to a bare minimum. I know the jury is still out on whether bagged salads are really good for you, and whether there are chemicals in the water it is washed in, but once in a while I think you just have to give yourself a break. However, you can use whatever salad leaves you like in this salad - so by all means start from scratch if you want to. It is nice to include some of the sharper tasting leaves like lollo rosso or even rocket (arugula) as well as some sweeter varieties just to give the salad a bit of bite.

My local supermarket, Waitrose, stocks an amazing balsamic vinegar and oregano dressing that is my family’s favorite of the moment. It is really worth using if you can get hold of it. If you can’t, any ready made balsamic vinegar based dressing of your choice is fine. You can even make your own with 1/4 cup of mild olive oil, 1/4 cup good balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon mustard, a generous teaspoon of white sugar and about half a teaspoon dried oregano, all shaken together. I also use the salad dressing as a marinade for the chicken when I cook it, just brushing a bit over each side of the chicken. (Be sure to keep the dressing you use for marinade completely separate, and do not put utensils that touch raw meat anywhere near dressing that is going to be used on the salad itself.)

To serve four people, you need:-

3 chicken breasts, cooked, cooled and chilled
1 small package of pancetta chunks or bacon lardons
(or use about four slices of bacon, chopped into small pieces)
1 small red onion, peeled and finely sliced in rings
5 - 6 cups mixed salad leaves
(ready prepared bagged salad is fine)
2 - 3 nectarines
(don’t cut these up till the last minute or they will go brown)
4 small handfuls of pecan halves
Balsamic vinegar based salad dressing

Cook the pancetta or bacon in a frying pan until done. Drain the fat off and set aside.

Divide the salad leaves between four large salad plates. Scatter the onion slices over the salad. Cut the nectarines in slices. (You can peel them if you like, but I love the bright color of the skin against the green of the salad, and normally nectarine skins are not tough.) Divide the nectarine between the salads. Scatter a handful of nuts on each salad.

Slice the chicken breasts and place one on each serving of salad. Drizzle the whole thing with salad dressing and scatter the cooked pancetta or bacon on top of each chicken breast, dividing it between the four plates.

Serve more salad dressing on the side. This is lovely served with warm rolls - or if it is really hot, just serve it with cold, crusty rolls or slices of baguette.

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