I really heart Mark Bittman. For those who aren’t familiar with him, he’s a food columnist for the New York Times, and in several previous columns I’ve referred to some of his work. One of my favorites came from a 2009 column “101 Simple Salads for the Season.” Here were his instructions: “Cut cherry or grape tomatoes in half; toss with soy sauce, a bit of dark sesame oil and basil or cilantro.” I’ve made that so many times it is almost embarrassing.
I recently picked up one of his books, “Kitchen Express” and the format was similar: no real recipes, just sort of chatty little paragraphs suggesting how to make something tasty, divided by seasons.
I saw this dish, listed under winter recipes and thought how very “interesting” it sounded. (In my parlance that’s like saying “he has a nice personality.”)
Well, it was not only interesting, it was really delicious. I did add the optional fillip of the crisped coppa (Italian cured pork loin) on top, and the tiniest splash of balsamic dressing on the greens. Coppa or another option, prosciutto, can be found in most supermarkets, packaged, very thinly sliced.
I served it as a side salad for dinner, but it is pretty hearty. It would make a great luncheon main dish, or as a brunch side to an egg casserole of some sort. Doubled, it would serve six to eight as a main dish.
If you’re not a bacon eater, you could leave it out, but you might compensate for the loss of the smoky taste by a goodly pinch of Spanish smoked paprika.
You could easily make the salad a bit ahead and warm again slightly just before serving. We had a bit left, and I had it for lunch the next day, and I still would have happily served it to guests. There’s always room in my repertoire for a dish like that!
MARK BITTMAN’S DATE, BACON AND BEAN SALAD
4 slices good quality smoked bacon
2 15-oz cans cannellini or northern beans, drained
½ cup dates, pitted and chopped (or use packaged diced)
6 very thin slices coppa or prosciutto (optional)
1 container arugula
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp good olive oil
Cut the bacon into 1” pieces. In a good sized skillet, cook until just barely crisp. Remove to a paper towel to drain, and pour off about half the fat. To the pan add the beans and dates. Warm on low for a few minutes, stirring around a bit. When ready to serve, put the bacon back into the pan and heat it all together for another minute or two.
Meanwhile, if you’re using the coppa or prosciutto, heat another skillet over medium high heat. Put the meat in one layer and cook, turning once, until just crisp. Put on a paper towel to drain.
In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar and oil. Add the arugula and toss. The dressing will very lightly cover the greens. Divide the greens among six plates and top with the bean salad. Perch the crispy coppa or prosciutto on top and serve. Serves six as a generous side or first course salad.