Monday, October 11, 2010

Mizuna salad is a taste made for fall

If you're going to grow unusual things, it helps to tell people what to do with them. Kim Shaw of Small City Farms usually has the table right by the door at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. Now that fall greens are coming in, she spends a lot of time explaining what do with them.

On a recent Saturday, she had bags of mizuna, which got puzzled looks. Mizuna is a green with pointed, dagger-shaped leaves. It's not as peppery as arugula, with a light, crispy texture. To head off the questions, Kim was handing out copies of a recipe for a mizuna salad with a cooked dressing of port, dried cranberries, pancetta (unsmoked Italian-style bacon), pecans and goat cheese.

Since I knew I already had the pecans, dried cranberries and goat cheese, I knew I was most of the way to a nice dinner for two. I picked up a single thick slice of pancetta at the Harris Teeter deli, and since I also happened to have a smoked duck breast in the refrigerator, I seared a few slices to serve with the salad. That was a nice luxury touch, but not necessary. If you wanted to turn this salad into a full meal, you could serve it with roasted chicken, or even slices of a pan-sauted bratwurst.

The dressing was so good, you could almost drink it. I liked it so much, I made it again this week. This time, I skipped the pancetta (heresy, I know, but there is life without bacon), browned the shallot and garlic in a little olive oil, and used a splash of the dressing as a sauce over sliced, oven-roasted chicken breast. I know what's going to be my next dinner party salad, as long as the mizuna holds out.

Mizuna Salad With Dried Cranberries, Pecans and Goat Cheese
You'll need about half the dressing for a nice-size bag of greens. You can cut the amounts in half, or refrigerate the rest of it and rewarm it for another night. One other tip: You can toast the pecans in a dry skillet, remove them and then use the skillet to make the finished dressing.
1 1/4 dried cranberries
1/2 cup tawny port
5 ounces pancetta or thick-sliced bacon, diced
2 shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 (5.5-ounce) log of fresh goat cheese, crumbled (I used about 1/4 cup Bosky Acres fresh goat cheese)
1/2 pound mizuna and/or arugula or other crispy greens
1/2 cup pecans, toasted
Combine cranberries and port in a small pan. Bring to a simmer, remove from heat and let stand about 15 minutes, until the cranberries swell and soften a bit.
Saute the pancetta or bacon in a large, heavy skillet over medium-low heat until crisp on the outside, about 8 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper towel.
Add the shallot and garlic to the bacon fat in the skillet and cook about 2 minutes, just until onion starts to soften a little. Add the oil, vinegar and sugar and cook briefly, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the port and cranberries and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. (Can be made in advance. Rewarm before finishing the salad.)
Combine the salad greens and pecans. Rewarm dressing slightly if needed. Add just enough dressing and cranberries to the greens to moisten and toss well. Top with crumbled goat cheese.