This salad is so delicious, it has spread by a modern sort of word of mouth alone. I tried it out on a friend’s grill a few weeks ago, and as social media will go, she Instagram-ed a photo of it, which led to two of her friends making it on visual suggestion alone, and then friends of that friend’s too. I imagine a web of people now partaking in the awesomeness that is a grilled bacon salad and here you are with a direct line to Patient Zero, and I was too busy dry-rubbing chicken and making pecan sandies into pie crumbles to get around to mentioning it until now. Tsk-tsk.
The inspiration for this salad is, amusingly enough, the worst meal we had in Rome. They say you can’t have a bad meal in Rome, and we almost proved the theory, but near the end we chose a place that was no doubt awesome when the person who recommended it to us spent many evenings there, but for us, was an series of flabby pastas with ketchup-like sauces and mealy antipasti. We hardly suffered, however, because this salad, the one dish we were the most skeptical about, will forever cement that mediocre meal in our minds as “totally worth it.” Bacon — yes, American-style bacon in Rome; not exactly the pork product I associate with the city, but who am I to question these things — was grilled to a perfect, lightly charred crisp then topped with peppery wild arugula and drizzled so-very-lightly with an aged balsamic vinegar, the kind that is thick, dark and almost syrupy, as sweet as it is punchy, the kind that probably costs too much but that I still encourage everyone to buy, just once, because used judiciously (which is to say, not in a steak marinade, please, use the cheap stuff for that) it will last forever.
I mean, bacon + arugula + balsamic: that’s all there was. I added here a few shavings of parmesan and a couple quartered grape tomatoes, you could drizzle on a tiny bit of olive oil or some flakes or sea salt and grinds of black pepper, but it seriously needs none of these things to work. The spicy argula against the crackly smoky salty bacon and tiny droplets of black grapey vinegar work together in perfect harmony and beg to be part of your routine this summer.
Meat week! Okay, I hadn’t intended for this to be an all-carnivore week on the site, I just couldn’t let another weekend go by without sharing this. Don’t worry, next week, will begin with the very most amazing incredible one-pan, totally addictive vegetarian-with-a-vegan-option summer grain dish that we cannot get enough of and then, well, eat all the whole vegetables and grains you can now, because should all go as planned, the summer cake to end all summer cakes should finish out the week.
One year ago: Bacon Corn Hash
Two years ago: Whole Wheat Raspberry Ricotta Scones
Three years ago: Mango Slaw with Cashews and Mint
Four years ago: Watermelonade (Watermelon Lemonade), Light Brioche Burger Buns and Blueberry Boy Bait
Five years ago: Chopped Watermelon Feta and Vegetable Salad
Six years ago: Quick Potato Pirogi and Rataouille’s Ratatouille
Grilled Bacon Salad with Arugula and Balsamic
This salad is ideal with a thicker-cut bacon (but there’s really no need to buy the insanely thick stuff I bought by accident), wild arugula (I find that the leafy bundled stuff has much more flavor and bite than the bagged/boxed stuff) and an aged, dark and almost syrupy balsamic that you save for special occasions. However, the good news is that we’ve made it all ways (I warned you it was addictive) and any old bacon + arugula + balsamic you keep around works too. The real beauty of this, however, is the simplicity of it. I personally loathe making bacon inside because it splatters everywhere and stinks and smokes up my apartment. On a hot grill, it’s done to perfection in just minutes and keeps your kitchen clean. And, if you’re going to a pot-luck with a grill around, there’s nothing easier than bringing a package of bacon, bundle of arugula and bottle of balsamic with you to throw together a salad that may start a summer obsession.
Servings: 4 (I’d estimate 1 to 2 slices of bacon, and 1 ounce arugula leaves per person, depending on how much other food will be served)
4 ounces arugula
8 ounces of thick-cut bacon
Handful of grape tomatoes, halved or quartered (optional)
Small amount of parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler (optional)
Aged balsamic vinegar
Drizzle of olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Arugula is grown in dark, sandy soil and almost always arrives gritty. Don’t skimp on washing it. I like to fill a large bowl or basin with very cold water and drop the arugula into it, pumping it up and down a few times with your hands to allow any dirt and grit to fall to the bottom. Pull it out of the water, being careful not to drag any grit from the bottom of the bowl with it. Spread out on towels to dry it.
Meanwhile, get you grill very hot. Lay out all of your bacon slices and grill them* until browned underneath, which will take all of two minutes. Flip them with tongs; another minute should finish them on the second side. Transfer them to a platter. Tear your arugula into bite-sized pieces over it. Scatter with tomatoes and peels of parmesan, if using. Drizzle very thinly with olive oil and sprinkle with a few, spare droplets of balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and black pepper. Serve immediately, just as some of the arugula begins to sigh over the hot bacon.
* As I’ve already received a few comments about flare-ups on the grill from bacon grease, I want to add before you start that you should definitely use your judgement here; the recipe is not the law. Ours flared a little, but not so much that it worried me. If it’s flaring too much on a high heat, lower it or move it to a cooler part of the grill. You can also close the lid for a minute, or do fewer strips at a time. You know your grill best. Be safe.