Chestnut Salad with Walnuts and Pancetta
- SERVINGS: 4
Fresh chestnuts can be cooked and peeled a day ahead and refrigerated overnight. It's a good idea to buy some extra in case some are spoiled.
- 3/4 pound fresh chestnuts
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 small celery rib with leaves
- 1 imported bay leaf
- 4 thin slices of firm-textured white bread, crusts removed, cut into 1/2 -inch cubes
- 1 medium garlic clove, finely minced
- 1/4 pound pancetta or thick slices of lean bacon, cut crosswise into 1/8-inch strips
- Freshly ground pepper
- Using a small sharp knife, make a slit on the flat side of each chestnut. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add the chestnuts, return to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chestnuts to a thick kitchen towel and wrap them to keep warm. One by one, cut and peel away the outer shell and dark brown skin.
- In a heavy medium skillet, combine the peeled chestnuts, 1 tablespoon of the butter, the fennel seeds, celery, bay leaf and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer without disturbing until the chestnuts are just tender, 20 to 35 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chestnuts to a flat plate to dry.
- In a medium skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over moderately high heat. Add the bread cubes and fry, tossing, until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and a pinch of salt and toss over the heat for 10 seconds. Drain on paper towels.
- In the same skillet, fry the pancetta over moderately high heat until almost crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, the chestnuts and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Cook until the chestnuts are glistening, about 30 seconds.
- Just before serving, place the greens in a large serving bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the walnut oil with the vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Pour the vinaigrette over the greens, add the walnuts and toss. Fold in the warm chestnuts and pancetta and scatter the croutons over the top. Serve at once.
The sweet and salty flavors in this salad would be matched best by a sharply crisp white, such as Simi Sauvignon Blanc from California or Prosper Maufoux Chablis from France. Another option is a bone-dry fino sherry, such as T#237;o Pepe.
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