Fig, bocconcini, rocket & smoked pancetta salad
This lovely, simple salad is one of my favourite recipes. The combination of flavours is classic – salty, slightly fatty, smoked pancetta; sweet, ripe figs; peppery rocket; the creamy lushness of bocconcini, and the warm fragrance of roasted pecans. What’s even better is that it takes very little time to put together, but looks and tastes absolutely wonderful.
The only thing to remember when you make it, is to use the best ingredients you can (I know that we food writers tend to bang on about this, but it’s so true…they don’t have to be expensive by any means, most often fresh, in-season produce, isn’t.). The figs need to be ripe and squishy or they will be a disappointment; the bocconcini as fresh as possible; the pecans sweet and nutty; and the rocket, bright green and snappy. On this note, one product that I would like to mention is the wonderful smoked pancetta from Salumi Australia (along with their other brilliant, award-winning smallgoods). They are literally only a hill and a valley away from where we live, so I’m fortunate to be able to buy most of their products easily, however they are available widely, and I can’t recommend them highly enough. And if you can’t find smoked pancetta, please don’t give up on this salad, just use the best quality, thinly sliced bacon that you can find.
2 tablespoons walnut oil (see note below)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¾ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¾ teaspoon clear honey
1 tablespoons fig or balsamic vinegar, or more to taste
Sea salt, to taste
180 g thinly sliced smoked pancetta (or bacon if you can’t find smoked pancetta)
1/3 cup (40g) roasted pecans, sliced crossways
4 handfuls rocket leaves, washed and gently dried
8 bocconcini, torn into rough pieces
8 sweet, ripe figs, quartered or cut into sixths if large
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
#Walnut oil becomes rancid very quickly and is best kept in the fridge to preserve its flavour. If you are unsure of your source for it, replace it with an equal quantity of regular olive oil.
To make the dressing, thoroughly whisk together all the ingredients in a bowl. Taste the dressing, and adjust the balance of flavours to suit you, then pour it into a jar, seal it tightly and pop it in the fridge. (You can make the dressing a couple of days ahead of time and store it in the fridge until needed.)
When you’re ready to serve the salad, lay the pancetta slices in a large frying pan (do this in batches if they won’t all fit in the pan). Put it over medium heat, and cook the pancetta, turning once or twice until it’s golden brown in patches and the edges have frilled a little – it won’t take long as the slices are thin. Remove the slices from the pan as they’re ready, and pop them on paper towel to drain. Add the pecans to the pan, and swizzle them about quickly to give them a sheen, then scoop them out and leave them to cool.
Now it’s just a matter of layering the salad on individual plates. Put a little pile of rocket leaves on the first, then tuck a few chunks of bocconcini here and there into the leaves and top with fig slices and frizzled pancetta. Drizzle dressing over the lot, then repeat the layering until all the ingredients are used, finishing off with a slice of pancetta. Finally, sprinkle the pecans over the top and grind on some black pepper. This makes a beautiful light summer lunch along with a loaf of bread. (The way I love to eat this is to get a little bit of everything on my fork so the contrasts – salty, smoky, figgy, jammy, sharp and nutty – all pop in your mouth at once.)
To roast the pecans
Preheat your oven to 180C. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast them for 6-8 minutes, or until they have darkened a little and smell toasty and delicious. Remove them from the oven and leave them to cool.