Monday, September 12, 2016

Cheddar Bacon Bean Salad

I save recipe clippings. Forever. Their pulp fiber mass takes up a rather burdensome part of my life. That’s why I’m so happy that I can now get my favorite food magazines as digital subscriptions on my e-reader/tablet. Now I can bookmark or “scrapbook” recipes like this Cheddar Bacon White Bean Salad for years without them taking up much of a footprint or gravity well in my life!

This salad was from Eating Well magazine and I saved it for over a year before getting around to trying it. I knew it was going to be good and part of me “just couldn’t wait” to get this combination of ingredients onto a fork. Clearly I could wait, but I shouldn’t have. This salad is fabulous.

Actually, much of its fabulousness has to do with is somewhat indulgent nature. Sure it’s loaded with healthy white beans, walnuts, and some vegetables. But it’s real darlings are the cheddar cheese cubes and bacon. They make it rich, hearty, salty, and smoky.

Those indulgent ingredients shouldn’t get all the credit for making this salad delicious, though. The dressing is loaded with roasted garlic, its mellow flavor permeating every tasty bite. Don’t be alarmed by the amount of garlic here. Once you roast it, which involves wrapping whole heads in foil and cooking them in the oven, it’s flavor is not the least bit harsh or overwhelming. The soft, melty roasted cloves also contribute significantly to the creamy nature of the dressing, which is enhanced by the flavors of cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, and fresh thyme.

I think this hearty bean salad would be at home on the table just about any time of year. You could swap vegetables or even make it vegetarian by leaving out the bacon. You could then use smoked cheddar to get back some of that unique flavor. Since the garlic roasting does take some time (although you could do that a few days ahead), I like to make this salad a main dish to keep my meals simple in the area of preparation. I also think it would be pretty good as part of a tailgating buffet spread. The batch is large, so I make up a big bowl and have it for a few meals, including brown-bag lunches. In that case it serves as a wonderful make-ahead meal all on its own.

Cheddar Bacon White Bean Salad
Adapted from Eating Well, May/June 2015

2 medium-size heads garlic
3 slices thick-cut bacon (4 or 5 if using thin-cut)
½ cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
¾ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
5 cups cooked white beans (about 3 15-ounce cans) rinsed and drained
1 bell pepper, finely chopped
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
½ cup sharp cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Peel off the outer papery skin of the garlic clove, keeping the cloves intact. Cut a slim slice off the top of the garlic heads, exposing a small part of the tops of the cloves. Place the heads on a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to wrap them completely. Drizzle 1 teaspoon olive oil over the exposed cloves. Wrap the garlic heads tightly with the foil. Place in preheated oven and roast at 350 F for about 1 hour, or until very soft and just beginning to brown. Cool completely. (This can be done a few days ahead. Keep the roasted garlic in the refrigerator if storing for more than a few hours.)

2. Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until brown and crisp. Drain, cool and chop. Set aside.

3. Heat the walnuts in a small skillet over medium-low heat until just beginning to brown. Stir frequently and watch carefully to prevent burning. Remove from the heat. Set aside to cool.

4. To make the dressing, squeeze the cooled roasted garlic out of the skins and place it in the bowl of a food processor. Add the cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, thyme, salt and pepper. Process until well-blended, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. With the machine running, slowly pour the 1/3 cup olive oil through the opening in the top of the lid. Process until very smooth, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.

5. In a large bowl, combine the white beans, bell pepper, and celery. Pour the dressing over and toss to coat. Stir in the bacon, walnuts, parsley and cheddar. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Makes 6-8 main dish servings.

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