Panzanella salad with cornmeal dusted pork & bacon… recipe and pairings.

It’s very satisfying having salad for dinner, isn’t it? Well, maybe not, at least not in my world. But what if it has toasted bread soaked in bacon fat, along with crispy bacon and cornmeal dusted pork!? Just got better didn’t it…  So this is what I made for dinner last night, hopefully you give it a try and enjoy it as much as we did, I was truly sad when I finished my plate!

Warm Panzanella Salad
Cornmeal dusted pork, crispy bacon, bacon parmesan croutons, julienne red bell pepper & baby spinach tossed with a dressing of aged balsamic, sriracha and fresh lemon juice.

Serves: 4

1 1/2lb Pork, cubed approximately 1″x1″ (I used boneless pork sirloin chops, they have good marbling and stay moist)
3/4lb Bacon, diced
1 Loaf of French or Italian bread, semi-stale, cubed approximately1″x1″
2 Red Bell Pepper, julienne
12oz Fresh Baby Spinach
1c Cornmeal
1c Grated Parmesan, separated into two 1/2c portions
4tsp Salt, separated into 2tsp and (2)1tsp portions
4tsp Ground Black Pepper, separated into 2tsp and (2)1tsp portions
3tsp Garlic Powder, separated into 2tsp and 1tsp portions
1/2c Aged Balsamic Vinegar
1/3c Sriracha
2tbsp Lemon Juice
3tbsp Olive Oil, separated into 2tbsp and 1tbsp portions
3tbsp Unsalted Butter

Heat your oven to 400F.

Heat the olive oil at medium-high in a sautee pan and add your diced bacon, stir periodically. Once the bacon is crispy remove from the pan using a slotted spoon, leaving the rendered bacon fat in the pan. Set the bacon aside for later.

Put your cubed stale bread into a large bowl, add 1/2c grated parmesan, 1tsp salt, 1tsp ground black pepper, 2tsp garlic powder, 2tbsp olive oil and the rendered bacon fat to the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and shake vigorously to evenly coat the bread. You can also do this in a large Ziploc bag if you would prefer. Put the bread in an even layer on a baking sheet and set aside.

In a medium bowl mix your corn meal, 2tsp salt, 2tsp ground black pepper and 1tsp of garlic powder. Add your pork cubes to the bowl and evenly coat with the cornmeal mixture. Heat the unsalted butter in the same sautee pan you used for the bacon. Once melted add your crusted pork to the pan and cook at a medium-high heat. Lightly brown on all sides, then place your pork in a baking pan or on a baking sheet and allow to rest at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Once you begin resting the pork place your seasoned bread cubes in the oven, you will be cooking them for 20 minutes. Flip them periodically for even cooking.

Once the pork has rested put it in the oven for 10 minutes. The pork and bread will be finished at the same time.

While the pork and bread are cooking in the oven, with a  whisk mix your balsamic vinegar, sriracha and lemon juice in a bowl.

Pull the pork and bread out of the oven and put in a large mixing bowl. Add your bacon, julienne pepper, baby spinach, 1tsp salt, 1tsp ground black pepper, 1/2c grated parmesan and your balsamic sriracha dressing and toss thoroughly to evenly coat the salad. I find that using my hand to mix everything together works best. The spinach will wilt slightly from the hot pork and bread. Bear in mind that the dressing isn’t meant to keep the salad wet, it’s just additional seasoning and it adds some acidity and heat to balance the decadence of the bacon, bread and pork. If you would like you can make a larger batch of the dressing and ladle on more after you’ve plated the salad, but keep in mind that the bread will absorb it and possibly become soggy if you add too much.

That’s it, your done. Plate it up and enjoy!

As far as wine pairings are concerned, you can go in a number of different directions on this one. I personally went old school with a Rioja… but with so many things going on in the salad there are many common threads to be found. You can go with something a little smoky and gamey to play off of the bacon, pork and bacon croutons, something fuller and darker to play off of the balsamic, or even go in the opposite direction and go with a crisp white to cut through the decadence of the dish, but it will have to have some depth to it to stand up to the bacon and pork.

Bodegas  Hermanos de Peciña Crianza, Rioja, SP – In terms of traditional-styled Rioja producers Peciña is relatively new to the party, having only established their winery in 1992. However, they had two things going for them when they started… First and foremost, their founder and winemaker, Pedro Peciña, was the head agronomist for La Rioja Alta (one of Rioja’s most storied houses) for 20 years. Secondly, the vineyards they purchased were some of the finest in the appellation. Many Rioja producers have changed to a more “New World” style of winemaking, using predominantly Grenache, lots of new oak, and creating wines with high alcohol, all in hopes to draw in the Napa Cab crowd. Peciña wants none of that. They are making wines that are true to the appellation’s history. Their Crianza is a blend of 95% Tempranillo, 3% Graciano and 2% Grenache from 40-60 year old vines, aged for two years in neutral American barrel with four open air rackings, then an additional two years in bottle before release. Technically speaking they could lable this wine as a Reserva, being that DO regulations only require 3 years aging for the Reserva classification, but Peciña takes everything to the next level. Because of this, their Crianza is as good or better than a vast majority of Rioja Reservas in the market. On the palate you’ll find notes of dark cherry, licorise, pipe tobacco and wild game. Dusty soft tannins and startling acidity play with one another throughout, really keeping the palate alive and stimulated. This is the type of wine that makes you want food, not because it needs it, but because you want to complete the experience. With 8,300 cases produced on an average vintage this wine can be found in most major markets. If your local shop doesn’t carry Peciña, tell them to get it! (Retail $18-23)

Clos des Fous Cabernet Sauvignon, Cachapoal-Andes, Chile – I must say that I am very excited about this wine, and this winery. In fact, this is what I had really wanted to have with dinner last night, but unfortunately I didn’t have a bottle at home. Clos des Fous was established a handful of years back by four Chilean visionaries, or as they term themselves, fools, viticulturist Paco Leyton, winemaker Francois Massoc, terroir hunter Pedro Parra, and “bringer of wisdom” Albert Cussen. They, along with a handful of other new producers in Chile, have started a movement called “The New Chile” (which I will be writing on article on in the near future). The New Chile movement is the belief of making wines that are small production and terroir driven, the exact opposite of what Chile winemaking has always been, which was mass production and consistency of flavor. Clos des Fous Cabernet is like nothing I’ve ever tasted. The wine is medium bodied, aged entirely in stainless steel allowing the fruit to shine and giving it lift. On the palate are notes of cherry, dried herbs, jalapeno and crushed rock, with subtle acidic undertones and a sturdy dry tannic backbone. For Chile, this wine is surprisingly complex, and best yet, it lacks that “green” characteristic that you’re so used to in wines from this region. (Retail $18-23)

Domaine du Bel Air Bourgueil “Jour de Soif”, Loire, FR – This wine will forever hold a special place in my heart, as it’s the first Cabernet Franc that I ever truly enjoyed. Not to mention that its title, “Jour de Soif” translates to “drink the day”, which is essentially my favorite past time! Domaine du Bel Air is owned by the Gauthier family who have been producing wines from their 18 hectare estate for generations, but didn’t start bottling to sell until 1979. This is their entry cuvee, 100% Cabernet Franc from their youngest vines, approximately 20 years of age, aged in stainless steel to allow the fruit to shine and give it a refreshing brightness. On the palate you find notes of dark cherry, slightly tart raspberry, dried thyme and a hint of bell pepper. The wine is medium bodied but is a surprisingly light on it’s feet with a beautiful acidic lift and subdued crunchy tannins adding depth and character. (Retail $13-17)

So, that’s the recipe and the wines I would recommend. Let me know if you try it and them! As always, new content will be coming very soon. In the meantime, crack open a bottle of something awesome, sit back and relax. Life is short, Jour de Soif!