This is a fast and easy-to-make Romagna-style salad, a flavorsome dish made with only a few ingredients. It is perfect as a delicious entree or as a rich side dish. The bitterness of the arugula balances the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar, while the pancetta adds a crispy touch, rich in flavor.
This salad is a simple, sharp dish that tells a lot about the flavors of my region, Romagna: a land of sun, sea, hills and fruit trees. I spent most of my childhood in Romagna because my mom, Anna, and her parents (my grandparents, Walter and Bruna) were native to Romagna. My grandmother, nonna Bruna, used to prepare this salad and serve it with a delicious piadina, that is a sort of flat bread that can be folded or wrapped to hold different ingredients.This salad accompanied me for a long part of my life, during which I changed my grandma’s recipe to better fit my taste.
Romagna is an area in Northern Italy on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, the Eastern-most part of the region of Emilia-Romagna. The culture and the cuisine of this area mixes the sea and the heart, and the region is famous throughout Italy for its fruit trees and hospitality. Its most well-known cities are Rimini (with its beaches and night-life), Ravenna (with its byzantine mosaics and Dante’s tomb), Faenza (with its valuable ceramics and linen manufactures) and Imola (with its world-renowned racetrack).
‘Insalata di bruciatini’ is what we call this recipe in Romagna. ‘Bruciatini’ are diced pieces of pancetta or ham, cooked in a skillet with a splash of vinegar until they take on the characteristic burned color (about two minutes). ‘Bruciatini’ in essence means ‘small burned pieces’ (a diminutive of ‘bruciato’, burned). In the original recipe, as soon as they are ready, while they are still hot, we immediately pour them over a kind of salad made with a green and red variety of radicchio.
I replaced Romagna’s radicchio, so difficult to find living abroad, with arugula; and I replaced the classic vinegar with balsamic vinegar, a few drops in order to caramelize as well as burn. I suggest trying both versions in order to find your favorite one.
One more quick tip: try to add a sliced avocado, maybe the salad won’t be 100% Romagna-style anymore, but I can assure you that is delicious.
Here is my recipe for two portions.
Ready in 15 minutes.
- 4 ounces (120 gr.) pancetta cubes
- 5 ounces (150 gr.) arugola, washed and rinsed
- 1-1/2 tablespoons (20 gr.) balsamic vinegar of Modena
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- In a small-sized skillet, heat the pancetta with the balsamic vinegar, over a medium heat.
- Cook until brown and crispy, about 5 minutes.
- Add the hot pancetta to the arugula.
- Season to taste with the freshly ground pepper.
- Toss well and serve.
That’s all! Buon appetito!
VARIATIONS & TIPS:
SALAD BASE: instead of arugula you can use red radicchio, or any other bitter fresh leafy vegetable.
PANCETTA: It’s a seasoned and cured pork belly (from the Italian ‘pancia‘ [belly]). You can substitute it with diced bacon.
BALSAMIC VINEGAR OF MODENA: for fancier recipes I sometimes use the Traditional Balsamic DOP vinegar that is of course of much higher quality but it is also much more expensive. I you decide to use it, just remember that cooking it is a waste; just cook the pancetta without anything else (the fat that it contains naturally is enough so that you don’t need to add oil or butter) over a very low temperature; and season the salad at the end with few drops of the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar.