The chef at our cookery school is Stefano Borella whose family came from the Italian mountains. When their supply of olive oil ran out his grandmother would use hot pork fat and her homemade vinegar to dress salad. I thought that sounded lovely so we experimented with using the fat in the pan after cooking bacon.
This is the result – an indulgent, heavenly heap of salad, smoky bacon and soft cheese. Put it on a big board on the table while it is still warm and let everyone pull off a leaf. Eat with your hands and make sure some of the bacon, nuts, dressing and cheese goes into every leaf. The lettuce and the dressing can be prepared in advance and assembled at the last moment.
The choice of lettuce is important here, it should be the soft leaves of a Butterhead or Boston lettuce, they are round, have soft, floppy leaves and a mild flavour. Little Gem leaves can also work if pulled apart and filled as individual servings but cut away any bitter stalks.
1 round, soft-leaved, lettuce
250g fatty, streaky, smoked bacon rashers, cut into 1cm strips
75ml extra virgin olive oil
25g pine nuts split almonds or hazelnuts
200g Gorgonzola Dolce
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Wash and dry the whole lettuce, leave to drain upside down on kitchen paper to gather the last drips of water. The bitter, chunky stem should be trimmed, allowing the flower shape to open but do try to keep it just intact at the base.
To make the sundried tomato version mix the oil, vinegar, mustard, pepper and salt together in a jar and shake to emulsify. Taste and adjust the balance with more oil or vinegar as necessary. A little honey is a good idea too to negate the vinegar acidity.
To make the bacon version, fry the bacon in a large non-stick frying pan over a low heat in the olive oil until just crisp. The oil may seem like a lot but this is the dressing.
Dry-fry the pine nuts in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat for 5–7 minutes until lightly browned.
Meanwhile, put the lettuce onto a board or large serving plate and gently open up the leaves like the petals of a flower. Using your fingers tear off pieces of the cheese (it’s messy but the most efficient way to do this, the cheese is just too soft and sticky for spoons) and put a bite-sized piece into each leaf. Add the sundried tomatoes to the lettuce leaves if using.
Add the vinegar to the bacon and oil in the pan and plenty of black pepper. Add a little salt to taste but if the bacon is salty you may not need any.
When ready to serve, pour the hot dressing and bacon (or the dressing in the jar) evenly over the lettuce and scatter over the nuts. To serve, provide napkins as this is best eaten with your fingers, straight from the board, folding up the lettuce leaves around the cheese, bacon and dressing.
For a vegetarian version use a large handful of sundried tomatoes, cut into bite size pieces instead of the bacon. Use only 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar and mix 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard into the dressing.
For a vegan version use copy the vegetarian version but substitute the cheese for avocado.