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Arugula with Country Ham & Pecans

“This salad is a great example of sour, salty, bitter, sweet, and savory,” writes Atlanta Chef Virginia Willis in her latest cookbook “Basic to Brilliant, Y’all.” A followup to last year’s “Bon Appetit, Y’all,” Willis’s new book includes 150 refined Southern recipes and ways to dress them up for company. Country ham provides the salt in this recipe, while sweetness comes from the dressing and bitterness from the greens. Want to make it a brilliant Thanksgiving starter? Willis suggests adding a fried egg on top.

8 cups arugula, dandelion or frisee
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp firmly packed light brown sugar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp canola oil
3 thin slices country ham, cut into lardons or thin strips
1/2 onion, preferably Vidalia, thinly sliced
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup crumbled, aged white Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Place the greens in a large bowl. Set aside. Stir together the vinegar, brown sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves. Set aside. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ham and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 5-7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ham to a plate lined with paper towels. Add the onion to the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until translucent, 3-5 minutes; add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45-60 seconds. Add the vinegar mixture, then remove from the heat. Working quickly, scrape the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon to loosen any yummy browned bits. Set aside to cool just slightly.

Pour the warm dressing over the reserved greens, add the ham and toss gently with tongs until the arugula is slightly wilted. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Divide among chilled serving plates. Sprinkle over the cheese and pecans. Season with freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately.

Crispy Deep-Fried Eggs

Bring 4 large eggs to room temperature. Line a plate with paper towels and set aside. In a small, heavy saucepan, pour in about 1 ½ cups peanut oil to fill half full. Heat over medium heat until it reads 350 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer. Working with 1 egg at a time, break the egg into a small ramekin and then slowly and carefully slide it into the hot oil. It will spit and sizzle. Cook until the egg is crunchy on the outside and the yolk is still runny, about 1 ½ minutes. Using a slotted spoon, lift the egg out of the oil and transfer to the prepared plate. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Repeat with remaining eggs. Serve immediately atop the wilted salad.

Reprinted with permission from Basic to Brilliant, Y’all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company by Virginia Willis, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

Photo credit: Helene Dujardin © 2011

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