money salad: broccoli and cheddar with warm bacon vinaigrette

“Is that the money salad?!” Ed asked last week as I served up a platter of broccoli, grapes, cheddar, onions, and walnuts coated in a warm bacon vinaigrette. “Yes, yes it is,” I said. I hadn’t forgotten how much Ed loved this salad (as did everyone else who tasted it), but I didn’t know he’d nicknamed it. That’s a pretty high honor for a salad built on broccoli.

I first made this salad to accompany braised short ribs and mashed potatoes on Christmas.  The meal needed something green, but it was Christmas, so I didn’t want a throwaway green-for-green’s sake side dish. I came across this salad in the New York Times and it sounded a lot like one of my other favorite salads, but with the addition of bacon. I knew instantly it would be a hit.

dressing doesn’t look like much, but it is salty and tangy and lively enough to take on more than a pound of broccoli

As much as we adored the salad on Christmas, I’ve only made it once since…not because it isn’t addictive and delicious and flavorful, but because it’s kind of a lot of work. No single step is difficult, but you have to cut grapes in half, toast nuts, blanch and shock broccoli, crumble cheddar, fry bacon, and turn the warm bacon fat into a dressing. Simple tasks, but too time consuming for a weeknight.  It would be absolutely perfect for Easter, though, and all of the steps before frying the bacon and making the vinaigrette can be accomplished ahead of time and stored in the fridge.  If you’re looking for something different to brighten your holiday table, you can bank on this money salad.

i cut my broccoli pieces too big for this batch of salad. the florets should be no larger than an inch and the stem pieces no thicker than a quarter inch so that you can fit bites of bacon, nut, grape, and cheese onto the same fork as the broccoli.

broccoli salad with cheddar and warm bacon vinaigrette
adapted from The New York Times

The original recipe calls for a lot of salt in the blanching water (1/2 cup!) and another 1/4 cup in the ice bath. I haven’t been able to bring myself to use that much, though I’m sure it adds a lot of flavor to the broccoli.

I’ve tried walnuts and pecans in the salad and loved both.

ingredients

1 bunch broccoli (about 1 1/4 pounds), ends trimmed
½ cup pecan or walnut halves
4 ounces bacon, diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 green onions, white and light green parts only, chopped
Black pepper
1 cup halved red seedless grapes
4 ounces aged white cheddar, crumbled
kosher salt

instructions

Prep the broccoli: Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Set up an ice bath and generously salt that water, too.  Cut the broccoli stems from the heads and slice the florets into small pieces, no more than 1-inch long. Peel the stems with a vegetable peeler and cut each stem in half lengthwise, then slice into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons. When the water is boiling, add all of the broccoli to the water and blanch for about a minute; drain the broccoli and transfer it immediately to the ice bath to stop the cooking. Once cooled, drain the broccoli in a colander and set aside (still in the colander) to drain completely.

Nuts and bacon: in a dry skillet set over medium heat, toast the nuts, stirring and flipping often, until they start to darken and smell nutty (could take anywhere from 1 minute to 5 minutes — but watch carefully so they don’t burn). Set the nuts aside and add the bacon and olive oil to the pan. Cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until crispy and the fat has rendered (about 10 minutes).

Dressing: pour the hot oil, bacon fat, and bacon into a medium heat-proof bowl. Immediately add the onions, mustard, and vinegar and whisk to combine.  Add nuts and many cranks of black pepper and whisk again.

Assemble: in a large bowl, combine broccoli and grapes.  Add the warm vinaigrette and toss to thoroughly coat.  Taste for salt and pepper.  Add in crumbled cheddar and gently toss again. Pour onto a platter and serve immediately.

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