Nigella’s chestnut and pancetta salad with kale

I am not one for defending celebs, nor do I care what they get up to in their private lives, but the current media circus around Nigella Lawson, and the fact that she has taken drugs is quite something. Especially since she is, erm, probably far from being the only celeb cook, or media commentator, to have done so. I mean Anthony Bourdain made a killing out of his revelations in Kitchen Confidential. But then he’s a man isn’t he, so it’s not quite such a big deal…did I say that? Yep. So, since I was planning to write a post about this dish anyway, I thought I’d do it with that furore going on in the background just to remind us that Nigella is a very very talented cook and food writer.

I can still, just, remember some of her recipes from Vogue in the 90s, Nigella Express is really damned useful for the after-work likes of me, and I have recently, years after everyone else, been completely bowled over by How to Eat which is full, full I tell you, of WTF repertoire joys. This chestnut and pancetta salad, for which she uses escarole and I have used steamed kale, is one such gem. So this is my little ‘up yours’ to the sensational leanings of our media as well as yet another wonderful way to transform the current most popular vegetable of the moment which, like Nigella, will probably see its star be pulled to shreds at some point too. But not just yet. Not till you try this.

Serves 2 (adapted from How to Eat)
(NB I first tried this by cutting the recipe in half, then quartering it but, since Nigella’s version is meant to serve 8 as a starter, so 4 as a main, I’ve now cut it in half, which I think is about right for 2. To be honest, it’s a salad so the amounts will probably be dictated by your appetite/what sort of dressing vs leaf ratio you like.)

Cupboard (or things you might already have)
olive oil, 1 tbsp and a splash more (but see method)
Dijon mustard, about ½ tsp
sherry or balsamic vinegar, about ½ tsp
freshly ground sea salt and black pepper

Shopping list
kale, 2 big handfuls per person
pancetta, 100g
chestnuts, 150g (they come in convenient vacuum packs at this time of year and are usually on offer too)

How to
1. Rinse the kale if necessary, then steam it for a couple of minutes until an even more brilliant green and just tender to a fork. Tip into a colander, refresh under cold water then leave to drain.
2. Put a splash of olive oil in a frying pan and heat. Trim the fat off the pancetta and add it to the pan, letting it render down.
3. Whilst the fat is rendering, cut the meaty part of the pancetta into small pieces, then add it to the frying pan and let it cook in the fat until just crispy.
4. Chop the chestnuts up roughly then add them to the pancetta too.
5. Put the drained kale onto two plates then, as soon as the chestnuts are warm, lift the chestnut-pancetta mixture from the frying pan with a slotted spoon, leaving most of the fat behind, and divide between the two plates of kale. Remove the frying pan from the heat.
6. Stir the mustard into a good splash of olive oil (I’d say you only need a tablespoon, if that; the recipe says 2 so I’d make a judgement call based on how much pancetta fat there is) then stir this into the bacon fat in the pan. Add the vinegar and stir well to scrape up any bits of pancetta and chestnut stuck to the pan. Add more vinegar if you need extra sharpness to cut the fat. Pour the dressing over the salad, toss, season with a little sea salt and black pepper if you like, then serve.

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5 Responses to Nigella’s chestnut and pancetta salad with kale

  1. shangaff says:

    I always enjoy your posts, but I especially liked this one for its defense of Nigella. I enjoy watching her shows, and do feel as though she is getting a bum rap.

    • Louise says:

      Thank you! It’s a pathetic story isn’t it? It’s starting to really get on my nerves. I’d have taken a ton of everything if I’d lost my mother, sister AND husband to cancer by the age of 40-odd. Am amazed she ever wrote another word. And the hypocrisy of it; ugh.

  2. mark says:

    Good for you Louise–the hypocrisy is phenomenal!

  3. Stella Kane says:

    What I love about your blog Louise is, despite owning a number of Nigella’s books, I feel overwhelmed at the choices. This recipe hits all my seasonal buttons…oily luscious greens and salty crispy pig-bits, unified by earthy and filling textured nuttiness…a big YUM! I would have wanted saute potatoes if dreaming this up, but the chestnuts give a depth of flavour and slow release energy boost – autumtastic!

    LOVE IT!

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