Sweet, salty, cheesy, crunchy and downright delicious are just some of the adjectives I’d use to describe our epic winter salad.
Best Winter Salad Recipe
With bits of salty pancetta, creamy boursin and crunchy candied pecans peppered throughout lightly honey dijon-dressed butter lettuce leaves, this is a salad worthy of a special occasion. Or quiet dinner at home.
I’ve talked about my love of salads often. I’ve shared countless versions over the last decade and one thing they all have in common is a very brimful ingredient list. For me, each bite needs to be jam packed with flavors and textures (including even the simplest butter lettuce salad) even if it’s not the star of the meal.
This winter salad hits all the right notes when it comes to my requirements and ups the texture factor more than any other salad in my repertoire thanks to a dousing of crispy garlicky pancetta-laced breadrumbs.
I know you’re going to love it. Let’s get started.
Dressing. Let’s start with the dressing because you can make this a week or so in advance. It’s just this simple honey dijon dressing I use for just about everything. All you need is lemon juice, garlic, honey (or maple syrup), dijon, salt, pepper and olive oil. Super simple.
Squash. I love all squash but I especially love acorn squash because the skin is edible. You don’t have to worry about peeling it and the contrast of dark exterior and peach sorbet interior is truly beautiful.
Lettuce. For this salad I really like to use a butter plus lettuce. It’s a hybrid butter lettuce that has bits of red/purple in it making it a really nutritious leaf with more iron than spinach. If you can’t find it a regular butter lettuce will work great.
Radicchio. This lettuce looks almost like cabbage but has a slight bitter taste to it. It’s hearty so it stands up to a salad with more substance.
Pancetta. I LOVE to sprinkle crispy pancetta throughout salads. It’s the perfect bit of salt and crunch and gives off bacon bit vibes circa the 90s I adore but better, obviously.
Breadcrumbs. Sometimes instead of croutons I like to opt for teeny tiny crispy breadcrumbs peppered throhgout the salad. This ensured a bit of crunch in every bite and it’s so darn good.
Pomegrantes. The perfect pop of sweet and sour.
Nuts. My favorite nuts to use in this salad are either pepita seeds or a store-bought candied pecan but I’ll often throw in whatever I have on hand. Pistachios and slivered almonds are all great options.
Cheese. Okay. So this is arguably the best part of this winter salad. Did you know they have boursin cheese BALLS? I stumbled upon them at the grocery store and immediately thought they would be awesome breaded and fried for an app. But then I ran out of time and I threw them in this salad and omg. So good.
Let’s make the best winter salad recipe
Make the dressing. As aforementioned, the dressing can be made super far in advance. Throw all the ingredients in a mason jar, pop the lid on and shake. Store in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
Roast the squash. Slice the acorn squash into half moons. I do this by slicing in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds. Slice into quarters and then into little moon shapes about 1/4-inch thick.
Toss with salt, pepper, maple syrup and olive oil. Roast for 20 minutes at 425 degrees.
Make the breadcrumbs. While the squash roasts, add the pancetta to a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Render all the fat out until the pancetta is crisp. Add the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Toss to coat in the fat. Continue to cook the breadcrumbs until they are golden brown and crisp. Transfer to a paper towel.
Toss. Add the lettuce to a large bowl. Drizzle with a little bit of dressing. Toss. Add most of the squash, Boursin, nuts, pomegranate seeds, and pancetta breadcrumbs. Toss. Add more dressing if you want. Don’t overdress! Top with the remaining ingredients. Serve right away.
Prep in advance
- Make the dressing up to a week in advance
- Roast the squash the day before
- Cook the pancetta and breadcrumbs the morning of
- Add the squash, pomegranate seeds and nuts to the bottom of a large salad bowl. Cover with all the lettuce. Cover with plastic wrap. When you’re ready to serve, dress the leaves. Toss everything and then add the cheese and breadcrumbs.
Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Don’t overdress the salad. There are already a lot of flavors happening so dressing the leaves heavily is not necessary.
- Watch the breadcrumbs! They burn easily.
- Swap out pancetta for bacon if that’s what you have on hand
- Goat cheese or blue cheese would be good substitutes for boursin
- Kale is hearty and would work great here.
- Swap out whatever nut you prefer, candied pecans, walnuts, pistachios, pepitas and sliced or slivered almonds all would be lovely
- 1/4-1/2 cup honey dijon vinaigrettte
- 1 acorn squash
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp pure maple syrup (you can also use brown sugar)
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 6 oz finely diced pancetta (you can usually find this pre-packaged)
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 4 slices white bread or 3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs (you can also use panko)
- 8 oz butter plus lettuce (or regular butter lettuce), torn into bite-sized pieces
- 1 small head radicchio torn into small pieces
- 8 oz boursin cheese bites
- 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
- 1/3 cup pepita seeds or candied pecans
- 1 Medium skillet
- 1 sheet pan
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Slice the acorn squash into half moons. Start by slicing the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and pulp. Slice each half in another half so you have four quarters. Slice into little moon shapes about 1/4-inch thick.Add the squash to the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt, pepper, maple syrup and olive oil. Roast for 20-25 minutes until the squash is soft and slightly caramelized. Cool completely before adding to the salad.
- While the squash roasts, make the breadcrumbs. Add the pancetta to a medium skillet over a medium-high heat. Render all the fat, stirring occasionally until the pancetta is crisp and brown. While the pancetta cooks, add the bread to a small food processor. Pulse until you have scraggly breadcrumbs.Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon. Drain on a paper towel. Remove all but two tablespoons of the pancetta fat from the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic. Saute for 30 seconds. Add the breadcrumbs and a good pinch of salt and a little pepper. Toss to coat in the fat. Continue to cook the breadcrumbs over a medium heat until they are golden brown and crisp.
- When you're ready to serve. Add the lettuce leaves to the bottom of a large serving bowl. Drizzle with a few tablespoons of the dressing. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Add the cooled squash, most of the pomegranate seeds, aall but three or four boursin bites and 3/4 of the pancetta breadcrumbs to the leaves. Toss to combine. Add more dressing as necessary. Garnish with the rest of the breadcrumbs, pomegranate seeds and cheese. Serve immediately