Everyday Cooking

Cesare Casella's Warm Salad with Pancetta and Egg (Insalata Pontormo)

October 29, 2014

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: A rare salad that breaks all the rules, and will be all you'll want for dinner tonight.

Just as the chill sets in and cold salads start to lose their appeal, we can turn to a cozier vision of the genre from Cesare Casella, chef and dean of Italian Studies at International Culinary Center.

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It's a warm hug of a salad, much like ones that you imagine Casella -- a man famous for carrying a bushel of rosemary sprigs in place of a pocket square -- himself would give.

Though Insalata Pontormo probably sounds unfamiliar, Casella has been making variations on this recipe since 1978, first inspired by the painter Jacopo Carucci (Jacopo da Pontormo). "I read a story about what he could see when he looked out upon his surroundings from his room," Casella told me. "He said that he could see: the chicken coop, a garden with lots of lettuces growing, and pieces of carne secca (like pancetta) hanging from the ceiling. It was these visuals that inspired me to create the Pontormo salad."

It defies everything we expect out of salad -- which is probably why it has more pull than most. You'll want it to be your whole dinner tonight, and won't need anything else.

We're so well-trained to not mistreat our lettuce; this recipe mocks our dedication. Usually we do all we can to keep our greens pristine and untrampled by dressing or climate or time. We're careful not to toss it too early or weigh it down; to dress the vessel and not the greens; to eat it from giant mixing bowls to keep the leaves free and unencumbered. Just like with an especially volatile friend or when dating someone moody, we condition ourselves not to put too much pressure on it.

But lettuce can take some well-intended roughness. You can pour a pan of hot, crispy pancetta and scrambled eggs on it and it won't collapse in ruins. It will warm, then soften, then settle in to the rich bath.

Like the lettuce and tomato on your burger or the oyster crackers in your chowder, there is a fleeting, liminal moment where opposing forces of hot and cold, crisp and soft hit a happy balance that's infinitely better than if they'd stayed with their own kind.

Should salad have this much pancetta in it? (Not to mention rendered, but not discarded, pancetta fat?) How about all those muscular wintry herbs, singed into the meat? Is it still a salad? Well, who's going to tell you no? A little loose richness does amazing things for feeling sated and restored, in ways that no amount of kale ever will.

It's a dinner that you'll want to scoop up faster and faster as you go, volleying tugs of bright acid and salty meat and slippery greens and soft eggs spurring you on. This is the salad to get us through the winter, but we might not want to stop there.

Cesare Casella's Warm Salad with Pancetta and Egg (Insalata Pontormo)

From Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto in New York, NY

Serves 1

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 1/2 ounces diced pancetta
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh marjoram
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2 eggs
1 ounce mesclun or other delicate lettuce, cut into 3/4-inch strips
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and black pepper, to taste

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to our Provisions Editor Posie Harwood for this one!

Photos by Linda Pugliese

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • healthierkitchen
  • lori
  • Posie (Harwood) Brien
    Posie (Harwood) Brien
  • amysarah
  • mrslarkin
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


healthierkitchen October 30, 2014
lori October 29, 2014
Too late but I want to make this now. What is the best lettuce?
Posie (. October 29, 2014
kristen you are THE BEST for writing this recipe! It is so good at the restaurant and will be even better in my kitchen, every night, forever
Kristen M. October 29, 2014
You're the best for sharing it! Everyone be like Posie and send me your favorite things, okay?
amysarah October 29, 2014
Funny, "scrambled egg salad" - which might include bacon, pancetta, cheese, veg's, whatever odds & ends were on hand - the hot eggs tossed with greens/vinaigrette, has been a regular quick meal around here forever. Who knew it was genius?! (Sshh, don't tell my kids. They think I invented it.) But it is surprisingly tasty.
Kristen M. October 29, 2014
You're a genius too!
amysarah October 29, 2014
Ha. Finally! I've discovered my genius - and it involves scrambled eggs. Perfect!
mrslarkin October 29, 2014
What a beautifully created recipe! Totally improves my salad-for-dinner horizons.

Is that escarole you are using?

Kristen M. October 29, 2014
Funny, it looks that way, but it wasn't bitter at all (though that would be really good here). I was from the greenmarket, and I think it was some sort of green leaf variant.