I always associate the Assmans, all of them but Jan and Aleida in particular, with my favorite activities: cooking – often with what’s on hand – followed by conversations around the dinner table (usually about books and films), and this time was no different. Inspiration for the first course struck within the first hour of my arrival at their beautiful summer retreat in Traunkirchen, as we we were rummaging through the fridge for cold cuts and sundry edibles for a mid/late morning snack. Amid the slices of various cold meets was a chunk of speck (bacon/pancetta depending on language of choice) that was too fatty to be sliced and eaten as was, but too precious to be chucked out. That’s when I had an idea, acted upon later that night, for a tide-your-hunger-type salad that served as an interlude between our post hike-n-swim pangs and the real dinner (Indian naturally) that followed. Here’s what we did:

Chopped the chunk of bacon/speck into small bits and heated it in a fry pan with a cut clove of garlic which had been rubbed all over the salad bowl. While the bacon was cooking/melting/crisping, halved up a goodly number of ripe cherry tomatoes into the garlic-rubbed salad bowl. Sprinkled with salt (judiciously, keeping in mind the salt in the bacon) and pepper (generously) and added plenty of chopped dill. There was a ripening avocado in the vegetable bowl so chunks of that followed their way into the bowl. By this time the speck had browned nicely and it was tossed into the bowl. Normally speck gives off plenty of fat when heated but not this time, so I added salad oil to the bowl. The pan itself was deglazed with balsamic vinegar (after removing from heat) and added to the bowl. We followed with a few squirts from a tube of some special balsamic-flavored mustard which they had in the fridge. All of the above were mixed well and then in went the salad greens: most of a package of youngish arugula (rocket / ruccola) and an equal amount of mixed greens. Almost as an afterthought (though really it shouldn’t be) I also added small chunks of a local cheese akin to Emmenthaler.

The verdict on this verdant vorspeis – Every remnant of salad or dressing in the bowl was mopped up with bread. Based on that, I’d say it was successful!

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