Salad has always been a ubiquitous summer food to me. It’s always a way to celebrate the bounties of the short growing season here in Maine. A salad is the perfect companion to a meaty barbecue or a light, buttery pasta dish and an excellent way to show off those tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden. When weather grows colder, though, and the tomato and cucumber plants shrivel up, I’m always wondering what to do in order to make a salad that compliments the heartier flavors of the fall season.

Last week, a hurricane making its way from Bermuda decided to stop off a while in Maine. The result was four cold, blustery, rainy days for the entirety of the state. As the afternoon chill settled down over my apartment on Tuesday, I rummaged through the fridge for lunch (grilled cheese and tomato, a favorite rainy-day meal) and something else I could cook to warm the place up.
There was the remainder of a package of bacon in the fridge tiptoeing to that terminal territory from which bacon never really tiptoes back. I figured if I cooked it off, 1) it would avoid spoilage and be eaten in at least a few days and 2) having the oven on would take the chill out of the air.

Two birds, one stone.

After twenty minutes, I set the bacon aside to drain and cool, but I had a cookie sheet of bacon drippings looking back at me. I didn’t want to just throw the grease away, so I decided to make a dressing (recipe follows) that might be able to take on a few flavors of the season.

Bacon Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 t fresh thyme
2 t brown sugar
3/4 t salt, more to taste
1/2 t black pepper
2t maple syrup
1/2 c balsamic vinegar
1 t dijon mustard
1/4 c bacon fat
3/4 c oil

In the bowl of a blender or food processor, combine thyme, brown sugar, salt, black pepper, maple syrup, and balsamic vinegar. Blend until mixed. In a container with a spout, such as a measuring cup, mix together the bacon fat and oil. Add dijon mustard to blender or food processor. With blender or food processor on, slowly drizzle in fat and oil mixture until emulsified. Makes about a pint.

Try the dressing with spinach and using apples, walnuts, and bleu cheese to garnish. It might pair well with a lighter, less tannic red wine or a malty amber lager. I had my salad as the appetizer to chicken thighs, mashed potatoes, broccoli, and a thyme gravy. I paired the whole meal with an Ayinger Oktoberfest Marzen ($2.99 for a 500 mL bottle at Trader Joe’s).

-This post was shared by our regular contributor, Shawn Callahan.  Shawn is writer, musician, and prep cook in Kennebunk, Maine.