As I mentioned recently, I am a cookbookaholic. I love to hear about good cookbooks from anyone who is into them. I sort of assume the same of anyone else who likes to collect, cook from, and gift-give cookbooks.

So in honor of the cookbook-buying and giving season ahead—in honor of all of the cookbooks we have, want to have, or give—I’m going to take some time in the coming weeks to share some of my favorite books with you. And I’m going to do that by actually cooking from them.

I’ll share a delicious recipe from some great books on my shelf to help build our holiday menus. By the time we’re ready to don our clogs and head to the kitchen, or don our boots (don’t know about you, but it’s Michigan here) to head to the bookstore to get after new books for the holidays, we’ll have some great ideas up our sleeves.

Great ideas that include a salad of snappy arugula with absolutely gorgeous sugared cranberries and salty pancetta. Such a plate of beauty and flavor!! This is one that satisfies my very Lebanese craving for all things tart, and I can’t wait to make it for Thanksgiving and throughout the holidays for a boost of sparkle—and lightness. What a perfect side this is to some of the richer dishes that grace the celebratory table.

The recipe comes from my super-talented (adorable and funny) friend Tara Mataraza Desmond’s new book, Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Every Day, 130 Delicious Dishes to Make the Meal (September 2013). Tara fills her book with lots of recipes that inspire, build confidence, and encourage us to discover what creative cooks we really can be. She wrote the thing while she was expecting twins, so I figure she has some secret formula for high, and creative, output that she’s probably patented by now.

The book’s “Main-Course Pairings” is a tremendous list of the side dishes that go well with all of the various mains, protein and otherwise, we typically eat. I especially enjoy Tara’s many Middle Eastern-inspired dishes, including a vinaigrette for the salad that uses pomegranate molasses. Clever! Tara, you’re an honorary Lebanese!

Oh, and I nearly forgot, until I made this stunning, holiday-worthy salad, how much I love to serve salad on a big platter rather than in a big bowl. That presentation allows a much better view of all of the goodness in the salad, and just makes it special.

Thank you Tara!

Arugula with Sugared Cranberries and Pancetta
Note that the cranberries need to be started several hours or a day in advance. They are so sweet-tart delicious, you’ll want to make extras just to snack on. I’ve added toasted pine nuts to the salad, and a little garlic powder, my secret ingredient for most any dressing, to the vinaigrette.

1 cup fresh cranberries
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup water
1/2 pound pancetta, cut in 1/4-inch cubes
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
8 cups (5-6 ounces) baby arugula

2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 grinds black pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
2 tablespoons neutral oil (such as safflower or canola)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Place the cranberries in a medium heatproof mixing bowl.

In a small saucepan, make a simple syrup by combining 1 cup of the sugar with 1 cup of water over medium high heat. Bring the water to a simmer, then reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved, 5-7 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour the hot syrup over the cranberries. Cover the bowl with plastic and chill for at least four hours and up to 24 hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (for easy clean-up). Strain the cranberries from the syrup (the syrup can be used for cocktails, homemade sodas, or discarded). Spread the cranberries out on the baking sheet and sprinkle the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar over them. Roll the cranberries around in the sugar to evenly coat them, and let them dry at room temperature for 1 hour.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until golden, stirring occasionally. Transfer the pancetta to a plate lined with paper towel.

Make the vinaigrette by whisking the pomegranate molasses, sherry vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a small mixing bowl. Slowly add the oils, whisking until the mixture is emulsified.

On a large, wide platter, toss the arugula with the vinaigrette. Sprinkle with the cranberries, pancetta, and pine nuts and serve immediately.

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