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Pasta Salad with Melon, Pancetta and Mozzarella

I grew up with an Italian (American) father who liked to tell me I wasn’t Italian enough. You don’t like green olives stuffed with meat and cheese? You’re not Italian. You don’t like raw-seeming prosciutto wrapped melon? Nope, not Italian. Well, Dad, I love this version of that quintessential Italian appetizer – does that count? Instead of sort-of-slimy proscuitto it calls for pancetta which, when cooked, is like bacon but better tasting. The melon is sweet which pairs so well with the salty meat and the arugula adds a peppery bite which is spot on. I made this for dinner with friends and brought the leftovers to a BBQ the next day – all to high praise and recipe requests.

Typical pasta salad is pretty “meh” to me. Obviously I don’t like the black olives which always seem to make an appearance, and it’s just such a memorable flavor that I don’t get excited to put it on my plate. I’m always game for trying one with unusual ingredients, and that’s definitely the case here. If you don’t have champagne vinegar, consider buying it because I love it on any and all types of salads. If you have white wine vinegar on hand, you can sub that. If you can’t find the mozzarella pearls, you can dice a chunk of fresh mozzarella. Otherwise it’s pretty straightforward! Make it within a few hours of serving or else the arugula wilts in an unattractive way.

Pasta Salad with Melon, Pancetta and Mozzarella

Serves 6-8 as a side

4 oz. pancetta, diced

8 oz. orecchiette

1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

1/3 c. champagne vinegar

2 c. diced (into 1 inch chunks) cantelope

2/3 c. chopped fresh mint, divided

1/3 c. chopped scallions

2 c. fresh baby arugula

8 oz. mozzarella pearls

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Black pepper to taste

1. Saute pancetta over medium-low heat in a skillet until crisp and fat is rendered. Drain on paper towel and set aside.

2. Bring a pot of water to boil and add 1 tsp. salt. Add pasta and cook until tender. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

3. Place olive oil and vinegar in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.

4. Add pasta, melon, 3/4 of the mint, 3/4 of the pancetta, scallions, arugula, cheese, pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste. Toss to combine.

5. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with remaining pancetta and mint. Cover and chill until ready to serve (up to several hours).