Big Italian Salad
I’ve always believed that a good salad is the mark of a good cook. It makes sense: a well-made salad must have a pleasing combination of textures and a perfect balance of salty, sweet, bitter and sour–that’s cooking school 101. So with that in mind, it’s good to have a few standouts in your repertoire. This one is my go-to for Spaghetti and Meatballs, lasagna or anything else in that Italian comfort food realm. It’s a little fancier than your standard “house” salad but, rest assured, it will still put you in the mind of your favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant.
The homemade vinaigrette is what dresses it up; think of it as a much, much improved version of that bottled Italian dressing sitting in your fridge door. It only takes a few minutes to make, yet it’s ten times better and so much healthier for you.
If you’re used to the beige-y bottled stuff, you’ll be surprised to see how fresh herbs make this vinaigrette a beautiful and vibrant green. That’s how it should be!
Romaine is the lettuce to use here; its hearty leaves stand up to the zesty dressing and crunchy vegetables. As a general rule, be sure to dry your greens completely before making your salad, otherwise your dressing will be watery. I’m a big fan of salad spinners for this task, but if you don’t have one, just use a clean kitchen towel or paper towels.
Use any veggies and cheese that you like. I always go for a colorful mix of red peppers, grape tomatoes, carrot ribbons, olives, chopped hothouse cucumbers and a salty, tangy cheese such as ricotta salata or–-if I’m in a Greek mood-–feta.
Pair this salad with a loaf of garlic bread and some Italian comfort food. Or for a main course, top it with grilled chicken.
Either way, sounds like dinner to me.
Big Italian Salad
Serves 4 as a starter
For the Dressing
1 cup loosely packed fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped (about one small bunch)
10 big leaves fresh basil
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, peeled
¼ cup red wine vinegar, good quality such as Pompeian Gourmet
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, good quality such as Lucini or Colavita
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 ½ teaspoons honey
For the Salad
1 large (or 2 small) head(s) romaine lettuce, washed, patted dry and cut into large, bite-size pieces
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped hothouse cucumbers
1 large carrot, peeled into ribbons
Handful grape tomatoes, halved or whole
Handful pitted olives
Ricotta Salata* (or Feta for a Greek twist), crumbled to taste
1. Make the dressing: Combine all dressing ingredients in a food processor and blitz to blend.
2. Place all salad ingredients in a large bowl. Right before serving, add about half of the dressing and toss well. Add more dressing little by little as necessary; be sure to dress greens very generously, otherwise salad will be bland. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Reserve leftover dressing for another use.
*Ricotta salata is an Italian sheep’s milk cheese that has a salty, slightly tangy flavor, almost like a dry Italian feta. It is not the same as the wet ricotta in the tub. You can find it at Whole Foods, gourmet grocers or specialty cheese shops.