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.
The homemade vinaigrette is what makes it so good; think of it as a much, muchimproved 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
For the Dressing
- 1 cup loosely packed fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
- 10 big leaves fresh basil
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, best quality such as Pompeian Gourmet
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, best quality such as Lucini or Colavita
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1-1/2 teaspoons honey
For the Salad
- 1 large head romaine lettuce, washed, dried and cut into large, bite-sized pieces
- 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 cup chopped hothouse cucumbers
- 1 large carrot, peeled into ribbons
- Handful grape tomatoes, halved
- Handful pitted olives
- Ricotta Salata (see note) or Feta, crumbled to taste
- Make the dressing: Combine all dressing ingredients in a food processor and blitz to blend.
- 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.
- Note: 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.
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