I love salad.
In Italy, salad is usually a pretty simple affair. Unless you are eating it as a main course during your lunch break in one of the many bars near the office, where it is often served with a choice of corn, tuna, mozzarella or shrimp, it usually consists in a mix of greens, perhaps some carrots and/or tomatoes. No ingredients like croutons or cheese to distract you from the perfect balance between tender soncino leaves, crunchy lettuce or romaine, the peppery bite of arugula and a bitter hint of radicchio.
The dressing is also understated, it's purpose being to compliment the perfection rather than drench it in creamy richness in an attempt to make you forget you are eating salad to begin with. You usually use a good glug of extra virgin olive oil, a dash of vinegar (balsamic or other) or freshly squeezed lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt (and lotsa pepper if you are me).
Now I am perfectly happy having just greens with some meat or fish anytime. But when I have salad for lunch I usually add in whatever leftovers I have sitting around, from chickpeas to roasted vegetables, meat, fish, feta cheese, avocado, herbs. A sprinkle of sunflower seeds, cranberries, sone chopped dried figs or furikake and I am set. My dressing however is always the same, the kind described above, simply because living here I tend to forget about the variety of options there are out there.
|Arugula, feta cheese, roasted butternut squash and sunflower seeds|
F, on the other hand, is not as salad crazy as I am so at times like this, when leaves are a constant presence on our dinner table in an attempt to eat healthier and lighter after the holiday bonanza, I try to shake things up a little. Yesterday it hit me: the man loves eating salad abroad because of vinaigrette! Why don't I think of that more often?
So I pulled out my Joy of Cooking and was blown away by the amount and variety of dressings it describes. Yesterday (and I think this is the beginning of a trend) I made this vinaigrette paired with romaine lettuce and chopped celery. Boy was it good and it took under five minutes to make!
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 small shallot, finely minced
1 small garlic clove, grated
3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tsp crushed fennel seeds
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
A few notes: I used less vinegar because I am currently the owner of a very good-quality, aged balsamic vinegar with a syrupy consistency so a little takes you a long way. I used a very small shallot and less garlic than suggested because I was worried they would be overpowering as we are not that used to eating them raw. This amount worked perfectly for us, but feel free to go crazy. I also used less olive oil than suggested because I used less vinegar.
I put all the ingredients in a mini food processor at the same (I previously crushed the fennel seeds in a mortar). I merely peeled the shallot and garlic and put them in whole with the rest. I pulsed for a minute to obtain a creamy consistency. If you are making it by hand, mince and grate the shallot and garlic, crush the fennel seeds and then mix everything together, adding the olive oil last while mixing with a whisk to emulsify. Dress salad right before serving.