I love main course salads, especially during the summer. They are easy to prepare and a light option on hot evenings. They are a wonderful way to utilize leftovers from my last trip to the farmer’s market and other odds and ends in the refrigerator. When you are watching your budget, they provide a healthy filling meal without requiring a lot of expensive ingredients. I can rummage around in the refrigerator, add a few things from my pantry, and have dinner on the table with a minimum of fuss in less than 30 minutes. This is always welcome at the end of a long and stressful day.
Antipasto is a selection of cured meats, olives, pickled vegetables, cheeses, and breads served prior to dinner. Traditionally served on a platter, they are wonderful eaten as a snack, but I thought they would also the wonderful as the base for a salad. This pasta salad is full of big, bold flavors. Adding a few fresh herbs really adds a fresh note to the flavors and makes it taste like something a high-end restaurant would serve.
When you first get home from the farmer’s market, take a few minutes to wash your produce and dry it. Then when you want to make dinner, everything is already cleaned and ready to go. Never store tomatoes in the refrigerator, unless they are getting too ripe. The cold drastically reduces the flavor and the texture can be compromised.
Using small quantities of high quality Italian meats makes a huge difference in the overall flavors and textures. My favorite brand that I can find at Whole Foods is Applegate Farms, producers of organic and natural meats and cheeses. Their products are extremely flavorful, rich, and much healthier than typical cured meats. They make a wide variety of products including an extensive line of deli products including, salami, prosciutto, herbed salami, pepperoni, soppressata, turkey salami, turkey pastrami, as well as more traditional sliced meats. Check them out and see what you think.
If you want to try a taste of old-world style soppressata, my brother-in-law recently shipped in some for a family reunion. It was unlike anything I had tasted before and reminded my husband’s Italian family of the meats they used to eat as children. Our East Coast relatives found an authentic Italian deli in New York City that still makes their cured meats in the old-world style. Alleva Dairy on Grand Street in NYC, has been in business since 1892. They offer a staggering array of authentic Italian meats, cheeses, olives, and pastas. Their prices are reasonable, but if you can afford the high cost of shipping, the meats are truly incredible. If you want to experience true Italian flavors, Alleva is a great source!
For this salad, you don’t have to make the dressing from scratch, but I recommend it. It just tastes so much better! If you prefer a non-creamy version, just leave out the mayonnaise. There are many good quality dressings for sale in the stores now, so feel free to use whichever you like. One of my favorites is Newman’s Own Light Balsamic Vinaigrette. It is excellent on salads like this or as a marinade for meats. In addition to making very high quality products, I love that the Newman’s Own Foundation was established to help those that cannot help themselves. The foundation has donated more than $300 million to thousands of charities around the world. Paul Newman was committed to making the world a better place. To carry on his philanthropic legacy, his foundation donates all net royalties and profits after taxes to charities worldwide.
As the weather heats up and we start looking for simple, cool evening meals, I hope this salad fits the bill. Mangia!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Set up a bowl by your cutting board and as you cut vegetables, toss them into the bowl. This keeps your cutting board clear and reduces the risk of cutting yourself. As always, keeping your knives razor-sharp also reduces injuries. The less pressure you have to place on the blade, the less likely it is to slip and cut something other than the vegetables!
Homemade croutons are easy to make and taste far better than any you can buy at the store. They are also an excellent way to use up slightly stale bread.
To make them, preheat your oven to 350°F. Slice and remove crusts. Cut into evenly sized cubes. Place in a mixing bowl and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Toss quickly and thoroughly to distribute the oil. Spread on a baking sheet, sprinkle with a little salt and grated Parmesan cheese if you like, and bake for 5 to 10 minutes, tossing halfway through, or until lightly golden and toasted. Remove from the oven and cool. When cool, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Creamy Italian Dressing
- 2 tsp dried oregano leaves
- 2 tsp dried basil leaves
- 1 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 tsp minced fresh garlic
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 1 small red onion, peeled, halved, & sliced thinly
- 1/4 cup Marinated artichoke hearts, drained & chopped
- 1 small zucchini, sliced thinly
- 2 carrots, shredded
- 1 cup small cubes of Monterey Jack, Havarti, or crumbled Feta cheese
- 2 Pepperoncini peppers, drained, stems removes & chopped
- 1/2 cup Garbanzo beans, rinsed & drained
- 3 oz sliced salami, cut into thin strips
- 2 tbsp sliced marinated olives
- 3 tbsp finely chopped roasted red bell peppers
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, stems removed & halved or quartered
- 4 to 5 large fresh basil leaves, cut chiffonade
- 8 oz dried Fusilli pasta, cooked until al dente in well-salted water & drained
- 3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Toasted croutons
- In a medium bowl, combine the oregano, basil, thyme, garlic, and vinegar. Let sit 3 minutes. Whisk in mayonnaise until smooth and then slowly whisk in olive oil. Stir in Parmesan. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Store in refrigerator. Can be made up to 3 days ahead.
- In a small bowl, place sliced onions in water with ice cubes. Let sit 30 minutes. This helps remove some of the sharpness and heat of the raw onions. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.
- In a large salad bowl, combine all remaining ingredients, tossing to blend. Add 1/3 cup of the dressing and toss again. Add more dressing if desired. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Pass additional Parmesan cheese at the table.
- Yield: about 8 servings