When it comes to meal salads, I feel pretty much everything you need to know is summed up by one of my favorite commercials of all time, which assures you that no matter what’s in your bowl (deep-fried taco shell, ground beef, guacamole, sour cream and cheese), as long as it vaguely resembles a salad, it must be good for you. [“Is it healthy? Of course it is! It’s a salad, isn’t it?”]
I bring it up today because we’ve fallen madly in love with a salad that I’m not sure we’re eating for any of the earnest reasons that one usually eats a salad — a desire for leafy greens, fresh vegetables or to be enviable in a swimsuit. Nope, I’m pretty sure this is the best salad ever because it tastes exactly like an Italian sub, minus that all-too-frequently lackluster bread. Which totally makes it healthy.
Fortunately, it has other good qualities. It’s cold and refreshing, a plus at dinnertime as it gets hotter outside, and my indoor cooking energies wane. If you’re a closet iceberg lover in a baby field greens world, as I am, here, you are free to be your true salad-crunching self. If you grew up eating Good Seasons “Italian” dressing from the seasonings packet, you’re going to have something of a Proustian moment (but so much better) over the dressing here, which is thick with a pulp of freshly chopped garlic and dried oregano before lemon juice, red wine vinegar and olive oil are whisked in. If you have anyone in your family like my husband, who eats pepperoncini straight from a jar he could single-handedly decimate in two days, this salad will make their year. You can use up those extra chickpeas you soaked last week. You can begin working away at a mounting cherry tomato supply, if you’re in one of the climates where they’re emerging. You can serve this deconstructed if you have the kind of small people in your household who will eat many of these ingredients, but only if they’re unmixed.
And you can also make a killer good salad for dinner tonight from fairly basic ingredients. Because I live on the wrong coast, I haven’t been to Pizzeria Mozza one of Nancy Silverton’s beloved Los Angeles restaurants. But through the power of internet longing and cookbooks, I managed to make it a whole two days between learning about this salad and making it at home, after which I immediately kicked myself for waiting even that long. Don’t let this happen to you.
Two years ago: Broccoli Parmesan Fritters
Three years ago: Roasted Peppers with Capers and Mozzarella
Four years ago: Strawberry Brown Butter Bettys, Shaved Asparagus Pizza and Root Beer Float Cupcakes
Five years ago: Strawberry Shortcakes, Grilled Shrimp Cocktail and Graham Crackers
Six years ago: Molly’s Dry-Rubbed Ribs and S’more Pie
Seven years ago: Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble and Zucchini Ribbon Salad
I realize that chopping half a pound of salami and cheese into a salad is probably not on most of our swimsuit season agendas, but it’s worth considering that the proportions below will make 6 meal-sized salads (I couldn’t eat a bite more than one portion, either night we had this) and if you’re still nervous, I think you could easily use half the salami and cheese, and not miss a whole lot. Provolone comes softer (less aged, more typical on sandwiches) and more firm (aged, with a sharper saltier flavor). I used an aged provolone; if doing so, I recommend starting with half the recommended cheese so it doesn’t overwhelm. If you’re lucky enough to have or be somewhere that you can readily purchase Sicilian Oregano, it is absolutely amazing here. Finally, Silverton calls for a small head of iceberg, but when I used one, I found there to be more dressing than needed. I’d instead recommend a larger head of iceberg, or holding back some vinaigrette to add only if needed.
By the way, almost every instance of this recipe I’ve seen online and in print uses different quantities and size suggestions (1/2-inch wide ribbons vs. 1/4-inch, thin slices versus thick, small vs. large heads of lettuce, more or less chickpeas), which means you especially should feel free to adjust everything below to taste. Save a few adjustments (see above), I made it as printed below.
Makes 6 meal-sized salad or 12 side portions
4 cloves garlic
1 to 2 tablespoons dried oregano (Nancy recommends 2; I got nervous and used 1, but might not have minded more)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice, or juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil, ideally extra-virgin
Salad and assembly
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas or 1 3/4 cups cooked chickpeas, drained
1 small red onion, peeled and sliced into paper-thin rings
1/2 pound provolone (see Note about varieties), sliced 1/8-inch thick then cut into 1/4-inch ribbons
1/2 pound salami, peeled, sliced 1/8-inch thick then cut into 1/4-inch ribbons
4 medium or 8 small pickled pepperoncini, sliced into rings
3/4 pound cherry tomatoes
1 head iceberg lettuce (see Note about size), halved, cored, and cut in 1/2-inch ribbons
1 head radicchio, halved, cored and cut in 1/4-inch ribbons
2 tablespoons dried oregano for garnish (optional)
Make dressing: Roughly chop the garlic and then add the oregano, salt and up to 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper. Chop the mixture together and use the side of a knife or a mortar and pestle to make a grainy herb paste. Transfer the paste to a large salad bowl, and add the lemon juice and vinegar. Mix with a fork allowing the salt to dissolve, then add the oil and whisk with a fork until well combined. The dressing should be thick with garlic and oregano. If you’re using a small head of iceberg, transfer 1/3 the dressing into a small bowl to be used only if needed. For a larger head of iceberg, you’ll want it all.
Assemble salad: Gently fold the chickpeas, red onion, provolone, salami, pepperoncini (including seeds and juice) into the dressing, one at a time. Halve the tomatoes lengthwise and season with 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt. Set aside until ready to serve.
To serve: When ready to serve, gently add the tomatoes, lettuce and radicchio to the salad bowl, along with a couple of generous pinches of oregano, and toss to combine with the dressing. Adjust seasonings to taste, adding any reserved dressing if needed. Serve immediately.
Sicilian Oregano Sources: It’s definitely available online here and here. If you’re in NYC, I bought the jar you see here at Brooklyn Larder a year or two ago for about $7. However, I was over at Buon Italia in Chelsea Market today (6/5) and they sell, well, almost a tree of the stuff, easily 10 times what was in that jar, for all of $4.50. Buy it and share it with all of your friends!