The insalata, or salad course, is an often overlooked but vital part of any Italian meal. There are several classic Italian salad recipes that should be a staple of any meal. These five ideas will be mainstays in your dinner menus in no time.
The most famous Italian salad is the Caprese. The beauty of this salad lies in its simplicity. Consisting of fresh mozzarella, slices of tomatoes, fresh basil, and perhaps some balsamic vinegar, it’s an easy combination that works great together as a light lunch or a fresh start to your meal.
Panzanella is another favorite Italian salad. Incorporating leftover crusty bread, it’s slightly more filling than traditional mixed salads, but no less delicious. Ideally, you want a ratio of one part stale bread to two parts other ingredients. Leftover loaves of country bread work best, but any white bread will do. If it’s still fresh when you’re going to prepare your salad, place torn chunks of bread in the oven for a few minutes until they’re slightly dried out. As for other ingredients, they can be adjusted according to taste and season. Tomatoes are standard, particularly because their juices work to soften the stale bread. Other standard ingredients include chopped red onion or shallots, torn basil, lettuce, a vinaigrette, and a salty cheese such as ricotta salata.
For a more traditional chopped salad, insalata rustica is the way to go. Translated as literally “rustic salad”, it consists of any number of ingredients, combined together. One variation that’s sure to please includes mixed greens (arugula and radicchio are both good), prosciutto, dried cherries, toasted pine nuts, and slices of pecorino romano cheese, tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette.
In typical American meals, the salad is served before the main course. However, in Italian feasts, salads are eaten after the entrée. Instead, the meal is preceded by an antipasto course. Combine the two traditions with an antipasto salad. Consisting of all the usual antipasto accoutrements, including olives, salume, chunks of mozzarella or harder cheese, artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes tossed with a vinaigrette and lettuce; it’s a hearty and flavorful beginning to your meal.
There is also a history of warm salads in Italy. Perhaps the most known is caponata; an eggplant dish that also involves celery, capers, and, often, squash, tomatoes and olives. Pan-fry cubes of eggplant and squash in olive oil until tender, then add garlic, celery, capers and onion and cook until softened. Mix in canned crushed tomatoes, topped with thin slices of asiago or montasio mezzano cheese and serve. Served warm, this salad is definitely satisfying enough to stand on its own as a main dish.