It’s healthy, low-cal and the perfect antidote to all those rich Valentine’s Day goodies. This recipe is inspired by Nigella Lawson, the sensuous English beauty and noted cook. She’s not Italian, but in my opinion, she’s got the best recipe I could find for insalata di rinforzo, a Neapolitan salad generally made at Christmastime. Even so, I added and changed a few things to make it more to my liking. Throw in a little more of this and a little more of that to suit your taste. Quantities don’t really matter that much here.
To me, the salad cried out for more dressing, so I added almost triple the oil and vinegar the original recipe called for. Carrots are a beautiful, colorful addition too, as are the multi-colored bell peppers. I added one green pepper, but would skip that next time in favor of another red, orange, or yellow pepper.
Artichoke hearts would be terrific in this salad too. If I had found broccoli romanesco, I would have added that too. Some people add anchovies as well, especially if it’s being served on Christmas eve.
Insalata di rinforzo literally translates to “reinforcement salad” and there are a couple of reasons for the name. One is because you can keep adding more ingredients to “reinforce” the salad for eating later on. The other explanation is that the salad helps “reinforce” your stomach for the rest of the meal to come. Either way, it improves with age and is best eaten after the ingredients have had a day or two to co-mingle. Any leftover can be placed in jars and covered with more oil and vinegar and kept in the refrigerator for weeks.
Join me for a week in Italy at the end of May and live like an Italian – sightseeing, cooking and eating in a villa located in the Alban Hills near Rome. There’s still time to enroll. For details go to:
Insalata Di Rinforzo
- 4 tablespoons coarse salt (recommended: Maldon)
- 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets (I used one full head of green cauliflower and 1/2 head of white cauliflower.) The green color starts to lose its colorful after a couple of days.)
- 2 3/4 cups white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole (I used 6 cloves.)
- 3 stalks celery, cut on a diagonal into 3/4-inch pieces (I used 6 stalks)
- 10 ounces pickling onions, peeled after soaking in hot water (I used about 10 cipolline – small Italian onions)
- 2 yellow peppers, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch thick strips (I used one yellow, one orange, one red and one green bell pepper)
- 2 red peppers, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch thick strips
- 1 fennel bulb, sliced
- 6 red chile peppers, left whole (I used two large red cherry peppers, cut into thin stripes
- 7 ounces pitted olives (black, green, or a mixture)
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 4 carrots, cut into slices
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar (I tripled the amount of the dressing – maybe even quadrupled it.)
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
For preserving as a pickle:
- 1 bottle white wine vinegar
- 1 bottle olive oil (not extra-virgin)
Put 16 cups of water into a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and the cauliflower florets and cook them until tender-crisp, about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the cauliflower florets with a slotted spoon and plunge them straight into a bowl of iced water.
Pour out half of the boiling water and add the white wine vinegar, remaining salt, fennel seeds, and garlic cloves. Bring the pan back to a boil and add the celery, onions, peppers, fennel, and whole chiles; cook for about 10 minutes until tender. Refresh the vegetables in the same way, plunging them into iced water; when they are cold, drain them along with the cauliflower florets.
In a large bowl, mix the cauliflower and other vegetables with the garlic, olives and capers. Whisk together the vinegar and oil for the dressing and pour over the salad. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over the chopped parsley. Combine everything really well, which is easiest done using your hands. At this point you have a pickled vegetable salad which serves 8 generously, or you can stuff everything into wide-necked sterilized canning jars and pour in a mixture of half vinegar and half olive oil to cover the vegetables.