It’s been nearly 2 years since I returned from a semester in Italy and I still get a bit nostalgic for the “old country.” Never have I tasted a tomato as good as the pomodoro at il Mercato Centrale in Florence. I was lucky enough to take a cooking class while abroad – a crash course in Italian cuisine, with wines to match. From Tuscan crostini to Sicilian stuffed squid and authentic osso bucco, the dishes were rich and steeped in tradition (cooks note: this was before I adopted a vegetarian lifestyle!) The everyday Italian diet is actually quite simple, with an emphasis on seasonal produce, grains and legumes. I will never forget my professor’s opinion on Italian-American fare, “It’s not the pasta that is the problem, it’s what you put on it.”
The winter months are prime time for many authentic Italian ingredients. Fennel has been particularly good lately, the highlight of this rustic Mediterranean salad. Feel free to edit this salad to your tastes – parsley instead of basil, a sprinkle of feta, perhaps some drained, chopped artichoke hearts. Buon appetito!
3 T. red wine vinegar
2 T. water
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups sliced fennel bulb (about 1 medium)
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup pitted olives, halved
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 cup basil leaves, chopped
To prepare vinaigrette, combine first seven ingredients in a small bowl. Gradually add oil, stirring with a whisk until blended.
To prepare salad, combine fennel and the next 6 ingredients (through tomatoes) in a large bowl. Drizzle vinaigrette over salad, tossing until well combined. Cover and chill at least 1 hour.
-Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine