Crisp, refreshing and delicious, Southern Italian Style Arugula Salad with melons or peaches is the perfect antidote to summer heat!
I have mentioned to many people that southern Italy (Calabria) really inspired me with their salads. This is the first such example. The one crucial ingredient in common to the Southern Italian style salads–or the 2 crucial ingredients I should say, are arugula in the salad (although not necessarily all arugula) and a good balsamic vinegar for the dressing. I bet a lot of you thought I would say a good extra virgin olive oil, but I am sorry to report that Italian extra virgin olive oils did not really make me go wow. I realize this is most likely a failing on my part, not the olive oil!
As to the balsamic, balsamic vinegar in Italy was my big revelation. I mean, I had always liked balsamic vinegar, but in Italy I fell in love with it. I still have not reconciled what I learned in Italy with how it is labeled here (in the States), so I hesitate to try to advise you much, because for now I am using a medium aged Balsamico I brought home with me from Florence (it is the bottle in the pictures). Accordng to the man on the food tour of Florence who spoke to us about balsamic vinegar, there is no way to know how long a Balsamico has been aged, but you can learn how many times it has changed barrels based on the number of seals on it (this vinegar I used in this salad has 2 such labels, whereas the much more expensive one I also brought home has 3 such seals). The only problem is that in America I have seen few of these seals on the balsamic vinegar. As soon as I buy some vinegars I am happy with here I will let you know what I am liking.
Other important ingredients? Some animal based protein, often prosciutto crudo or tuna, some cheese, either an aged pecorino romano (our preference) or a fresh mozzarella, and supporting role vegetables, of which the one that was the most pleasant surprise to me was sweet corn. These were huge salads, main dish salads. They were a lifesaver when it got hot–I had no interest in pasta or heavy meat primo and secondo dishes. I just wanted a big, refreshing, crisp cold salad.
I have since made several different versions of these salads, and I will share more in the days to come, but for now this is my midwestern summer twist on one of these salads. I used a mix of arugula and leaf lettuces, cooked corn fresh off the cob, aged pecorino romano, and my 2 more unusual (as far as I know, to an Italian) ingredients: crispy American bacon and fresh seasonal fruit, either cantaloupe or peaches (I had a choice because some of us love cantaloupe and some of us do not, namely, me). The salad was a big hit and has led to me playing with more versions, which I will share in the future.
All amounts are to taste. Obviously I usually include more lettuce and arugula than other ingredients. Prep time is mainly for cooking the bacon and shredding the cheese, so if you buy those already prepared the salad will come together much more quickly.
- pieces Red and/or green leaf lettuce rinsed and patted dry, ripped into smaller
- Baby arugula
- Corn kernels, cooked until crisp tender in salted water
- Crumbled crisply cooked bacon
- Shredded or grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- Tomato wedges or grape or cherry tomatoes
- Cantaloupe cut into chunks OR sliced peaches (I left the skin on)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- A good medium aged balsamic vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
- Toss all of the ingredients together except the fruit and oil and vinegar.
- Let each person top with fruit of choice (or only make with one of the fruits, in which case toss it in yourself).
Let each person drizzle with oil and vinegar to taste. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
For those who love Pinterest collages, here is a fun one!