Chop your way to dinner with this flexible, Italian-inspired salad

Ann Maloney

THE WASHINGTON POST – Chopped salads live in a kind of no man’s land. There is an ambiguity about them, so many varieties and approaches. If there are any rules that govern what goes into them or how they are constructed, they are few and frequently challenged.

Most often, I make one when I don’t know what else to make. Browse the refrigerator, find half a zucchini, a handful of cherry tomatoes, a few pepperoncini and kalamata olives in the bottom of their respective jars, leftover meat, an almost-past-its-prime wedge of cheese . Chop, chop, chop, toss with an easy dressing and, voila, you’ve got a delicious meal.

Does it need lettuce? If I’ve got a crisp head, like romaine, in it goes.

If not, the bowl may just end up a being a batch of colourful vegetables made shiny by a flavourful vinaigrette.

With a bit more planning, however, chopped salads can scratch a specific flavour itch.

Although the ingredients are variable, there are a few things you can do to make sure your chopped salad is the best that it can be.

Italian chopped salad. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

For example:

– For more flavourful bites, dice and chop the ingredients into relatively uniform sizes so each forkful features a variety of ingredients.

– Add whole ingredients that do not need chopping, such as canned beans, corn kernels, peas or peanuts.

– If you want a crunch to your salad – and who doesn’t? – keep the juicy fruits and vegetables to a minimum. Go for grape or cherry tomatoes halved with a sharp knife rather than a chopped tomato, for example.

Some people like to lay each ingredient out on a platter and let folks toss their own chopped salad, but, if there is one rule that I follow, it is that I always toss the ingredients together with the dressing. This way, each piece is nicely coated.

I came across this Italian Chopped Salad in Stress-Free Family Meal Planning (Page Street Publishing, 2020) by Kristen McCaffrey. She offers a basic salad of romaine, tomatoes, chickpeas, pepperoncini, black olives and mozzarella and recommends kicking it up a bit with a cured meat, such as sausage, or briny capers.

With the sausage or other cured meat, added, this little number might scratch that pizza itch – in a more healthful way.

ITALIAN CHOPPED SALAD

Consider this the foundation for an easy-to-toss-together Italian-style salad, and then let your imagination take over. If you desire a meatier salad, add half-a-cup of chopped sausage. Kick up the umami with a tablespoon of rough-chopped capers or anchovies. Think it needs more bite? Toss in thinly sliced red onion or slip a teaspoon of minced garlic into the dressing.

Storage Notes: Refrigerate the salad and dressing, in separate airtight containers so the lettuce does not wilt, for up to three days.

FOR THE SALAD

Four cups coarsely chopped romaine lettuce

One cup cherry tomatoes

Half cup canned chickpeas

Quarter cup coarsely

chopped pepperoncini

Quarter cup coarsely chopped

kalamata olives (about 12 olives)

Quarter cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

Two tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Half cup croutons (optional)

FOR THE DRESSING

Three tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

One tablespoon pepperoncini brine

One tablespoon fresh lemon juice

One tablespoon vinegar

One teaspoon Italian seasoning

Quarter teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

DIRECTIONS

Make the salad: In a large bowl, toss together the lettuce, tomatoes, chickpeas, pepperoncini, olives, mozzarella cheese and parsley. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Make the dressing: In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, pepperoncini brine, lemon juice, vinegar, Italian seasoning and salt.

Add the dressing to the salad and toss to combine. Taste, and adjust the seasonings as needed, and top with croutons, if using.

Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful nutritional analysis.