When I was a kid, my parents would sometimes take us to a food market in Reading, Pennsylvania (I think?) — stalls of butchers, produce vendors, prepared foods — and my two favorite stands were the bulk foods (sesame sticks!) and the Italian deli where we’d buy perfectly-spicy and just-greasy-enough, sliced pepperoni and brightly-colored giardiniera salad.
Traditional giardiniera salad is made from pickled cauliflower, carrots, and celery, and it’s got an astringent, but not unpleasant, vinegar sting. The giardiniera from the Italian deli wasn’t like that. This giardiniera was tinged with olive oil, making the vegetables simultaneously slinky and crisp. In fact, both the pepperoni and giardiniera salad — packed in heavy-gauge plastic bags and wrapped with twist ties— made the tips of my fingers shiny as I reached into the bags on the way home to grab nibbles when I thought no one was looking.
The last time I bought pickles at the grocery store, I saw a jar of Mezzetta Giardiniera Salad on the top shelf, and as my hand reached out to grab it and add it to my cart, I thought, Why am I not making this myself?!
Back at home, I researched recipes and realized that the long-ago giardiniera salad wasn’t really giardiniera after all. It was more like a cousin to the relish used in muffaletta sandwiches. So here’s my take on a Muffaletta Salad: crisp-tender cauliflower, carrots, and celery tossed in a simple, flavorful vinaigrette that’s spiked with the briny bite of olives and finished off with the hot-sweet balance of both pickled banana peppers and roasted red bells.
A few things to consider:
- I used a roasted red bell pepper from a jar because I was out of fresh red peppers (from perfecting my ajvar recipe… coming soon!), but you can replace the jarred pepper with fresh if you like. Not sure how to roast a red bell pepper? Here’s a video that shows you how, and another one that shows you how to peel it.
- I cut my vegetables pretty small — maybe 1/2-inch dice — to make a sort of chunky relish, but you could also keep the pieces large to make it more like pickles on an antipasto platter.
- There are plenty of tasty ways to enjoy this salad. You can pile it next to a piece of grilled meat… toss it into a bowl with other salad fixings… roll it in slices of Applegate Farms Italian cold cuts… or mix it into a can of oil-packed tuna for a luscious, quicker-than-quick, one-bowl dinner. Or, you know, put it in a plastic bag and eat it with your fingers in the backseat of the car… just for old times’ sake.
Serves 4-6| Prep 15 min | Cook 20 min | Whole30 compliant
1/2 head cauliflower, coarsely chopped (about 4 cups)
2 medium carrots, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 medium celery stalks, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 anchovy fillet, minced (or 1 teaspoon anchovy paste)
1 clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, chopped
1/3 cup pitted black olives, chopped
1 roasted red bell pepper (from a jar or freshly roasted), chopped
1/4 cup jarred, sliced banana peppers, drained and chopped
1. Steam the cauliflower, carrot, and celery until just tender, about 12-14 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, use a whisk or fork to mix the vinegar, anchovy, garlic, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper until combined, then drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly.
2. When the veggies are just the way you want them, drain excess water and add the hot vegetables to the dressing in the bowl. Toss with two wooden spoons until coated evenly. Add the olives and peppers, tossing again with the wooden spoons until combined. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if necessary. Place in a covered container in the fridge until cool, then adjust seasonings again. Serve chilled.
Note: This tastes even better with age. It’s delicious when you make it and mind-blowingly yummy the second and third days. Believe it. Should the leftovers last long enough for you to grow weary of eating it as a salad, heat it in a non-stick skillet, then drizzle it with a little more extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle it with a handful of chopped parsley, and serve it as a hot side dish.
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