As we head into the weekend, I thought we’d explore Southern Italy a bit more as part of my Culinary Staycation series. Last week, we dined on a simple Tuna Salad Caprese on the gorgeous island of Capri. Today, we’ll travel south to the tippy-toe of the Italian boot, to the region known as Calabria.
The Church on the Island – Tropea, Calabria, Italy
Calabria’s geography, with direct access to the Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas, made it desirable to a number of conquering nations throughout history. During the 8th century B.C. the Greeks ruled, followed 500 years later by the Romans… then the Teutons, the Goths, the Lombards, the French, the Sicilians, the Spaniards… the list goes on. Each conquering nation made an impression on the local cuisine, giving Calabria a tapestry of amazing flavors to play with.
Calabria, Italy – Tropea la Costa
Some of the most important ingredients in Calabrian cuisine were introduced by the Arabs– eggplant, citrus, artichokes, and raisins are all major players in Calabrian cooking. The Spaniards and French brought their own influences. With all of these colorful countries in the mix, it’s no wonder that Calabrian food has so much flavor… it’s anything but tame. Strong flavors like chili peppers, salty brined capers, and lemon juice abound.
Le Castella, Crotone – Calabria, Italy
I adapted this salad from a wonderful cookbook (now out of print) called “The Food of Southern Italy” by Carlo Middione. This book is a treasure trove of authentic Italian cooking. In this traditional Calabrian salad, cooked cauliflower is drizzled with olive oil and tossed with olives, capers, parsley and chili flakes. I took many liberties with the dish; to start, I roasted the cauliflower rather than boiling it to release the natural sugars and give it some caramelized flavor. I cut the olive oil a bit to make the salad lighter, and added lemon juice to brighten the flavor for summer. The original recipe calls for anchovies, but I didn’t have any on hand so I left them out, choosing to double the amount of olives instead (you can add 8 chopped filets if you like, but cut the amount of olives in half so you’re not overwhelmed with salty flavor). The salad includes a lot of salty ingredients, so I’ve made the salt optional… taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
This salad is super healthy and flavorful. It’s vegan, gluten free, and works for both Mediterranean and low carb diets. Enjoy!
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- 1 large head (3 lbs) cauliflower
- 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
- 16 pitted Gaeta or Kalamata olives, chopped
- 3 tbsp capers
- 1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easier cleanup, if desired. Pull the leaves off of the cauliflower base. Cut off the lower part of the stem.
- Cut the head of cauliflower into four quarters.
- Slice each quarter into 6-8 pieces. You want as many flat surfaces as possible on each floret-- the flat surfaces caramelize best. Caramelization is the key to giving the roasted cauliflower flavor-- those golden, sugary juices take this veggie from good to amazing.
- Give all the florets a thorough rinse in a colander. Shake them dry.
- Place the florets in a large bowl and drizzle them with 1 tbsp olive oil. Add the minced garlic florets to the bowl. Toss the cauliflower florets till they're coated with olive oil and minced garlic.
- Spread the florets out in an even layer on the baking sheet. Reserve any small bits of cauliflower that have fallen away from the florets in a small bowl. Sprinkle the cauliflower florets lightly with pepper.
- Place the baking sheet into the preheated oven and let the cauliflower roast for 10 minutes. While cauliflower is roasting, prep your other ingredients-- chop the parsley, juice the lemon, etc.
- After 10 minutes, remove the baking sheet from the oven. Use tongs to turn over the florets, making sure that the florets with flat surfaces are pressed directly against the baking sheet. This will enhance caramelization. Sprinkle the reserved cauliflower bits onto the baking sheet. Return the baking sheet to the oven. Let the cauliflower roast for 10-20 minutes longer till tender. When it's ready you will be able to pierce it easily with a fork.
- Remove the cauliflower from the oven. Spread it out on a large plate or platter and allow to cool.
- Throw the room temperature cauliflower into a salad bowl along with the remaining 3 tbsp of olive oil, parsley, chopped olives, capers, lemon juice and red pepper flakes. The red pepper flakes are very spicy, add with care.
- Toss gently to combine all ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste (I didn't add any salt because the olives and capers are salty, but some might like a touch of salt added to this dish). You can also add more olive oil to taste, if desired.
- Serve salad at room temperature. Italians like to serve this salad with warm freshly baked bread and copious amounts of olive oil. Served on its own the way I've described here, it is gluten free, low carb, and heart healthy.
- Passover Note: If you're making this for Passover, note that it is difficult to find capers with a kosher for Passover hechsher. If you're worried about the hechsher, substitute 3 more tbsp of chopped olives for the capers.