N ITALY: SALADS & DRESSINGS
For native Italians, the term “salad dressing” strikes us as very odd; our own term for it—condire l’insalata, which means to season a salad—is kind of dull in comparison. In fact, visitors to Italy are often disappointed by the lack of variety and small portions of salads available in most restaurants and trattorie here—and the extremely limited options for dressings. Though we Italians are great fans of salads, our idea about them is very simple. Two of the most common are:
- Insalata verde: greens, such as romana, escarole, and arugula
- Insalata mista: lettuce with the addition of tomatoes and very occasionally other ingredients like olives, boiled eggs or cheese.
Dressings are also remarkably unfussy compared to the choices available in the US. Extra virgin olive oil is always the most essential ingredient, and usually combined simply with white or balsamic vinegar, and sometimes lemon.
When dining out in Italy, first-time visitors are often surprised that salad is not offered at the beginning of a meal; instead, it either accompanies the entrée as a side dish or it’s eaten at the end of the meal to cleanse the palate. The next surprise is that the salads are served unseasoned in restaurants-but, you’ll find all you need on the table: extra virgin olive oil, Aceto Balsamico di Modena (balsamic vinegar), white vinegar, salt and pepper. Traditionally, it’s all Italians use. At home, one person at the table usually seasons the salad for everybody; most of the time, they do so with exactly the same ingredients mentioned above.