I’ll be honest, Giulio and I don’t eat a lot of vegetables and I feel so guilty about it. My father-in-law is an avid gardener. He has the most amazing plot. Winter can get pretty chilly in Tuscany, but he still manages to grow gorgeous cabbages of every colour and technicolour bright heads of broccoli. Side note, my mother-in-law calls these ‘cavolo’, Italian for cabbage, which confuses me to no end. She’ll ask me if I want a ‘palla di cavolo’ and I keep expecting her to pull out a cauliflower or a cabbage, but no, it’s just broccoli. Or at least, I’m pretty sure it’s broccoli.
During the week, try as I might to eat at home, I can never seem to wheedle my way out of a lunch invitation at my mother-in-law’s. It’s an extremely common thing here in Italy to eat with your in-laws. For me it’s almost impossible to avoid because my office and Giulio’s are located above their house in a three story apartment block. Not a day goes by when she doesn’t come in and ask whether we’re sticking around for lunch and I don’t have the heart to say no for 3 reasons: 1. My house in cold and there’s never anything in the fridge, 2. She made gnocchi and I love gnocchi, 3. Eating at home would involve some forward planning and I find myself at 12:45 with pretty much zero motivation to get up and drive home.
But there are drawbacks. My mother-in-law is a fantastic cook, but she’s an old school Italian cook. She makes a pasta dish and a main dish every single day and covers the table in antipasti, fried treats and mountains of bread. Since she knows we’re not big vegetable eaters, she hardly ever makes them. After all, her and her husband don’t really eat dinner. At night, they usually just stick to cheese and a salad or some roast vegetables like most good Italians.
Giulio and I, on the other hand, go hard at dinner time, chowing down on Asian curries and stir-frys (when it’s my turn to cook) and more pasta (when it’s his). At this point of the year, we’re pretty much walking carbs and meat machines. So I figure we have two choices: 1. Exercise more, 2. Eat more salads.
Naturally, I picked the second.
This Italian salad is inspired by one of the dishes my Northern Italian grandmother used to make for us. My dad’s mother wasn’t the best cook, but she loved her green vegetables and she used to make this soup with every vegetable under the sun. She would cook it for hours with farro and plenty of garlic. In the end, the soup was so thick, you needed a fork to eat it!
I’ve taken my nonna’s recipe and picked it apart to create this simple winter Italian salad. Most people don’t realise you can eat a lot of winter greens raw. I remember the first time (and the second, third, fourth, fifth) time I served my mum raw green beans. She was not and is still not too impressed about them, but I love the crunch and the fresh flavour. It’s the same with the raw broccoli, fennel and purple cabbage I’ve used in this recipe. They are all delicious raw and super good for you because you’re not boiling out all the vitamins and nutrients. Since I was really keen to get my five a day into this salad, I’ve also used fresh green chilli (they’re a vegetable, right?) and chicory, a bitter local salad green that’s like rocket if all it ate was lemons.
The two things that make this salad stand out from your stock standard Italian salad are my garlic oil dressing, which is out of this world, despite being really easy to make, and the burrata. Burrata is the hottest ingredient in Italian cooking at the moment. It’s a gooey, creamy ball of mozzarella with a soft centre that melts all over the vegetables for a dressing that puts Caesar to shame.
A dusting of roasted almonds and your go-to winter Italian salad is done. Now throw it all into a bowl and repeat anytime you feel like a vitamin injection that’s a hell of a lot of tastier than a handful of raw carrots!
FARRO AND RAW ITALIAN SALAD WITH GARLIC AND BURRATA
1/2 cup farro
1/2 green broccoli, thinly sliced
1 chicory, thinly sliced
1 green chilli, diced (remove the seeds if you don’t like spicy)
1 head fennel, thinly sliced
handful of fennel fronds, to serve
handful basil leaves
3 tablespoons toasted almonds, chopped
1 burrata ball (or regular mozzarella)
for the garlic oil:
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup good olive oil
To make the garlic oil, pour the olive oil into a small saucepan and heat to 180°C. Add the garlic cloves and fry until golden. Strain the garlic through a metal sieve and place on paper towels to dry. Reserve the garlic oil.
Bring a small saucepan of salted water to the boil over medium heat, add your farro and cook until al dente (30 minutes). Drain and cool slightly.
Toss all your vegetables together in a serving bowl with the cooked farro.
Tear the burrata into big artisanal chunks, add to the bowl and top with the basil leaves and fennel fronds. Scatter over the almonds.
Drizzle over about 3 tablespoons of garlic oil (or to taste) and season generously with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with grilled chicken for a light and satisfying dinner.