The northeastern section of the United States is in the midst of a blizzard. Spared the worst of the storm in our part of New Hampshire, the outside is still bitter cold with the wind blowing gusts of snow across our field and into the woods that border our house. There are stories on the radio of people stranded and homes devastated. I am reminded just how nice it is to feel safe at home with vegetables roasting in the oven next to a pan of dark chocolate brownies. Simple pleasures are all the more valuable.
January’s been quite a month—in part it’s been the calm month after the holidays. It’s been a time to get centered, to catch up on work and reconnect with those people who we weren’t able to spend time with during the last busy days of 2014. Life was so focused and intense in December, but now our family is dispersed back to work and school. A phone call from our son about his new classes at school, a long walk with a neighbor, drinks by the fire with a dear friend and dinner with my husband and daughter—taken alone none of these small events might seem very special, but to me they are the fabric of who I am and the strength in every day. Again, simple pleasures.
We ate this Marinated Winter Vegetable Salad as an appetizer to an Italian-inspired dinner last week. The meal was with a family with whom we are close but because of schedule changes hadn’t seen in a long while. Although in the middle of January, it was a celebration of sorts. The salad is visually beautiful with cauliflower at its center surrounded by a dazzling array of marinated vegetables. Steaming the cauliflower softens the florets and allows them to absorb the flavor of the olive oil and spices sprinkled on top. The marinated vegetables are full of intense flavors and salty while the cauliflower is light and delicate, creating a perfect balance. We had it as an appetizer followed by a rich meal, but it is equally satisfying served on its own with a loaf of crusty Italian bread and extra olive oil for dipping. Either way, you’ll want to create this salad for its ease of preparation and extreme beauty. Add it to your list of simple pleasures soon.
MARINATED WINTER VEGETABLE SALAD
Yield: 8 Servings
- 1 large head cauliflower
- 2 cups assorted Italian olives, drained with oil reserved
- 1 12-ounce jar roasted bell peppers, drained with oil reserved
- 1 7-ounce jar pickled pearl onions, drained
- 1 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained with oil reserved
- Handful fresh parsley, rinsed and lightly chopped
- Olive oil, as needed
- Crushed red peppers, as need
- Sea salt to taste
- One loaf crusty Italian bread, (for serving)
- Pour about 2 cups water in a large, wide pot. Cover and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the head of cauliflower to the boiling water. Reduce the heat to medium. Cover and steam until a skewer can be inserted easily into the core of the cauliflower, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat, drain, and allow the cauliflower to cool completely.
- While the cauliflower is steaming, slice the marinated vegetables as needed.
- Once the cauliflower is cooled completely, cut or tear the florets from the stem.
- To assemble the salad, place the cauliflower florets in the center of a large serving platter. Arrange the Italian olives, roasted bell peppers, pickled onions and sun-dried tomatoes decoratively around the cauliflower. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and drizzle with the reserved olive oil adding more if needed. Sprinkle with crushed red peppers and sea salt to taste.
- Serve at room temperature accompanied by a loaf of crusty bread and more olive oil for dipping, as needed.
- This recipe is adapted from Giada’s Family Dinners by Giada De Laurentiis.
- Make this salad your own. Substitute broccoli for the cauliflower, if you like. Use any of your favorite marinated vegetables.
- The salad is meant as an appetizer but it can easily be served as part of a main meal alongside grilled fish or meat, a platter of smoked cheeses, or a plate of hard-boiled eggs.
- Leftover salad should be refrigerated in an airtight container and brought back to room temperature before serving. Consider tossing any leftovers with hot pasta sprinkled with ample amounts of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
- For a full winter meal, serve with Amalfi Coast Rich Lentil Soup, a bottle of Chianti and Italian Sesame Cookie Bites for dessert.
One Year Ago: Roasted Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce and Pomegranate
Two Years Ago: Sunday Afternoon Chili
Three Years Ago: Boston Brown Bread