How to Make "Pizza Salad"
Or, in other words, a chopped antipasto salad
I’m headed to Philadelphia tomorrow to make my semi-annual pilgrimage to Pizzeria Beddia, which is possibly my favorite restaurant on the planet. Understandably, I’m in a pizza state of mind, although for the past few days I’ve been avoiding any rudimentary pizza consumption in anticipation of Joe Beddia’s ethereal pies. Tiding me over has been what I call “pizza salad,” which I figured I’d share ahead of any Friday night pizza orders.
Pizza salad is really just a simple antipasto salad, one that is roughly chopped for expedient eating, dressed in a bracing vinaigrette, and meant to be eaten with pizza. If you’ve ever ordered a salad at any above-average East Coast pizzeria, chances are you’ve eaten a standard version of it: crunchy lettuce, roasted red peppers, some grape tomatoes or maybe canned black olives, all covered in copious red wine vinegar and flakes of oregano. Sometimes there are pickled banana peppers thrown in or whole pepperoncini studded throughout, and particularly luxe versions will sport small slabs of provolone and salami. The contents are sliced and diced in uniform consistency and tossed, perhaps, in a cheap vinyl facsimile of a wooden bowl, shunted beside the pizza’s domineering metal stand and meant for communal picking.
It may usually be an afterthought, but I think this salad plays a key role in one of life’s great meals, along with a hot, preferably coal-fired pizza, a glass of Chianti, and, sure, some garlic knots. The acidity of the salad plays perfectly off the pizza and approaches a form of gastronomic perfection.
Given this high praise, I think a good way to respect the pizza salad is to make your own, since most salads offered by takeout pizza shops are less than appetizing. Of course, you’ll have to do it right, so below are some of my personal rules of the road:
You’ll want both pickled and roasted peppers. Roasted red peppers are, to me, the most crucial ingredient here, followed by pickled banana peppers for tanginess and some heat.
The base greens should be crunchy and able to withstand a very acidic dressing. No red leaf lettuce here; I like to use escarole hearts and radicchio. You can use the inner core of iceberg in a pinch, but keep it chunky (no shredding).
Chickpeas give it some richness and heft, if you’re not using salami. I don’t go for cured meats in this salad when I make it at home, but I always tend to add a cup of chickpeas.
Go heavy on herbs (both fresh and dried) and alliums. Fresh basil and oregano are perfect in the summer, and you should cover the salad liberally in dried oregano and garlic powder — this is crucial for that pizzeria taste. Finely diced or sliced red onions are also a classic addition.
Chopped nuts, hard cheeses, and capers add some sophistication. Standard pizzeria salads don’t usually add these ingredients, but I think it really makes the difference. Roughly chop some pistachios or Marcona almonds and cut a chunk of Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano into small bits (don’t grate as it will melt into the dressing) for a nice, nutty chew throughout.
Everything should be chopped uniformly. The chopped bits should be neither too small nor too big, but optimally sized for a good forkful.
Dress it properly and don’t let it sit too long. This should be dressed just before eating; instead of simply dousing it in olive oil and vinegar, I like to make a proper (unorthodox, in this case) vinaigrette with a bit of Dijon. This prevents it from getting too watery.
Pizza Salad (Chopped Antipasto Salad)
1 head of escarole, washed, dried, and chopped
1 can of chickpeas, drained
2-3 roasted red bell peppers, chopped into bite-sized squares
1 cup of pickled banana peppers, chopped
1/2 cup of capers or olives
1/2 red onion, diced finely
Handful of fresh basil leaves, finely sliced
Handful of fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
1/2 cup of pistachios or Marcona almonds, chopped
Small chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano, broken into small bits (about 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove
Red wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
In a food processor, add the Dijon, garlic clove, salt, pepper, and a hefty splash of red wine vinegar. Pulse. Keep the processor running and stream in olive oil until it emulsifies. Add a little water if too thick.
In a medium size bowl, combine the chickpeas, red peppers, banana peppers, capers, red onion, cheese, and nuts. Dress lightly with olive oil and vinegar and mix. Add salt to taste. Set aside
In a large bowl (when ready to serve), add the chopped escarole and dress very lightly with olive oil and small bit of salt.
Add the chickpea and peppers mixture to the escarole, and add enough vinaigrette (about 1/3rd of a cup) to lightly dress the salad. Add the fresh herbs. Sprinkle in a generous amount of dried oregano and garlic powder. Add salt and pepper to taste, and toss well.