Country Salad
Insalata Paesana

serves: 6 servings

Crunchy, flavorful, refreshing, nourishing, and colorful, this salad makes a fine meal by itself. Its assortment of vegetables, apples, nuts, and cheese should be fresh and well prepared. It is especially important to use a top-quality table cheese, because it is a major contributor of taste and texture. In Trentino-Alto Adige, this salad would always have a fresh local cheese, most likely a Asiago pressato, made with milk from farms in the province of Trento (and the neighboring Veneto region). Aged only 20 days, cubes of this young cheese have a sweetness and soft, chewy consistency that's perfect in salad. If you can't find genuine Italian Asiago, don't buy the inferior cheeses called Asiago produced in other countries (including the United States). Choose instead Montasio (a favorite of mine from my home region), Friuli (similarly soft and sweet, though richer and more complex than Asiago), cubes of fresh Grana Padano (which also is made in Trento) or even good American cheddar. You can dress this salad in advance and set it out on a buffet. In that case, though, I suggest you add the walnuts just before serving, so they remain crunchy.

ingredients
1 pound cauliflower
¾ pound red potatoes
1 large apple, crisp
8 small radishes
1 cup red onion, 1/4-inch dice
8 ounces Italian Asiago cheese, rind removed, cut in 1/4-inch cubes
½ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped

directions


Fill a pot or saucepan with 3 quarts water, and heat it to a boil. Tear off any tough leaves at the base of the cauliflower (reserve any small, tender leaves) and cut out the core. Break or cut the large branches into small florets, drop them (and any tender leaves) into the boiling water, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Lift from the water, and drain well in a colander. When cool, put the florets in the large bowl.

As soon as the cauliflower is out of the pot, return the water to a boil and drop in the potatoes. Cook them at a gentle boil just until a knife blade pierces the center easily-don't let them get mushy. Drain and briefly cool the potatoes; peel them while still warm, cut into 1/4-inch dice, and put them in the serving bowl with the cauliflower.

Peel and core the apples, cut into 1/4-inch dice, and add to the salad bowl. Trim radishes, quarter them in wedges, and drop into the bowl along with the diced red onion, cubes of Asiago, and toasted walnuts.

Sprinkle the salt over the salad pieces and toss. Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over salad and toss; sprinkle on the parsley, toss once more, and serve.