I’m perhaps one of the most happy-go-lucky kind of guys when it comes to food. I eat everything, enjoy a wide variety of foods, and can find something to eat just about anywhere I am. This ease disappears when I talk about pizza and my world view becomes nothing short of black and white. But only with pizza. Stay with me here.
I will eat the fanciest of hamburgers. I will eat the trashiest of hamburgers. In this case, I like the high brow and I can get down with the low brow, too. But pizzas? Forget it. I’ve spent half of my life consuming gummy, bready, greasy, gross pizza and I just won’t do it anymore. In fact, I haven’t in twenty years or so. Because once you taste a Neapolitan-style pizza (my personal benchmark) it’s hard to go backwards. There’s a balance of ingredients, a simplicity in its construction, and to me it gets no better.
My apologies to my Chicago deep-dish pizza loving’ friends. I’m really mean that.
Anyway, when I tend to find my idea of pizza perfection I will visit regularly. It could be a bakery in Rome, a take-away window in NYC, or in this case my local pizza place in Long Beach called Michael’s Pizzeria. I’ve written about it before, and it’s one of my standard go-to places here in town. And for the longest time I refused to veer from their margherita pizza.
But one day a salad on the menu caught my eye, and now it seems to be the only thing I want to eat (in addition to my pizza). Picture this: winter root vegetables, pancetta, roasted pumpkin seeds and herb buttermilk dressing. It’s clean, flavorful, crunchy, with a fantastic balance between the sweet & earthy and the tangy and salty.
My attempts to recreate this salad at home (I’m sure they’re sick of me at the restaurant) were met with delicious success. And honestly, it couldn’t be easier to do, because if you can boil water then you’ve got it made. And while it’s based on winter root vegetables like parsnips and carrots, you could use just about anything, really. In my case they were gorgeous carrots from the farmers market, sunchokes sliced thin with a mandolin, purple shaved brussels sprouts and a delicious tangy, flavorful buttermilk dressing with fresh oregano, garlic and onions. Oh, and a tiny bit of lemon juice, too.
There are no exact measurements, and there’s no cooking as the ingredients are raw, excluding a super quick blanch of the carrots. But you wouldn’t have to if you didn’t want to. This salad is a fantastic snack or a simple start to an easy supper, and goes great with thin, restrained, quick pizzas. ahem.
Carrot & Sunshoke Salad With Herb Buttermilk Dressing
based on Michael’s PIzzeria’s Insalata Invernale.
Baby carrots, whole
A few sunchokes, sliced super thin
Brussels sprouts, sliced super thin
Pumpkin seeds, optional
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon fresh oregano
1 small clove of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped onion
1 teaspoon lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
Rinse and scrub clean the sunchokes, then slice paper thin. I used a mandolin for uniformity. Slice the brussels sprouts as well, but it’s ok if the outer leaves fall off as you’ll want to use those as well. Quickly blanch the carrots by placing them in boiling water for a minute or two. Don’t overcook them as you want them to remain crunchy. Once cooked, add the carrots, sunchoke and brussels sprouts slices to a large bowl.
For the dressing: combine all the dressing ingredients in a blender and process until fully incorporated. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Toss the vegetables with the buttermilk dressing, a little bit at a time to make sure they’re covered evenly, but hey, don’t go overboard and make this a big old gloppy, swimming mess, ok?