There's nothing better in the summertime than a fresh salad with great flavors and a good crunch. Every dinner with my mom's side of the family has had such a salad and rarely do we stray from its flavors and nostalgia. It's Italian tradition to have this salad no matter what the main course: burgers, lasagne, pulled pork; this salad goes with everything.
What makes this salad an even bigger deal is that it's my Grandpa's recipe - Grandpa Sam's Italian Salad, to be specific. My grandpa grew up with a litter of brothers and sisters with parents that emigrated from Sicily and spoke no English. Like many Italians, family is the most important thing in life behind their faith and it's no different for my grandpa.
Food has been one way that he shares his love with people. When my mom, aunts and uncles were growing up, I'm told he had a killer grilled chicken dish and of course his famous "sauce and noodles." And he's been making this salad for just as long. As a kid, my grandparents would host sleepovers with all of my cousins and there was always enough food to go around. It would be a sin if a grandchild went hungry. And while I will admit that I didn't always like his salad (I was a very picky eater once), I can't imagine a family meal without it now, and I always go back for seconds.
As a veteran of the Korean War, he's shared his recipes and cooked large dinners for his fellow veterans, feeding hundreds of people at a time. And this salad was of course on the menu. There is so much food at these dinners it's like cooking for an army. Okay, he is cooking for an army, but you get the point. No matter who or where you are, my grandpa will make sure you're fed.
So, what's in this salad? While I have to keep certain ingredients under wraps - it's a family recipe, after all - it includes all the basics to a great Italian salad: romaine lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and olives. Chopped green onions also add a little bit more flavor. It's when we start talking about the dressing that the locks and chains go up. The dressing is a blend of olive oil and red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, parsley, and garlic (exact measurements shall stay a secret). The salad is then tossed and coated with the dressing. Depending on your preference, you can go lighter or heavier on the dressing.
This past weekend I had the chance to cook for a friend's birthday dinner. Beautifully paired with homemade spaghetti and meatballs, the salad was a hit. During dinner I thought of my Grandpa Sam and how he has shared his love with his family and friends through this and many other dishes over the years. I am so happy to share it now with my friends. I know I'll be sharing it with my own family for generations.