Iceberg lettuce has fallen into deep disfavor with many cooks and food-lovers. Memories of bad, bland salads from our youth, and pale excuses for greenery on the plates of low-rent restaurants have pushed iceberg to the side in favor of more interesting greens: Arugula, romaine, spicy microgreens.
But iceberg still has a place, and in the heat of summer, I crave it like no other lettuce. Shaved thin, in a feathery pile, iceberg lettuce offers crisp, pure refreshment. In this salad, my own take on the Italian-American chopped salads of pizza parlors and pasta joints, iceberg shines.
Yes, this is a nod to those classic "Italian chopped salads" you find in pizza places all over the country, with their iceberg lettuce drenched in Italian dressing (out of a bottle) and with a handful of canned black olives thrown on top. I confess I rather like these salads; the best of them are crisp, refreshing, and running with juices. They are also easy eating; no big pieces of carrot or exotic greens to deal with. They are almost like the salad version of junk food.
I have been craving a salad inspired by these, but I wanted mine punched up just a bit, so I added radicchio (for a pleasant bitterness) and a lemon caper dressing that gives a salty tang to the proceedings. Ricotta salata is ricotta's firmer cousin (see more about ricotta salata here); it crumbles beautifully and has a gentle milkiness. You can substitute feta, if you want, although that will increase the saltiness of the salad and you may need to adjust the seasoning accordingly.
1 head iceberg lettuce
1 small head radicchio
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, sliced in half
4 ounces ricotta salata, divided
1 lemon, juiced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons capers
Flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Cut the head of lettuce and the radicchio into quarters and core them. If you have a mandoline, use it to shave each quarter into very, very thin shavings. If you do not have a mandoline, simply slice the lettuce and radicchio with a very sharp knife, keeping the shavings as thin as possible. Toss the shaved lettuce and radicchio together in a large bowl.
Toss the olives with the lettuce. Crumble in about two-thirds of the ricotta salata and toss.
In a separate measuring cup or bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, pinch of sugar, and capers. Toss this dressing with the lettuce, making sure it is well distributed and coats the lettuce well. Taste and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spread the salad on a platter and spread the halved cherry tomatoes over top, and crumble the remaining ricotta salata over them. Shake a bit of extra black pepper on top, and refrigerate the salad until ready to serve. Serve the salad very cold.
(Images: Faith Durand)