This zesty cauliflower salad is a fixture on family tables in Naples during the Christmas season. And it couldn’t be simpler to make.
You boil or, even better, steam a head of cauliflower, trimmed and broken up into flowerets, until it has lost all its rawness but is still al dente. Place the flowerets in a large mixing or salad bowl, then add a can of anchovy fillets, a handful each of black and green olives and capers. Possible additions include various vegetables pickled in vinegar, known in Italian as sottaceti: peperoni sott’aceto (pickled peppers, also known as ‘pimentos’) and cetriolini, those tiny pickled cucumbers known in English as ‘gerkins’ or by their French name cornichons, or baby onions, carrots or celery, also all sott’aceto. Or, if you like, you can use the mixed vegetable preparation called gardiniera, which is lightly pickled and then cured in oil. You can also add some chopped parsley, if you like, for color and some chopped garlic for savoriness. (Personally, I find the salad plenty savory without the garlic.) Dress the cauliflower and other ingredients with abundant olive oil, a bit of white wine vinegar and salt to taste as you would a regular salad, mixing well but taking care not to break up the flowerets. (A curved rubber spatula is ideal for this operation.)
NOTES: Cauliflower, olives, anchovies and capers are the ‘core’ ingredients of this salad, but the other ingredients—as well as the proportions of all of the ingredients—can be varied as suits your taste. (Of course, the one rule is that cauliflower should predominate.) Use white wine vinegar if you can: red wine vinegar will stain the cauliflower. If using pickled vegetables, go especially easy on the vinegar, as they are, of course, already pickled in vinegar. Of course, if you want a vegan version, all you need do is omit the anchovy.
And while the salad can be eaten right away, I find it tastes better the day after it is made, which allows the different flavors to meld. In fact, the reason why this salad is called rinforzo—’reinforcement’—is because it was customary in the old days to make a first batch as an antipasto on Christmas Eve (which is a day of fasting in Catholicism, when meat is not allowed) and to keep on ‘reinforcing’ it with cauliflower and/or other ingredients over the course of the holiday season, so there would always be some of it on hand up until New Years. And the flavor only gets better as the days go by!
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