Friday, July 01, 2011

The Magic Salad - turning a hometown favorite into a picnic dish.

I call it THE salad. The one I'd gladly spend five hours in a car to have a plate of. The salad you get at Giovanni's Pizza in my hometown. To clarify, there is no Giovanni. There are several Giovanni's Pizza restaurants all owned by different people. They are called things like Pam's Giovanni's and Fred's Giovanni's and Greg's Giovanni's to denote just who runs the place. They are not a chain. They do have basically the same menu. It's as if Giovanni's was the word for Pizza in hillbilly. Sort of like how Coney Island denotes a hot dog place. Portsmouth  Area Pizza is unique - I've never quite had anything like it and there are those of us who will travel far for a bite of P-Town Pizza. The crust is thin, the sauce is sweet and a bit spicy. We also serve butter with tortilla chips and put green olives in taco salad and on pizza down home. It's how we roll. The thing I miss even more than the pizza is the salad. It's called the Antipasto salad and it's a pile of iceberg served with all of the pizza toppings (ham, pepperoni, sausage, green peppers, olives, banana pepper ring, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese) It should be topped with creamy Italian dressing. You could pick other dressings, but that's a bit of a faux pas. Like not buttering your tortilla chips. Weirdo.  Even a small comes with an extra bowl for sharing at Giovanni's. (My Giovanni's of choice is Pam's is Sciotoville. They have Coke instead of Pepsi - that's the deciding factor for me.)  We're having a family picnic down home and I decided to see if I could convert THE salad into a pasta salad.  I've tried taking it as a lettuce salad, but it gets too watery.  So here goes. 
I got some grape tomatoes marked down to 75 cents because the end was near and I used a nifty little trick I stole from Nigella Lawson. I cut them in half and sprinkle with salt, sugar, dried thyme and olive oil. Then I heat an oven to 450. As soon as the oven hits 450, shut it off. Put the tomatoes on a pan and stick them in the oven to sit over night or for four or five hours. You get this:

Delicious little versions of a sun dried tomato. Or you could just slice up some grape or cherry tomatoes (do slice them) and spinkle with salt then wrap in paper towels to absorb the liquid.

Take some pasta. I live bowties, but use what you love and use a 16 ounce box.
Salt some water and add a touch of olive oil - then bring to a boil and toss in the pasta. I'll bet you saw that coming.

Our proteins and dairy:  Half a pound of ham in a chunk. I like honey ham because I'm a Southern gal. A small packet of Pepperoni. (salami would work in a pinch) and some shredded mozzarella. Get the coarse shredded, not the fine if you're buying pre-shredded.

The veg:  Mushrooms, green olives with pimentoes, banana pepper rings or pepperocini and a red pepper. You could choose to saute fresh mushrooms instead of using canned. I'm sure it would taste better - but for this dish I went with what the restaurant uses - the canned stuff.

Now let us dice. Let un dice ham into small chunks.

Let us dice pepperoni and then make sure to separate the pieces.

Let us core and dice the red bell pepper. Giovanni's used green pepper. I dislike it raw, so I go with the sweeter red.

Now let  us drain mushrooms and squeeze them dry in paper towels. Unless you are a good person who made fresh mushrooms. God bless you then. I tear the canned mushrooms into smaller pieces. They're so soft, you don't really need a knife.

Let us drain olives.

Let us dice those olives unless we bought pre-sliced.

Let us drain the pepperocini or banana peppers and pat dry with a paper towel.

Once your pasta is cooked, you will drain it. Then add a sprinke of vinegar while it's hot and stir. Now you will allow that pasta to cool for a bit. When it is room temperature, you will place it in a BIG bowl. Then comes the magic:

You will use a bottle of creamy Italian dressing. I have two here because I bought extra. This is a store brand, but use whatever brand you like or if you live in Portsmouth, go see if Giovanni's will sell you a cup of theirs. I've bought one to go. If you have a recipe for homemade creamy Italian, all the better. Make a whole bunch of it. It substitutes for mayo in this pasta salad.

Coat your pasta with the salad dressing. Coat it well. The pasta will absorb the dressing.

Start adding all the good stuff you chopped and drained and get it all stirred in. Then add a bit more dressing to coat everything. If you are a person of moderation, you can use it sparingly. If you are me, you can just glug it in.
Then add one boatload of shredded Mozzarella. At Giovanni's it served on top like this, but for the pasta salad, I mix it in. 

I divided it into 2 serving pans for the picnic. I'll update you with reviews from my relatives after the family reunion. Remember, these people like to eat. Because we possess The Buffet Gene.

Your ingredient list should you dare to attempt this monstrosity of white trash goodness -

1/2 pound of ham in a chunk
1 small package of pepperoni
1- 8 ounce bag of shredded Mozzarella cheese
1 - 4 ounce can of mushrooms
1 - 12 ounce jar of green olives
1/2 - jar of pepperocini
1 red bell pepper
1 - 16 ounce box of pasta
1 - bottle of creamy Italian dressing (you probably won't use all of it)

Each serving contains protein, dairy, vegetables and grain! Plus your yearly requirement of salt at one sitting.  Enjoy.


The pasta salad was a hit! I was told it deserves a blue ribbon.

1 comment:

OmaCindy said...

That pasta salad looks awesome. I am going to a cookout next weekend and may make a dutch version of this!