January 27, 2014

Judy’s Special Exotic Green Salad and Reflections on Inspiration

An Insalata Tre Colori is an Italian salad composed of ingredients that bring three colors to your plate. There are limitless varieties of such salads on restaurant menus, but my favorite version is probably the one most commonly made with radicchio, endive, and arugula. The flavors are spicy and a little bitter while being complimented by their crunchy texture. It is a delicious salad to enjoy at either the beginning or ending of a meal as it is refreshing and palate cleansing. Insalata Tre Colori made with these bitter greens is particularly delicious topped with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. The version of this salad that I am sharing with you today was created by my mother and brings back oodles of memories of growing up in a home filled with good food and culinary curiosity. I would like to share a story which is more of a rambling about how parmesan cheese influenced and inspired my interest in cooking.

When I was a kid I, like most Americans, thought parmesan cheese was something that came out of a green can. I'll bet you are smiling while reading this because you probably had that green can in your refrigerator too? Come to think of it, I don't think that that stuff even required refrigeration. We certainly were not familiar with having aged cheese grated onto our pasta. We didn't even call it pasta. We ate noodles and our knowledge of Italian pasta was limited to the particular shapes that we were most familiar such as fettuccine, lasagne, or spaghetti. Our salads were mostly made with the dependable yet nutritionally deficient iceberg lettuce with the occasional flamboyance of the Caesar or the Green Goddess salads for special gatherings. Ingredients that are so commonly found in grocery stores today like heirloom vegetables, vast selections of seasonal greens, and the wide variety of cheeses that entire sections of stores or stores themselves are devoted to were considered different and even exotic in most homes.

In the late 1970's, the pioneers and icons of modern cooking educated the average American about ingredients and cooking styles that date back long before America was discovered and well beyond our banal American diet and helped us to embrace the more sophisticated flavors and that many of us have grown accustomed to today. I remember when my parents returned from a trip to New York City in the early 1980's telling me about the Italian restaurant they ate at where the proprietor of the restaurant served to them chunks of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano hacked right off a giant golden wheel of this marvelous cheese at their table side which was indeed a far cry from the old green can. I also recall them telling me that they would have never even gone to this restaurant if they had not met this rather flirtatious Italian while shopping for shoes on Madison Avenue taking refuge from a blustery snow storm where he insisted they join him at his restaurant for dinner. His name was Frank Giambelli and he ran his classic New York establishment called Giambelli 50th Ristaronte with his wife Mary. That experience at Giambelli's was pivotal for my mother and the way she looked at food after that. It opened her eyes to the fact there was so much more out there in the world of food, and when her already somewhat progressive style of cooking became much more interesting.

As I have mentioned on my about me page on this site, I would not have cultivated my own deep interest in food and cooking if it were not for my mother. I must also give a deserving nod to my father as he shared her passion for creating and enjoying fabulous meals. I remember them cooking for days to prepare for dinner guests with the help of Julia Child and Treasury of Great Recipes brought to them by Vincent Price and his travels with his wife. I remember them in the kitchen making homemade fettuccine and the vision of seeing pasta drying everywhere in our house--even in the shower on clothes racks. I remember my mother doing something utterly magical with oranges in a pan that made them glow with the colors of the rainbow, and a collection of salamis in various stages of the aging process hanging from a wrought iron rack above the kitchen sink amongst the polished copper pans and strings of garlic. I also fondly remember being allowed to serve hors d'ouevres to their guests while wearing my very best peignoire before I was sent off to bed to dream of the dinner parties I would host someday.

Aside from entertaining in a grand style, my mother was way ahead of her time when it came to clean eating. Our family meals were almost always fresh and clean while at the same time worthy of being special and creative. My mother was a woman who has always exercised in one way or another for as long as I can remember and has always mindful of her eating habits. She was a vegetarian for years and even a strict vegan in the mid 1980's during her years when she was running half marathons. My father often referred to her as the fruit and nut queen. Needless to say, we ate a lot of whole foods before we called them whole foods. Today she is in her early 70's and still following her ritual of regular exercise and healthful balanced eating. If you saw her, you would follow suit as she is living proof of how taking care of yourself  and eating right really does work.

This extremely simple and utterly beautiful salad is in a cookbook that my mom, Judy, made for me in 1983 with pages that she typed up on her IBM Selectric typewriter. She called it Judy's Special Exotic Green Salad. After all, radicchio, endive, and arugula were somewhat exotic during that time. I would venture to bet that she got the idea for putting the California twist on this classic Insalata Tre Colori from that first night at Giambelli's while she and my father were charmed and inspired by the jocund Frank and his adoring wife.

Judy's Special Exotic Greens Salad

Also know as... Insalata Tre Colori with Raspberries

Serves 4

For all ingredients, please consider using those that are grown organically.


10 ounces wild arugula also called roquette or rocket
1 large head radicchio, cored and thinly sliced
4 bulbs Belgian endive, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pints fresh raspberries and half a pint for snacking while you make the salad
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar--mom used raspberry vinegar
  sea salt
  freshly ground black pepper


If you like cheese in your salads, this would be lovely with a creamy blue veined cheese such as a mild gorgonzola or cambozola or a dry crumbly cheese such as ricotta salata, but I prefer it without as it is already so fresh and vibrant in flavor and color that I don't like to mess with a good thing.


Combine the prepared lettuces into a large bowl. Use your hands to toss the mixture, and top with the raspberries and almonds.

When you are ready to serve, drizzle the olive oil and vinegar of your choosing over the salad and gently toss to combine.

My mother always made this salad with raspberry vinegar and it was delicious, sweet, and tangy. She did not have access to aged balsamic vinegar when she created this salad and it adds an additional layer of depth, but either way you cannot go wrong.

Categories: Food for Thought, Salads

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