Given all the food I cook, it should be annoying that something so ridiculously simple as my garlic salad would be the dish people currently request the most. Annoying, that is, if I didn’t love it myself and could eat it every night.
And often do.
I say its “my” garlic salad because I landed on this recipe after many, many attempts and variations. But to be honest, it’s my attempt at recreating a favorite dish from growing up, Mama Colichia’s House Salad. Colichia’s Italian Village was opened by Mama Colichia in 1935 in Port Arthur, Texas. I’m not sure the original location but when our family was going, which was often (same for much of my hometown), the restaurant was in the Colichia’s house on Proctor Street. The tables were set up in the living room and dining room and Mama Colichia worked out of her kitchen.
The food was pure old fashioned Sicily and absolutely wonderful. I always ordered either the Veal Parmigiana (mostly) and the lasagna (on special occasions). The Spaghetti and Meatballs were also a town favorite. But the most remarkable dish that came out of that kitchen was the house salad Mama Colichia served with every meal. She made each salad by hand right before it came out of the kitchen. She used — and pardon my Texas-French — a shitload of garlic and distilled white vinegar. Good Lord, that salad. You can live on it. We would talk about it as a family, obsessing on it. My dad, whom Mama Colichia loved, thought for years she put a dash of Dr. Pepper in the salad, because she used a Dr. Pepper bottle to hold her vinegar. (It works great!) You could see her making the salad when the swinging door dividing the kitchen from the dining room would swing back and forth when the waiters walked through the door.
While Mama Colichia passed years ago and the house on Procter is no longer an Italian Village, her children and grandchildren still run updated versions at home and I always slide in to have the salad.
Over the years, I’ve tried different variations to see if I could get close. I’ve finally ‘mastered it’, if you can call the rather ramshackle recipe below mastering. No matter. I will in no way claim this is a good as Mama Coilichia’s, but if/when I ask people what they want for dinner, I hear this the most. And so I give it to you.
Don’t be scared of the garlic. It’s good for you and you will love this.
Oh, and when I made this salad to take the pictures for the blog, I ate the whole bowl. It’s all I ate for dinner, with a martini, so don’t think I’m a pig. And I’m a rabbit, I love all salad in general. But yes I ate the whole bowl. It’s that good.
For the recipe, click here:
GARLIC SALAD (makes 4 small appetizer salads- I double this frequently)
(use this as a general guideline, I never make it quite the same each time)
4 hearts of romaine, sliced horizontally into 1 inch pieces
6 large cloves of garlic, pressed (see Note below)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (get the real thing, not out of a canister)
1/4 t salt (I use double, but use 1/4 your first time and taste to your liking)
1/2 t cracked black pepper (same here, I use more but taste as you toss)
NOTE: There is no science to back this up, but I’ve come to believe pressing garlic gives you more garlic flavor than mincing… when using garlic raw, at least. Mincing is great for many uses, cooking and raw, but if you want garlic, I think a pressed garlic clove releases more oil and gives more of a garlic kick. I’ve done side by side taste tests. So, you know, it’s kind of scientific.
Put the pressed garlic in a large bowl (if you like salad, get a large wooden salad bowl… yes, it makes a big difference) and pour in the oil. Stir it up, making sure all the garlic is covered by the oil and let it sit 15-30 minutes.
Pour in the vinegar. Whisk very well to mix.
Throw in your romaine. Toss well to coat. This is a wet salad. If you have dressing at the bottom, no worries. People will be happy (see photos at bottom).
Add the salt, pepper and pecorino. Toss again. Taste. Toss again. You may want more salt, pepper and/or cheese. It should be have a wonderful kick from the vinegar and garlic. Be careful not to face plant into the bowl at this moment. Serve.
NOTE: You can do all different sizes here. Just remember 1:1:1 oil, distilled white vinegar, pecorino romano. You can’t go wrong.
Here is a photo of the dressing remaining in the bowl after all the salad is eaten. And then a friend, who was embarrassed and asked to remain nameless, spooning the remaining dressing out of the bottom of the bowl. I’ve never had dressing left. People use bread or spoons to get the dressing out, once the salad is gone.
You will, too.