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“Red Salad” of Tomatoes, Carrots and Red Onions (Insalata Rossa)

Italian menus often follow the flag—the sauce is red, the pasta is white and the salad is green. But when the pasta is dressed in green, the salad should be red. In the Roman summer, when the luxurious growth of basil on the city’s balconies and terraces makes emerald pesto alla genovese a favorite pasta sauce, this bright red salad follows it nicely. The tomatoes are full of flavor, and sweet red Tropea onions from Calabria are available in the markets. Accompany the salad with bread for soaking up the juices.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large or 3 medium tomatoes, preferably an heirloom variety, or about 16 cherry or grape tomatoes 
  • 4 young, tender carrots 
  • 1 small sweet red onion or 2 or 3 green onions, white portions only, thinly sliced  
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 
  • Balsamic or red wine vinegar, to taste (optional) 
  • 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil 
  • A few fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces 

Directions:

If using large tomatoes, core them, then cut them in half crosswise and into wedges. If using medium tomatoes, core and cut into wedges through the stem end. If using cherry or grape tomatoes, core and cut into halves or quarters (depending on the size) through the stem end. Set the tomatoes aside.

Using a mandoline, the slicing blade of a food processor or a cheese slicer, cut the carrots into very thin rounds and place in a salad bowl.

Add the onion to the carrots and season with salt and pepper. Mix in the vinegar to taste, if using, and then the olive oil. (In Italy, tomatoes tend to be quite acidic, and vinegar is typically not used. If your tomatoes have no bite at all, you will probably want to use a small amount of vinegar, 1/2 to 1 tsp.) Add the tomato pieces and the torn basil leaves and stir to mix.

Divide the salad among individual plates and serve. (The salad can be assembled an hour or so before serving, but in that case, add the salt and the vinegar, if using, at the last moment and toss just before serving.) Serves 4.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Rome, by Maureen B. Fant (Oxmoor House, 2005).