Seafood Salad (Insalata di Mare)
The term insalata di mare covers a broad range of dishes in Rome, from the standard trattoria jumble of squid rings and shrimp to delicate compositions that change according to a chef’s whim or the day’s catch. This salad, inspired by a recipe from Al Presidente, one of Rome’s premier fish restaurants, uses prized ingredients briefly cooked and laid gently on a bed of greens. It is lightly dressed to preserve the flavor of each element. If you have a bottle of outstanding aged balsamic vinegar on the shelf, add just a few drops at the end.
- 1 lb. mixed shellfish, such as shrimp in the shell, langoustines, sea scallops, cleaned small cuttlefish, cleaned squid, and cleaned whole small octopus or octopus pieces, in any combination
- 1/2 lemon or lime
- 3 cups mâche leaves or other mild salad greens
- Salt, to taste
- About 4 Tbs. finest extra-virgin olive oil
- For the garnish:
- Lemon, lime or orange slices, or a combination
- Best-quality balsamic vinegar (optional)
- Minced fresh chives for garnish
- Minced fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish
If using shrimp or langoustines, peel or cut away their body shells but leave their heads and tails intact. Using a small, sharp knife, cut a shallow groove along the back and lift out and discard the dark vein. If using scallops, leave them whole.
Pour water to a depth of about 2 inches into the bottom of a steamer and bring to a boil over high heat. Arrange the shrimp, langoustines and scallops on the steamer rack, cover and steam until the crustaceans turn pink and the scallops are just opaque throughout, about 5 minutes. Remove from the steamer and set aside while you finish cooking the remaining seafood.
If using cuttlefish, squid or octopus, cut into bite-size pieces or leave whole if small. Bring a saucepan three-fourths full of water to a boil over high heat. Squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over the shellfish. Boil until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Arrange a bed of greens on individual plates or on a single large platter. Sprinkle lightly with salt and drizzle with a little of the olive oil. Arrange the seafood on the greens and garnish with 1 or 2 citrus slices for each serving. Drizzle lightly with the remaining olive oil. Place 1 drop of balsamic vinegar on each of the white seafood pieces. In a small bowl, stir together the chives and parsley and sprinkle lightly on top. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Rome, by Maureen B. Fant (Oxmoor House, 2005).