When I worked in Los Angeles a dozen years ago, interning at The L.A. Times, I found Angeli Caffe on Melrose. (And when you find yourself in L.A., go there: it’s small, intimate, wickedly delicious and feels like a home in that big, sprawling city.) People come to Angeli for many things: pasta, pizza. I come for a simple salad: the Insalata Forte. It’s nothing but greens, fennel, parmesan, and a dressing of doom. It is the best salad I’ve ever had. I brought my mother to Angeli and converted her. Then, I found the out-of-print Angeli Caffe cookbook, with the recipe for that killer dressing, and now make it at home to convert all who sit at my table. This is the exact dressing recipe, and my take on that gorgeous pile of greens:
Angeli Caffe’s Insalata Forte with Garlic-Parmesan Vinaigrette
For the vinaigrette (makes 1 1/2 cups):
2 garlic cloves, peeled, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1/3 cup red wine vinegar or more to taste (I add 2 tablespoons), 1/4 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Push the garlic through a garlic press into a small bowl. Sprinkle the salt over the pressed garlic. Using the back of a spoon, press and mash the salt into the garlic. Add the olive oil to the garlic-salt mixture. Whisk in the vinegar, parmesan, and pepper.
For the salad: the dressing will easily cover two big heads of whatever lettuce you like, so it’s easy to split the recipe above into two big salads. For each salad, I use:
One small bulb fennel, core removed, and sliced as thinly as your knife skills can manage. If you have a mandoline, use it. Sometimes, I use only 3/4 of the bulb.
1/2 cup shavings of parmigiano-reggiano (I use a cheap cheese slicer from IKEA, and invest in good cheese instead)
One head of green-leaf lettuce, washed and chopped, and one small head of endive, thinly sliced.
Toss the ingredients in a big bowl with half of the dressing and serve. Make sure some of those big hunky cheese slices end up on top. I think that helps people eat their vegetables.