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Eric Akis: Leftover pizza toppings enliven cool, summer salad

Top greens with meats, cheese, olives, grilled vegetables
This colourful antipasto salad can be serves as a main course with foccacia bread. ERIC AKIS

I recently made homemade pizza and had topping ingredients leftover when I was done — good things, such as Italian-style meats, cheese, olives and grilled vegetables.

A couple of days later, I thought I better use them up. The weather was very warm, so I decided to keep things cool and incorporate them into a salad. I called it an antipasto salad because many of the ingredients I used it in were the types of things I would set out on a platter filled with antipasto.

The Italian word antipasto means “before the meal,” an obvious indication that the foods served as antipasto are meant to be small bites to quell your appetite before the main course is served. But in this case, my salads were substantial enough to act as the main course, especially when served with sliced foccacia bread, as I did.

To make the salads, local salad greens were mounded on dinner plates and artfully topped with torn pieces of prosciutto, sliced salami, olives, slices of grilled bell pepper and zucchini, cherry tomatoes, nuggets of Gorgonzola cheese and fresh herb sprigs. The salads were then drizzled with tangy, slightly sweet, balsamic vinaigrette, creating a perfect entrée to serve for a summer lunch or dinner.

Antipasto Salad

Colourful main-course salads for two topped with tasty items you might serve as antipasto. If desired, serve the salads with foccacia bread, which you’ll find for sale at many bakeries and grocery stores. Recipe could be doubled or further expanded if serving a larger group.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: four minutes

Makes: two servings

4 to 5 cups baby mixed salad greens

3 paper-thin slices of prosciutto, torn into bite-sized pieces

4 thin slices salami, cut into thin strips

12 to 16 olives

8 wedges yellow or orange bell pepper, grilled, cooled and sliced into thick strips (see Note)

8 (1/2-inch thick) slices zucchini, grilled, cooled and sliced into thick strips

50 to 75 grams Gorgonzola cheese or goat cheese, pulled into small nuggets

10 cherry tomatoes, each halved

• fresh oregano sprigs or basil leaves, to taste

• homemade or store-bought balsamic vinaigrette, to taste (see recipe below)

Divide and mound the salad greens on two dinner plates. Artfully top the greens with the prosciutto, salami, olives, sliced bell peppers, sliced zucchini, cheese, cherry tomatoes and fresh oregano sprigs (or basil leaves). Drizzle salads, to taste, with the balsamic vinaigrette, and serve.

Note: If you don’t have grilled bell peppers and zucchini in your refrigerator like I did, preheat a barbecue or indoor grill to medium-high. Lightly oil the bars of the grill, and then grill the wedges of bell pepper and sliced zucchini until lightly charred, about two minutes per side. Cool the vegetables to room temperature, and then slice and use in the recipe. Or plate, cover and refrigerate them until needed for the salads.

Balsamic Vinaigrette

This is my tangy, slightly sweet, flavourful version of balsamic vinaigrette. It will yield more vinaigrette than you’ll need for the antipasto salads. But the leftover vinaigrette can be refrigerated and kept for another time.

Preparation time: A few minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: About 1 1⁄8 cups

1⁄3 cup balsamic vinegar

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp honey

1/4 tsp garlic powder

• chopped fresh or dried herbs, such as basil, oregano and/or tarragon, to taste

3⁄4 cup olive oil

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Set a small mixing bowl on a dampened kitchen towel; this should prevent the bowl from sliding when you whisk in the oil. Put the vinegar, mustard, honey, garlic powder and herbs in the bowl and mix to combine. Very slowly, drizzle and whisk in the oil to create an emulsified dressing. Season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper, to taste.

Transfer vinaigrette to a tight-sealing jar and refrigerate until needed. It will keep at least a week. If the vinaigrette has started to separate at some point during storage, to emulsify again, vigorously shake the jar, before opening and using.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.