The recipe for this salad comes from one of my favorite Trattoria’s in Florence Italy, it’s a signature dish of Trattoria Garga (appropriately called “Insalata del Garga” ). Peppery in-season arugula topped with tomatoes, hearts of palm, avocado, toasted pine-nuts , and paper-thin shavings of Parmesan cheese. A light drizzle of olive oil and a splash of lemon complete this super easy to make salad. Perfect all on its own as a light meal option or as a versatile side dish.
I’m not sure how we stumbled upon Trattoria Garga for the first time, but it proved to be more than just a great place to eat, it became an “experience to remember”.
I remember stepping through the doors into the 14th century palazzo, every square inch painted in frescoes. Beautiful still life floral paintings mingled right next to giant vibrant paintings of people in what could only be described as a very eclectic mix of art. A large antique well, marble statues, the place was just a fabulous treasure trove of Italian artifacts.
As beautiful as the place was, it was the people who made it come alive. The proprietor Giliano Gargani..simply know as “Garga” had a presence larger than life. He could always be found in the kitchen, which luckily for diners was an open concept kitchen making it possible to view what was going on inside. “Organized chaos” is what comes to mind..Garga with his signature white headband could be found arms flailing, juggling pots and pans, singing Italian songs loudly in his very grovely baritone voice. Always singing. Usually accompanied by both of his sons .
(a few pictures of Garga and the frescoed Trattoria….turns out those frescoes were all painted by Garga and his painter friends during late night painting parties after the restaurant closed…when the walls were full they painted on the tablecloths) .
The pace of the kitchen was near frantic due to how busy the restaurant always was, but to the diners the atmosphere in the dining area was quite relaxed. We sipped fizzy prosecco and ate signature dishes like this salad and house favorites like “Taglierini del Magnifico” a dish invented by Garga and his wife Sharon (who runs a cooking school in Florence) A luscious blend of citrus scented pasta in a cognac cream sauce (oh! why did i have to mention that….now I’m 100% craving Magnifico!)
We frequented Trattoria Garga regularly the summer I lived in Florence. For the food, for sure, but more for the experience. You never knew what might happen or who you might meet, or the fabulous stories Garga would tell. One night we found ourselves dining with Peter Weller (from the original Robo Cop) and many nights we found ourselves invited to stay after the restaurant closed and drink delicious wine with other invited guest and Garga, his family and staff.
You don’t have to travel all the way to Italy for a little taste of Trattoria Garga…I’ve got you covered here with this Insalata del Garga. I have the recipe from a class I took with Garga’s wife Sharon at her cooking school. It’s also available in a book she published called Once Upon a Tuscan Table: Tales and Recipes from Trattoria Garga available on Amazon (affiliate link) that has many, many tasty Italian favorites!
- 4 small bunches arugula, washed and dried.
- 4 small ripe tomatoes
- 4 stalks hearts of palm (available in cans, packed in water)
- 2 medium avocados
- juice of 1 lemon
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ lb. piece of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano (or shaved fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano )
- 1 ounce pine nuts
- Tear arugula into small pieces. (set aside). Cut tomatoes into ½ inch cubes (set aside). Cut hearts of palm into ½ inch rounds (cut crosswise) (set aside). Cut avocados into ¼ wedges, drizzle with the juice of one lemon (set aside).
- On a large serving platter arrange the arugula, top with tomatoes, followed by a layer of hearts of palm. Top the salad with avocado wedges and drizzle with oil. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Slice Parmigiana with a sharp pairing knife into paper-thin shavings. Distribute cheese and pine nuts on top of salad.