Campari Is the Secret Ingredient in Your New Favorite Salad Dressing

It’s not just for any cocktails anymore—Campari gives your salad (or roasted vegetables) a bittersweet, citrusy punch.
Slices of green cabbage with campari salsa on a serving platter.
Photo by Isa Zapata, Food Styling by Yekaterina Boystova

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“I like using opposites when I cook and when I eat. I dislike harmony in my mouth—I like to have two delicious things that fight each other and try to convince me who is better.”

That is how chef and cookbook author Francis Mallmann describes his cooking philosophy, and the inspiration for a dish composed of a whole roasted cabbage dressed in a salsa made with Campari, grapefruit, and fresh rosemary. In his latest cookbook, Green Fire, Mallmann casually roasts the cabbage suspended from a dome over a firepit, but (thankfully) provides instructions for achieving similar results in a home oven. He tells me over Zoom that using either method to roast cabbage for a long time concentrates the cabbage flavor, creating an “earthiness that is sublime.” Mallmann mentions that both methods will burn the outer layers of the cabbage: “The burnt layers should be peeled away—they don’t taste nice, but the inner layers will be beautiful,” Mallmann tells me.

Green Fire: Extraordinary Ways to Grill Fruits and Vegetables, from the Master of Live-Fire Cooking

by Francis Mallmann

Mallmann loves a negroni, and drew on the classic cocktail’s flavors when designing the cabbage’s ideal opposition. Rather than cooking the Campari down to a syrupy sweetness, Mallmann adds layers of ingredients with similar flavors to amplify the bitter liqueur. Fire-roasted whole grapefruit echoes Campari’s bitterness and citrus flavors while adding a hint of smoke—lightly scorched peel along with the grapefruit flesh and juice provide the base for the dressing. Rosemary adds freshness and recalls the drink’s herbaceous side, and toasted walnuts bring nuttiness and crunch to round out the experience. Mallmann prefers grassy, peppery olive oil from Uruguay to finish the dressing, though he tells me that you can use whatever olive oil you love.

Once combined, the dish makes an excellent side, though Mallmann says it’s hearty and flavorful enough to be served as a meal. “A big slice of roasted cabbage with the Campari salsa would be a very good lunch, especially with a thick slice of bread,” he says. He thinks of food flavors in terms of “angels and demons,” and says “you need both of them in a meal.” The roasted cabbage and Campari salsa are both robust, he tells me: “If eaten alone, the flavors become too insistent on your palate. You need an angel flavor, like rice or bread, something elegant to tame the demons.”

When I got off the phone with Mallmann, I invited those demons home. Lacking a firepit or one of these fancy grills, I opted to roast the cabbage in a cast-iron pan in my oven, basting with olive oil as Mallmann instructs. Curiously, the recipe doesn’t require any salt. “It doesn't need it—the flavors are strong enough on their own,” Mallmann tells me. While the cabbage roasted, I got to work torching a grapefruit over a gas burner. The smell was surprisingly sweet—almost reminiscent of Fruit Loops. When the cabbage finished cooking, the outer layers were completely black and brown, flaking away as I peeled to reveal translucent, earthy-smelling inner leaves—aromas totally opposite to the citrusy, spicy, herbaceous smells coming from the Campari salsa.

The dish is sublime: a journey of rich sweetness, cutting bitterness, grassy green herbs, and pungent cabbage. I’m not sure which element wins the battle, but I enjoy every second of it, alongside a thick slice of crusty bread.

As I scheme to bring the Campari salsa to the next barbecue I attend, I ask Mallmann if he thinks it would go well with meat. “You know, I never tried it with meat, and that’s the truth,” he tells me, pausing. “But I don’t see why not.” Since the punchy dressing pairs so wonderfully with earthy cabbage, I think it would be ideal with gamey meats—a grilled duck breast, a wild boar collar, or venison loin. As a dressing for vegetables, you’re not limited to cabbage: I suggest using it with grilled broccoli or asparagus, or pouring the salsa over a peppery arugula salad. There may not have been a clear winner in this particular battle of bold flavors, but as long as this Campari salsa is one of the opponents, I offer my palate as a battlefield any time.